In its last game in the 2014 FIBA World Basketball Cup, Gilas Pilipinas finally won a close one against Senegal to finish with a 1-4 win-loss record. It was the country’s first FIBA World’s win in 40 years but it was definitely worth the wait.
From a bigger perspective, that one win may be quite small but for us here, that one win symbolized many things. For some, it was the Philippines returning to basketball prominence after a long and difficult journey. For others, it was inspiring to see our undersized squad go toe-to-toe with the best the world has to offer. But for all Filipinos, it represented all our hopes and dreams, how puso (heart) and determination can triumph over adversity. A story of how an underdog overcomes. It was a story we could all identify with. The story of our lives.
Yes, we were eliminated, but it feels like we won the FIBA championship. What did we win in Spain? The all-important respect from the FIBA community and basketball fans around the world. Sports scribes across the globe have been praising Gilas Pilipinas for their grit, toughness, and never-say-die spirit. Ranked No. 34 in the world, we played like a Top Ten team as we pushed Argentina and Croatia to the very brink before bowing out. We also lost a close game to Puerto Rico. If some more breaks went our way, we could’ve finished the tournament 4-1 and qualified for the next round.
The real story behind all this is that Gilas never gave up. Banged, bruised, and battered, they continued to fight till the very end. Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Marc Pingris, and naturalized player Andray Blatche were all suffering from injuries during the tournament. Some of them shouldn’t have been playing at all and yet they took to the court and competed every night.
Then there is the story of team captain Jimmy Alapag. Playing in what could be his last game as part of the national team, the 36-year old Alapag fired a team-high 18 points and 4 assists including crucial free throws during the overtime period versus Senegal. Alapag also led the dizzying rally versus Argentina wherein he scored 5 three-pointers in the 2nd half to keep the game close. At 5-7, he may have been the smallest player in the FIBA tournament but he definitely had the biggest heart.
Gilas Pilipinas’ next quest is to win the basketball championship in the upcoming 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. The tourney will start in less than 3 weeks. With their newly-found pride and experience, Gilas is a favorite but will need to contend with FIBA Asia champion Iran and rival South Korea. We last won a basketball medal in the Asian Games in 1998 when the Centennial Team brought home the bronze.
Our team’s gallant effort at FIBA World is just a starting point and is a positive step. We will need more resources and support from various stakeholders to sustain our success. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!