AFTER ending a 40-year drought in the FIBA World Cup with an emotional 81-79 victory over Senegal on Thursday, Gilas Pilipinas is aiming for the basketball title in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
The victory in Seville, Spain, on Thursday night was the Philippines’ first since 1974, when a Filipino team also escaped with an 87-86 win over Central African Republic, when the World Cup was still known as the World Basketball Championships, in Puerto Rico.
The win over Senegal came after heartbreaking losses to Croatia, Greece, Argentina and Puerto Rico.
The Philippines and Puerto Rico had similar 1-4 cards but the Caribbean nation ended with the higher standing because of the winner-over-the-other rule.
Gilas Pilipinas did not make the next stage of the tournament but Filipino basketball fans praised the team for its heart and grit.
“We showed we belonged. We showed we could compete and now we showed that we could win,” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who led a parade of honor around the Centro Deportivo San Pablo stadium as Filipino supporters went wild with chants of “Gilas, Gilas.”
“This is really Gilas basketball at its finest,” Reyes added.
Team skipper Jimmy Alapag led the team’s victory over Senegal with 18 points and four assists.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I enjoyed every second being on court, playing against the world’s best,” said Alapag, who announced earlier he will not be playing in the Incheon Games.
Also out of the team is Andray Blatche, Gilas’ 6-foot-11 center.
Blatche, whose naturalization was rushed so he could play in the FIBA World Cup, is ineligible to play in Incheon because the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) requires that a naturalized player be a resident of his adopted country for at least three years before he could represent it in international tournaments.
The Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee (IAGOC) used the OCA ruling to question the inclusion of the former Brooklyn Nets center in the Philippine team’s roster.
The Games will run from September 20 to October 4 Blatche will be replaced by the veteran 34-year-old Marcus Douthit, who has been with Gilas since its build-up several years ago under Serbian coach Rajko Toroman.
“I’ve been here since we started, so I don’t see any reason why I
won’t be ready. I’ve been doing everything with the team but [the Asian Games stint is]not something I’m deciding on, so let’s see what happens,” Douthit said.
The Philippines last won the Asian Games basketball gold medal in 1962.
Douthit admitted that doubts have been cast on him and the Philippines’ chances to take the Games’ basketball crown without the much younger and bigger Blatche.
“They’ve been doubting me since I got here. It’s a battle of the beasts. They doubted us last year and we did it, you know,” said Douthit, referring to the Gilas Pilipinas runner-up finish behind Iran in the FIBA-Asia championships last year in Manila.
Gilas Pilipinas will be fielding Jayson Castro, LA Tenorio, Gary David, Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel de Ocampo, Marc Pingris, Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, Paul Lee and Jared Dillinger in Incheon.
“Even if we’re allowed to change Andray with Marcus [Douthit], the dynamics will be completely different,” Reyes said.
“Look, the reason June Mar [Fajardo] is playing so well is Andray. He can play with Andray but won’t be as effective with Marcus because they play the same position. Andray got so much attention, it freed June Mar to do a lot of things,” he added.
“We even have to evaluate our injuries, like with Marc Pingris (plantar fasciitis), Paul Lee (back and shoulder) and Jayson Castro (knee),” Reyes said.
“So right now, everything is up in the air. Even if we’ve submitted our 12-man line-up, we can always change it if [the change is made]due to injuries.”
Gilas will start practicing for the Asiad on September 12 and leave for Incheon on September 19.
As basketball fever once again swept the Philippines after Gilas Pilipinas’ victory over Senegal, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas President Manuel V. Pangilinan confirmed that his group has already informed FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann that the country will bid to host the FIBA World Cup in 2019.
Pangilinan said the bidding process will likely begin in the
middle of next year.
The Philippines last hosted the FIBA World Cup in 1978.
The event, held at both the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and Araneta Coliseum, was won by Yugoslavia.
Gilas Pilipinas’ spirited performance in Seville also earned the nod of foreign sports journalists.
“Happy to see the Philippines get a win after all the close games. Wish they advanced. They’ve been more enjoyable than Team USA so far,” Couper Moorhead, a former sports journalist and now a member of Miami Heat organization in the National Basketball Association, said on Twitter.
Former Filipino basketball stars were also lavish in their praise.
“I believe the overall team’s performance even at this stage is admirable and
commendable and could go better,” living basketball legend Robert Jaworski said.
Jaworski texted well-known sports columnist Quinito Henson. “Our countrymen are all in positive mode and spirit and more important, the sport-loving Filipinos pray for the team’s success.”
Philippine basketball had its Golden Years in the 1950s when Carlos Loyzaga, known as the “Big Difference,” reigned supreme, here and abroad.
But then came the long dry spell.
“I’d like to know what went right, what didn’t go so right, and assess what may be needed in the Asian Games and the 2015 qualifying tournament to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” Pangilinan said.
Overall, he described the performance of the Philippine team in Seville as “remarkable.”
“On the whole, the team did well,” he said. “We calculated our benchmark compared to other Asian countries like Iran and South Korea. The South Koreans, I think, lost by a total of 100 points while Iran [also fared poorly]. On our part, we just lost by [fewer]than 20 [points]so by that token, we did very well.” With a report from