Critics have asked what is the price for winning a slot to the FIBA World Cup? The opportunity to be beaten to a pulp by the world basketball powers?
Iran, the dominant force in Asia for the last seven years was in Group B with the United States, Slovenia, Brazil, Croatia, and Tunisia in the 2010 World Championships. The Iranians went 1-4 winning only against Tunisia.
China was in Group C with host Turkey, Russia, Greece, Puerto Rico, and Ivory Coast. The Chinese, as led by Yi Jianlian, only defeated Ivory Coast but despite that underwhelming record, they advanced despite having similar 1-4 slate with Puerto Rico and Ivory Coast (due to the quotient system).
During the World Championships at Saitama, Japan in 2006, Lebanon and China finished with identical 2-3 slates, while Japan finished 1-4 and Qatar, 0-5, in the preliminary round.
With all that losing, why bother?
Aside from national pride, I believe that with all those beatdowns, teams gain a lot of experience just being there. They toughen up and eventually get better.
Let me illustrate that further.
At the 1992 Tournament of the Americas, the first time the United States sent an all-pro Dream Team to a FIBA event, they steamrolled the competition to snag that berth to Barcelona.
United States 4-0
Puerto Rico 3-1
Venezuela defeated Canada 76-72
Puerto Rico defeated Argentina 95-85
Venezuela defeated Brazil 100-91
United States defeated Puerto Rico 119-81
United States defeated Venezuela 127-80
The teams that qualified from the Tournament of the Americas were champion United States, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Brazil.
Once in Olympic Basketball, in the Men’s preliminary round, Brazil went 2-3. Puerto Rico went 3-2 and Venezuela finished 1-4.
The United States virtually crushed everyone else:
US defeated Angola 116-48
US defeated Croatia 103-70
US defeated Germany 111-68
US defeated Brazil 127-83
US defeated Spain 122-81
US defeated Puerto Rico 115-77
US defeated Lithuania 127-76
US defeated Croatia 117-85
Ten years later, at the FIBA World Championships held at Indianapolis in 2002, this was how the US fared against those countries they faced in 1992:
US defeated Germany 104-87
US lost to Argentina 87-80
US defeated Puerto Rico 84-74
US lost to Spain 81-75
The gap clearly had been narrowed. In that span of time -- a decade -- many of those teams began to make the top basketball tournaments with regularity. They took their lumps and then they got better.
Pau Gasol was a youngster when the Dream Team squashed everyone in Barcelona. He watched that team and was inspired by them. Ten years after that, he was leading Spain against the Americans who finished sixth in the 16-team field with a 6-3 record.
In 2006 Spain were world champions.
Two years later, the Redeem Team brought back the gold medal in the Tournament of the Americas and the Olympics.
My point being, in the years after the Dream Team squashed everyone, other countries would qualify but take their lumps. They graduated from having pre-game pictures with the Americans to beating them in the game.
The Philippines used to be wracked by internal politics, dissension and a poor program that has seen it status as a world basketball power drop to a simply being a Southeast Asian power.
In recent years, with a more organized national federation, with a more cohesive grassroots program in place, with better players coming up the pike, with improved training and exposure, the national team has gotten better. If the Philippines can improve its performance every year, if we can regularly book a slot to the World Cup, then, without a doubt, the Philippines could possibly duplicate the feat of Spain and other top basketball countries like Argentina.
A country like Iran is in the midst of that 10-year window to make an even bigger impact in the World Championship and if they can continue what they are doing, expect them to go deeper in the world’s biggest basketball stages.
So there’s nothing wrong if we get beat. It’s all a part of the learning experience.
And you gotta have faith.