By: Henry Marcos 

What you are now reflects from where you came from.

America brought basketball to the Philippines and in a lot of ways the present basketball landscape is similar in this Asian country but in so many ways it is also different.  Just like the American setting the Philippines has a vibrant collegiate and professional league but the difference is that the amateur development league plays a more crucial role in the latter.  Let’s take a look at how basketball is set up through every level in the Philippines.

Collegiate Leagues

The Philippines like the US also has numerous collegiate leagues and associations. But unlike the latter wherein the point of all the games is to qualify in the NCAA March Madness, in the Philippines the most important thing for schools are their mother leagues. Yes there is also now a March Madness type of a tournament which comes by November or December but this is of just a recent variety and not yet treated as of great significance by the media.

For Philippine college basketball the mother league is the greatest prize. There are two very popular leagues  – the NCAA (yes same name as in the US) and the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines). Both are shown live on TV. Of the two the more popular is the UAAP as its all games are televised and it showcases the famous rivalry of two exclusive boys schools Ateneo University and De La Salle University, considered as Ivy League like schools. Their games are treated as social events, attended by famous alumni and covered by the media extensively. Curiously, both schools were members of the NCAA before bolting out of the league in the late 1970s.

At the present time, overall player development can be found in the collegiate leagues. Where raw skills are fine tuned and players are given new skill sets that they can use in the pros if they ever get there.

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PBA Developmental League

The PBA Developmental League or the PBL D-League functions like the NBA D-League. But unlike the latter it allows college players to participate and go back to their schools if they still have some eligibility. A similar league existed before the D-League which was called the PBL (Philippine Basketball League) which in itself has a rich history. A developmental league outside of college existed in the Philippines even before the NBA thought of it. In 2011 the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) or the pro league formally formed a developmental league as the PBL stopped hosting tournaments.

The aim of the D-League is not only to sharpen and toughen up the college players but also to give players in the provinces and those abroad with Filipino blood to showcase their talents and be scouted by professional teams.

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Philippine Basketball Association (PBA)

The PBA is the dream of every young Filipino who takes his basketball seriously. This aspect is very important in our discussion later on. There are only 10 teams so one could imagine that only a select few can enter this prestigious league.

The PBA has a rich history. It started in 1975 and was very popular until about the mid 1990s. Popularity waned after that but it continues to be the dream of every young ball player since the salaries are high and you get to play against the top players in the country. A lot of factors have been cited as culprits of this decline in popularity which range from players becoming too rich and soft, the invasion of so-called Filipino foreigners (Filipino players who came from abroad) and event the arrival of cable and the internet which gave the Filipinos more choices for entertainment.

Still the PBA is alive and is doing it all it can to improve the games and rekindle its glory days.

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Smart Gilas – (The Philippine National Team)

After being in the doldrums for decade there has been resurgence in interest in winning abroad. Like China which closed itself to the world for a while, Philippine basketball felt safe with the PBA and enjoyed it for what it is. There was a lack of enthusiasm for international play. Until in the 1990s when the Philippines sent its professional team and lost to China big time. Some say that inability to win in international competitions is also a main culprit why the popularity of the PBA declined.

In 2009, a renewed effort was pushed to bring back the Philippines to its winning tradition in Asia. A Serbian coach in the person of Rajko Toroman was tasked to take a dedicated Philippine team (known as Smart Gilas) to the lofty dream of getting into the 2012 Olympics. It was composed of collegiate standouts, Filipino foreigners and a naturalized American center in Marcus Douthit. The team will eventually be reinforced by professional players. The team failed as it finished 4th in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship Cup this summer, but it regained respect from its Asian neighbors as one of the basketball powers in the region.

Still the dream of every Filipino player is still the PBA since this is theory ticket out of poverty and of having a good life. This is where the dilemma of forming a national team comes as the priority of some players will understandably be their livelihood in the pros. A program is now being in the works as we speak to solve this quandary.

Another thing unique about Filipino basketball is that we play it the whole year. Yes there is no off-season for basketball in the Philippines. Colleges play almost the whole year due to the numerous pre-season tournaments. The pro and development league play for 9 months. In the summer additional basketball can be seen at your local basketball courts. Hardly a day goes by when a basketball game is not shown on free tv.  On cable we have two channels dedicated to basketball alone. This is how much Filipinos love basketball.

Introducing new ELA Blogger Henry Marcos, who will be writing everything you need to know about Philippine basketball.  He calls his column “Slaying Goliaths” as a homage to great Philippine teams of the past.  Here’s Henry explain the meaning behind it:

“Slaying Goliaths is a column pertaining to the aspiration of Filipinos being an international basketball power despite its disadvantages in height. Our only way is small ball. In ancient basketball times this country was a basketball power. Finished 5th in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Bronze Medal winners in the 1954 FIBA Worlds. It has won 5 gold medals in FIBA Asia. Right now the Philippines is trying to regain the respect of the international basketball community.”