Japeth Aguilar could’ve made difference

No disrespect to Christian Standhardinger but Japeth Aguilar would’ve been a better choice to join Stanley Pringle, Troy Rosario and RR Pogoy on the Philippine team that finished No. 11 of 20 in the men’s division of the just-concluded FIBA 3x3 World Cup. Standhardinger was doubtful to play in the tournament until a day before the start of the competition at the Philippine Arena and had missed two straight games with San Miguel Beer in the PBA because of a swollen knee. Standhardinger may have made more impact if he was 100 percent.

In the Philippines’ heartbreaking 20-19 loss to Canada, Standhardinger went 0-of-3 from the line. If he had shot 1-of-3, the game would’ve gone to overtime. If he had shot 2-of-3, the Philippines would’ve won. But give credit to the Fil-German. He shot back-to-back field goals to spark a 4-0 run that cut Canada’s lead from seven to three and converted to make it, 19-all, with 11 seconds to go. Standhardinger was a bullworker under the boards and led the Philippines in rebounding.

On offense, Standhardinger wasn’t a major factor. He was scoreless in the Philippines’ 19-12 win over Russia and wound up with 10 total points in the tournament compared to 22 for Pringle, 20 for Pogoy and 18 for Rosario. Opponents capitalized on Standhardinger’s lack of lateral quickness to attack his one-on-one defense in driving to the basket. Standhardinger’s tendency to go to his right on the dribble when coming close to the rim was another limitation. Aguilar is a more reliable finisher under the basket and can knock down shots from beyond the arc, too. He’s faster on his feet so it would’ve been more difficult for opponents to move in. Aguilar is also a more intimidating shot-blocker and more used to playing physical. If Aguilar played instead of Standhardinger, the Philippines could’ve advanced to the quarterfinals.

The Philippines fell a two-point shot shy from making it to the playoffs. If Pogoy connected on that desperation two-pointer at the buzzer against Canada, the Philippines would’ve won, 21-20 and clinched second place in Pool C with a 3-1 record, tying Canada and Mongolia. In that hypothetical situation, Canada’s quotient would’ve been +26, the Philippines +12 and Mongolia +4.

Despite failing to advance, the Philippines gained world-wide acclaim as a rising power in 3x3. For the tournament, the Philippines was seeded No. 19 of 20. In the FIBA 3x3 rankings, the Philippines is No. 60, Russia No. 3 and Brazil No. 8. The FIBA 3x3 ladder is based on a country’s individual player rankings and its activity as a frequent participant in 3x3 competitions. It’s a feat for a No. 60 nation to beat a No. 3 and a No. 8.

Mongolia is ranked No. 5 in the FIBA 3x3 rankings and has developed a core of players specializing in 3x3 in a niche approach to world competitiveness. At the 2017 FIBA Asia 3x3 Cup, Mongolia won the crown via a 19-14 decision over New Zealand in the final at Ulaanbaatar. This year, Mongolia nearly retained the title and lost a 17-16 squeaker to Australia in the final in Shenzhen. Even with all that experience, Mongolia had to lean on two unsportsmanlike fouls against the Philippines to pull out a 21-17 win last Saturday.

Before the 2008 Olympics, Mongolia was on top of the dubious list of countries with the most Olympic medals but no gold. But in Beijing, Mongolia took a pair of golds in men’s 100 kilogram judo and men’s bantamweight boxing. In all, Mongolia has now collected 26 Olympic medals since joining the Summer Games in 1964 – nine in wrestling, eight in judo, seven in boxing and two in shooting. At the moment, Malaysia is No. 1 among countries with the most Olympic medals but no gold, collecting seven silvers and four bronzes for a total of 11. The Philippines is No. 2 with 10 medals, three silvers and seven bronzes.

The Philippines has a lot to learn in becoming a world contender in 3x3, a medal event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Penetrating to deposit a drop pass to an open man for an easy layup was something Canada did against the Philippines, picking up five assists to none for the hosts. As the tournament went on, the Philippines developed more chemistry and efficiency with more experience. Against Russia, the Philippines knocked down eight two-pointers, four from Rosario, three from Pringle and one from Pogoy. Against Canada, Pogoy went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and another connection would’ve sent the Philippines into the quarterfinals. If the Philippines pays more attention to 3x3, it will be a serious contender in future competitions.