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What makes Serbia’s ballgame world apart

September 05, 2019 - Thursday 9:09 AM by Jimmy Laking

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Intrigued that a platoon of Manila-based sportswriters would still manifest optimism at Gilas Pilipinas’ chances in its September 2 match with Serbia in the FIBA world cup, I decided to watch it online.

With President Duterte having already arrived home after holding his Chinese counterpart to a “theoretical draw,” I decided it would be a break from the highly-politicized issues dished out in both print and broadcast.

What struck me most was the disparity in size and height. Serbia, the world’s No. 4, paraded three seven-footers, including 7’3” Boban Marjanovic of the Sacramento Kings. Star power forward Nikola Jokic was 6’ 10” alongside forward Nemanja Bjelica who also plays for Sacramento. The shortest was point guard Stephan Jovic at 6’ 6.”

In contrast, the tallest Gilas players were center Andray Blatche who stood 6’ 11” followed by Jun Mar Fajardo at 6’10” and Japeth Aguilar at 6’9”.

What struck me next was that the whole Serbian bench, barring none could shoot. As it turned out, they made 75 percent of their shots while the Manila squad struggled with 37.3 percent, making only four of 24 three-point attempts.

Yokic, who plays for the Denver Nuggets, logged only 19 minutes but scored 11 points, snagged 7 rebounds along with 7 assists. Three of those points came from a three-pointer, showing a full package that made him one of the NBA’s rising superstars. 

Again in contrast, Blatche whom one NBA writer described “second to none in sheer associate intrigue” could only score five points and at times proved too slow against the Serbians who time and again stole from him the ball.

Another NBA writer previously looked at him this way:

“It’s possible that performing well in Spain will impress NBA front offices and help Blatche, who’s currently an unsigned free agent, land a better contract before next season. It’s also possible that GMs will look at his play at the World Cup and say, ‘That’s nice, but I’m not sure how Blatche playing point-forward and averaging 14 rebounds per game on a team with two 6-foot-5 power forwards and three sub-6-foot point guards translates to our league.’

Most of Serbia’s players could also play both defense and offense, much to the chagrin of the Gilas squad whose players were forced into low percentage jump shots and lay-ups. It appeared the Filipinos also spent more time dribbling the ball than shooting it and while some of their points came from assists, it was each to his own ability in most stretches of the game.

As in the NBA, the Serbians did not shirk at diving for loose balls and converting them in the process. Their passing was fluid from the start, including behind-the back passing for team mates cutting the lanes for uncontested lay-ups. At one time, I think one Serbian player merely handed over the ball to a teammate who quickly passed to another for an open shot.

The Serbians also controlled the boards and while Gilas indeed showed skill as Serbia coach Aleksandar Dordevic acknowledged, its inability to contend above the rim proved catastrophic.

In fairness, Gilas held its own in the early going and briefly led at 9-7 but when Serbia struck for an 18-2 run in the first quarter, the guns of Gilas barked sporadically from henceforth.

Finally, if the sum is the accumulation of the parts, the Serbians were unselfish at setting up their teammates for the open shots whether on the wings, inside the paint or beyond the arc. They were fun to watch.

That, unfortunately, cannot be said of Gilas, and that partly is what makes them worlds apart.