In basketball, the phrase “changing of the guard” is used when certain players—like Michael Jordan and Lebron James, with their overwhelming athleticism—usher in a new revolutionary era in the game and overshadow players with more traditional skills. In Gilas Pilipinas’ match against Australia in the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers, however, the phrase took on a literal sense.
Hurting his ankle in a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) game, top guard Jayson Castro did not play against the Australia Boomers in Melbourne on Thursday. Castro averaged 20.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5 assists in the first window of the qualifiers. With backup point guard Jio Jalalon also in pain, the ball-handling chores were left to Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas.
A friend and I talked before the game on the chances of Gilas (FIBA world rank #31). I asked if maybe, just maybe, someone else should be given the chance to coach. People still remember the time when Chot Reyes ordered his players to shoot at the opponent’s court to extend the game into overtime and try to overtake the other team’s higher quotient. PBA legend Ramon Fernandez grew irate when asked for a reaction, saying Reyes did not know the rules and was tarnishing the efforts of past players. The adage about how coaches lose games, and players win them, still holds, apparently. My friend, however, counter-argued that there is probably no one else more qualified than Reyes. Which leads us back to the The Blur’s absence.
This friend mentioned that Castro is getting old. True—yes, he is only 31, but he is battle-scarred, the ankle injury being only the latest in a long line of discomfort that also includes an Achilles tendon injury back in 2016. How much longer before his body betrays him and how long before his skills fade? It should be remembered that two years ago, Castro already announced his retirement from international play, probably because he’s also feeling a bit fatigued from having to do double-duty work for Gilas and the pro league.
The end of our bid for a spot at the Rio Olympics will also be the end of my stint as a member of Gilas Pilipinas. For the past few years, it has been my honor to represent all of you but now it’s time to hand over the responsibility to the younger generation. Maraming salamat sa walang sawang pagsuporta niyo sa Gilas. Hindi ko makakalimutan lahat ng pinagsamahan natin. Ako si Jayson Castro William, taga Guagua, Pampanga, lumaban para sa bayan. #7 #PUSO
Ravena and Alas are both exhibiting good performances in the PBA, but that was against their fellow PBA players. Against Australia, which is ranked 10th in the world, the two combined for 12 points. Gilas Pilipinas shot just 26.3% from beyond the arc, committed 13 turnovers, but most of all, only had 8 assists in the entire game.
How essential is an effective ball handler? Last year, no less than Lebron James was complaining to his team’s head office that they needed another ball handler. This year, Cleveland traded away six players and then got point guard George Hill.
It is true Castro is getting older, and while players like Jalalon, Ravena, and Alas will be there to take his slot in times of injury, remember that Castro is a two-time FIBA Asia Championship All-Star Selection. He was named “Best Point Guard in Asia” in 2013. A foreign team even offered him a lucrative contract but he opted to stay in the Philippines.
It was self-evident that Castro’s absence was felt in the game against Australia, which saw the Boomers leading by 19 points with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter. Some of the scenes in that remaining time in the game were not pretty for Gilas Pilipinas:
– Andre Blatche looking tired, giving up a foul, and then being pulled out of the game;
– An Australian player making a three-point shot adding to his team’s double-digit advantage.
– Calvin Abueva missing two free throws after tangling with an Australian player when the game was already decided;
At the time of this writing, Gilas Pilipinas is resting before it faces its next opponent, Japan, which it had previously beaten. Maybe Castro will be back against Japan, but looking beyond that game, it is only a matter of time before the younger players take over and there is a literal “changing of the guard” in the team. When that happens, it will be called a period of transition, and maybe Gilas Pilipinas will win some games. Whether those victories are enough to get to the final round is anyone’s guess.
Featured image courtesy of www.fiba.basketball.