The 2014 FIBA World Cup is now happening in Spain and it’s in the first stage of the quarterfinal round with team U.S.A. and Spain heading on to become as the top two favorites to face-off in the finals with their unblemished records coming off in the elimination round. But one team has made a lot of buzz in the tournament and has gained admiration. That is the team Philippines.
After four decades (well it could have been just two as the country qualified to play but thanks to its politics, they withdrew, read story here), the Philippine basketball team has competed in the world stage. Finally. The long wait of getting to play at FIBA World Cup was over and they’ve shown that the team belong there. Dubbed as Gilas Pilipinas (version2.0), the team was one of three representatives of Asia (Iran, South Korea as the other two) that qualified to play in the tournament. They were bracketed in a tough group that consist of world-ranked #3 Argentina, Greece (ranked #5), Croatia (ranked #16), Puerto Rico (ranked #17) and Senegal (ranked #41). Before the tournament started, only Senegal was the only team that was seen capable of beating because of its lower ranking. But it seemed that this year saw a lot of upsets. Senegal finally winning 2 games and went on to qualify to the next round.
Although Gilas team failed to qualify for the next round, they definitely made the other countries’ heads turn and made a mark by
playing a different style of game, a brand Filipinos have showcased that’s very hard to scout according to the coaches they’ve faced. It was that unorthodox style (as what coach Chot Reyes said, it was the “Larong Kanto” or street play, a style commonly used by the locals when they play) that got other coach’s nerves, with Argentina coach Julio Lamas quoting after their game against Gilas as his “most uncomfortable game he had to coach in his life.”
Who would have thought that a team composed of a smaller lineup would play competitive basketball against the tall powerhouse teams, even almost beating the likes of Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico in very close games.
Everyone was thrilled to see them playing toe-to-toe with the taller Croatian team on their first game, almost winning an upset in the closing seconds of the 4th quarter but fell short in O.T., losing by only 3 pts.! 78-81.
Surprised by the lead? Yes indeed. We were expecting to have a blowout win by Croatia, actually most of us were expecting huge margins by the other teams against Gilas because they were the new kids on the block but the games showed otherwise.
Ok so the first game went down the wire, and let’s say it was just pure luck and on the game against Greece, the Greeks showed that they’re ranked #5 in the world by beating Gilas 82-70 in a highly physical game, but it was not a walk in the park for them as Gilas fought hard, closing the gap and made that game a tough one to play.
Again it was all heart for Gilas and that 12 pt. lead should have just been 9 but a three-point connection in the closing seconds made it a double-digit win. It was so physical that at the end of the game, a scuffle happened but good thing cooler heads prevail.
Now 0-2, the team faced an even tougher foe in Argentina. But again the team amazed us with another thriller, even taking leads, thanks to team captain Jimmy Alapag’s brilliant game (hitting 5 triples including a crucial long 3 basket that got the team back on the game), only succumbing to a heart-breaking loss, a game that could have gone the other way, with just a basket separating for a chance to win. A turnover by Castro in the dying seconds with a clamped-down defense by NBA veteran Andres Nocioni (coming out to save the day for the former World champs) cost the game and Nocioni nailing the final blow by sinking the 2 crucial freethrows for an 85-81 win. Another win that slipped away.
A make or break situation, Gilas needed to win their 4th game against Puerto Rico to get a chance to go on the next round. Senegal happened to capture their 2nd win so pressure was on them. It was a knockout game for both and as the game started, Gilas created a big lead early on only to lose it in an instant as JJ Barea played a hero’s role for the Puerto Ricans (who played minus starters Carlos Arroyo and Angel Vassallo), scorching for 30 pts. and breaking down any defense put up to him. Puerto Rico won the game 77-73.
On their four games played, turnovers hurt their chances as well as failed player rotation by the coach by not letting bigmen Junmar Fajardo (who played well despite limited minutes of action and was 2nd most efficient player in the tournament behind NBA all-star Pau Gasol of Spain) and Japeth Aguilar play longer minutes inside the hardcourt (as what observers saw) to win on those games.
Their last game with Senegal was a no bearing match as Senegal had already qualified for the next round, but it won’t deny team Philippines to capturing with its first ever FIBA World Cup victory in forty years! But before the celebration started, it was another close game that found the team in a brink of losing the game once more. It was like a déjà vu again when they couldn’t close the game and went into overtime. With NBA naturalized player Blatche fouling out, it put a scare on the Filipinos but bigman Junmar Fajardo stepped up bigtime in the game with his inside presence and Alapag finishing it for an 81-79, a fitting swan song for his international playing career.
To sum it up, it was a gallant effort by team Gilas, losing by just 23 points overall! They played their hearts out on every game. As what the trending went, it’s this hashtag #PUSO.
However it would be gratifying if they’ve won those close games, they could have been on the next round!
Anyway, congratulations to the team, to the 12 guys who fought mightily against some of the giants of the game. The team composed of naturalized player Andre Blatche (stepping in for Marcus Douthit), Jimmy Alapag, LA Tenorio, Paul Dalistan (replacing for the injured Larry Fonacier), Jayson Castro, Jeff Chan, Garry David, Ranidel De Ocampo, Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar and Junmar Fajardo.
Hopefully this is just the start of a successful basketball program, be able to return at this stage again on the next tournament and not go backwards.