How sweet it is
For Head Coach Paul Kattil and assistant coaches Alber Alik and Robert Pinho winning the gold medal in Pohnpei was a welcome — if long overdue — development. A Marshall Islands basketball team has never done better than a silver medal in regional competition.
The three coaches were key players on the 1994 RMI national basketball team that competed at the Micronesian Games in Guam. Pinho was the co-captain of the 1994 team. At the previous Micro Games in Saipan in 1990, the RMI basketball team had failed to win a single game. So the 1994 group vowed to show that RMI basketball players were not the doormat for the region. The team charged through its pool in the first round, going undefeated, including a three-point buzzer beater by Kattil against Team Chuuk that sent the RMI team into the medal round of the Micronesian Games tournament with a 3-0 record.
But the team could not recover from a tough, two-point loss to Team CNMI in the semi-finals, and in the bronze medal game against Pohnpei — which it had defeated easily in the opening round — the RMI lost, returning home empty handed despite a vastly improved showing from 1990.
Alik and Pinho were also on the 1998 Micronesia Games in Palau that failed to medal. It wasn’t until 2000 at the Outrigger Micronesian Basketball Tournament in Majuro, that the men’s national team picked up its first medal — a bronze — in regional competition. The RMI women's team also won bronze in that tournament.
Since then, men’s and women’s teams from the RMI have won silver and bronze medals in regional basketball competition, but never gold.
In fact, Kattil coached the RMI women’s national team to a silver medal in the 2002 Micronesian Games in Pohnpei. That team was the first and so far only RMI basketball team to defeat a Guam basketball team. They lost to Palau in the championship game.
The RMI 15-and-under team's 5-1 won-loss record in Pohnpei that resulted in the gold medal did not come at the snap of the fingers. The team worked out six days a week for more than two months under the guidance of Kattil, Alik and Pinho. The last month, the team went to two-a-day practices, with mornings devoted to shooting and other key skill building drills. Mouj Lewi, the Marshall Islands Basketball Federation's new National Basketball Development Officer, assisted the coaches. Most importantly, said Alik, the coaches focused on defense. When the practices started, it was evident that defensive skills of the players were weak. So the coaches focused on multiple drills to build stamina for defense — drills such as "invisible chairs" and running line drills — and the techniques of man-to-man defense, double teaming and pressing defenses. The strategy proved out in Pohnpei: Defense won the day for the RMI team, fueling its fast-paced running game.
To see photos of the airport welcome for the gold medal-winning team, click on "Photo Gallery" at the top of this page.