We all knew Gilas Pilipinas would go all out in the on-going 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. The undersized National squad, playing in this 16-nation tournament without its best big men – Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo – relies heavily on its fighting heart to battle the taller and heftier rivals from Asia and Oceania. As of this writing, Gilas has slayed Asian giant China, 96-87, and walloped Iraq, 84-68, to lead Group B and qualify outright to the quarterfinals.
But there’s something very noticeable about this crew. Perhaps aware that they need to offset their size disadvantage, the intensity and energy levels of this Gilas squad seem to have gone up in this tournament. They look ferocious on the floor, constantly applying defensive pressure on their opponents and attacking at every opportunity with striking speed. Moreover, this band is clearly prepared for a tough time in Beirut as evidenced by their highly physical games against China and Iraq. The returning Calvin Abueva surely added more grit and guts to the already lionhearted unit. This makes them a dangerous opponent for any team in this competition, including world powers Australia and New Zealand.
Veteran forward Japeth Aguilar leads the tournament in shot blocks with seven, four of them against the towering Chinese. Terrence Romeo is the third leading scorer in the tournament with 21.5 points per game (PPG), behind Lebanon’s long-time star Fadi El Khatib’s 24.5 PPG and China’s Ailun Guo’s 24 PPG. He dropped 26 markers on China. Fil-German recruit Christian Standhardinger is Gilas’ second best scorer so far with 15.5 PPG. He is also our best rebounder with 6.5 boards per game. Gilas rookie Roger Pogoy is third best in Three-Point Field Goals in the tourney with a 60% clip on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Romeo, who has had eight triples in two games, is shooting at 53.3%. Jayson Castro is third best in assists with six feeds per game, along with Khatib and Jordan’s Mah’d Abdeen, and behind Iran’s star center Hamed Hadadi’s 8.5 and Korea’s Chan Hee Park’s 7.5. Romeo has four assists per game.
After four days of competition, the Philippines ranked fourth in scoring with 90 PPG behind Iran’s 94 PPG, Australia’s 91.5 PPG and Korea’s 91 PPG. But it ranked first in three-point field goals with an outstanding 47.8% on 22-of-46 shooting in just two games. Japan and Korea followed with 44.4% and 40.7% respectively. Even without Fajardo and Blatche, Gilas still landed on the Top 10 in rebounding, at eighth place in a tie with Chinese Taipei, averaging 38.5 boards. Iran topped all teams with 49 rebounds per game (RPG), followed by Jordan (48 RPG) and Australia (47.5 RPG). New Zealand is tenth with 37.5 RPG. Thanks to Aguilar, the Philippines is second-best in blocks with 5.5, just behind Iraq’s 6.5 blocks per game. In assists, Gilas is currently in seventh spot with 18 assists per game (APG). Korea (29 APG), Iran (27 APG) and Australia (25 APG) lead all nations in this department.
Gilas, for sure, will face a formidable opponent in the quarters, which could possibly be among Korea, Lebanon, Australia, Japan and Chinese Taipei. Iran, New Zealand and Jordan are the other strong contenders in this tournament.
With the way the team is playing so far, Gilas has more than a China man’s chance of gaining passage into the medal rounds. National coach Chot Reyes made sure he brought a hungry and determined army to Lebanon. And an exciting one at that. But the road to Asian supremacy in basketball remains bumpy and filled with hurdles. This is by far the toughest competition the country has ever participated in, mainly because of the merger of the Asian and Oceania zones. But with what we’re seeing from Gilas right now, we can still hope for the best even against tremendous odds in the coming rounds. Who knows, maybe Fajardo can be fit to suit up in the playoffs. But whatever happens for the rest of the tournament, we must laud Gilas for their gallant effort, undeniable drive and rallying energy in such a high-level competition.
This truly makes us proud.