(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - In 1989, FIBA declared "open basketball," which allows professional players to participate in international amateur competitions, much like tennis did immeidately before then. Since that happened, the Philippines has sent five teams composed of PBA players (and the occasional amateur) to Asian-level competition, and has finished as high as second, and no less than fourth.

In the spirit of sacrifice for the Holy Week, we started a debate on the ANC daily sports talk show Hardball: in the open era, which Philippine team is the best of all time?

The first team was led by then-Añejo Rhum head coach Robert Jaworski, assisted by Norman Black. It featured Allan Caidic (Presto), Hector Calma (San Miguel Beer), Rey Cuenco (Añejo Rhum), Yves Dignadice (San Miguel Beer), Ramon Fernandez (San Miguel Beer), Dante Gonzalgo (Añejo Rhum), Samboy Lim (San Miguel Beer), Chito Loyzaga (Añejo Rhum), Ronnie Magsanoc (Formula Shell), Benjie Paras (Formula Shell), Alvin Patrimonio (Purefoods) and Zaldy Realubit (Presto). Four players were Beermen, a year after they won their Grand Slam, with Jaworski inserting former teammate and rival Mon Fernandez. The late Cuenco, along with Gonzalgo and Loyzaga, played for Jaworski. Purefoods center Jerry Codiñera was stricken with hepatitis weeks before the Games and replaced by Realubit. Nelson Asaytono and Bong Alvarez were part of the pool as alternates, but did not join the team to Beijing. After being blasted by China, 125-60, in the eliminations, the team defeated Japan in the crossover semifinals and made a valiant stand in the finals, and finished with a silver medal. Samboy Lim made the tournament’s Mythical Team.

In 1994, the San Miguel Beermen, coached by Norman Black, won the PBA All-Filipino Conference championship and earned the right to represent the country in the Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan. The team was composed of the core of San Miguel, and reinforced by players from other teams: Marlou Aquino (Amateur), Dong Polistico (San Miguel Beer), Jerry Codiñera (Purefoods), Alvin Teng (San Miguel Beer), Alvin Patrimonio (Purefoods), Rey Evangelista (Purefoods), Kenneth Duremdes (Amateur), Allan Caidic (San Miguel Beer), Ato Agustin (San Miguel Beer), Franz Pumaren (San Miguel Beer), Hector Calma (San Miguel Beer), and Johnny Abarrientos (Alaska). The Philippines went on to finish fourth, with Caidic emerging the Asian Games basketball tournament’s top scorer.

In 1998, the PBA selection – coached by Tim Cone – was nicknamed the Centennial Team. The team included veterans Allan Caidic and Alvin Patrimonio, both sharing the distinction of being the only PBA players to represent the country in four Asian Games basketball tournaments since 1986. It also listed Andy Seigle (Mobiline), Jojo Lastimosa (Alaska), Dennis Espino (Sta. Lucia), Jun Limpot (Sta. Lucia), Vergel Meneses (Pop Cola), E.J. Feihl (Purefoods), Olsen Racela (San Miguel Beer), Marlou Aquino (Ginebra), Johnny Abarrientos (Alaska) and Kenneth Duremdes (Alaska).

The team played in the PBA Centennial Cup (where they placed last, as other teams had two imports each) and later played exhibition games against China’s national team and a selection of non-national team PBA All-Stars. The Nationals went on to win the 21st William Jones Cup International Basketball Tournament in Taiwan and took on a tough Midwest tour of the United States, facing very strong college teams along the way. The national team’s main goal was to win the Asian Games gold medal and thus reclaim Philippine basketball supremacy in Asia. The team started the tournament by winning four games in a row and finished with a 5-2 record, losing to China and Korea. The team salvaged a bronze medal by beating Kazakhstan.

In 2002, the Asian Games held in Busan, South Korea proved a very painful experience for the Philippines’ basketball campaign. Head coach Ron Jacobs was struck down by a stroke, and Jong Uichico stepped into his big shoes. The players were Noy Castillo (Purefoods), Olsen Racela (San Miguel Beer), Dondon Hontiveros (San Miguel Beer), Dennis Espino (Sta. Lucia), Mick Pennisi (Red Bull), Eric Menk (Ginebra), Danny Ildefonso (San Miguel Beer), Andy Seigle (Purefoods), Jeff Cariaso (Coca-Cola), Rudy Hatfield (Coca-Cola), Asi Taulava (Talk ‘N Text) and Kenneth Duremdes (Alaska).

The nationals were handed a heart-breaking loss to host South Korea in the semifinals, thanks to a freak buzzer-beating three-pointer by Lee Sang Min. The next day, the Philippines lost to Kazakhstan for the bronze medal. A lot of people forget that Jimmy Alapag was supposed to play on that team, but broke his hand in his first tune-up game in the PBA, and Danny Seigle tore his foot going up for a dunk a mere one week before the tournament.

The current national team is considered the most balanced of the five deployed so far, but they have yet to see action in an international tournament. Coached by Chot Reyes, the team is composed of Jimmy Alapag, Asi Taulava and Renren Ritualo of Talk ‘N Text, Danny Seigle and Dondon Hontiveros of San Miguel Beer, Jayjay Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa of Ginebra, Tony dela Cruz of Alaska, Ranidel de Ocampo of Air21, Kerby Raymundo of Purefoods, Mick Pennisi of Red Bull. Alternates Enrico Villanueva, Romel Adducul, Rudy Hatfield and Rafi Reavis have not been named to the line-up permanently.

On Saturday, we break down and compare the strengths and weaknesses of each team.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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