A heartbroken nation must now welcome back its warriors after a gallant stand against a formidable foe.
Gilas marched into China equipped with a fighting heart and a burning desire to fulfill a dream shared by millions. They almost slayed the dragon and conquered the mountain. But it was not yet meant to be.
One day, they will get there. You just know they will after overcoming tremendous odds and almost reaching the top.
The embattled national men’s basketball squad settled for the silver after bowing to the taller Chinese, 67-78, in the finale of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, China. Gilas fought hard to earn that lone ticket to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics but succumbed to the home team that had all the advantages in the game. And they fought amidst the spotty officiating, hostile crowd, and the big red machine that is Team China.
Having a huge fighting heart wasn’t enough to topple this Great Wall. We needed a near-perfect game to defeat China. But we must also give credit to the Chinese defense. There was hardly any open look for Gilas. Almost all shots were contested by the longer Chinese defenders. The Nationals had to bleed for their points. After averaging over 88 points per game going into the finals, Gilas was held to just 67. We knew that in order to upend the much bigger Chinese, we must connect well from long-distance. But Gilas only shot 25% from beyond the arc, on 6-of-24 shooting, while China converted nine treys. It also didn’t help that they bungled eleven foul shots.
Jayson Castro William, who scored 20 and 25 points in the quarterfinals and semis respectively, was held down to just eight but China’s stonewall defense. Jayson however made it to the All-Star Five, along with China’s Yi Jianlian, Guo Ailun and Zhou Qi, and Iran’s Samad Nikkhah Bahrami.
The stats were pretty even in all other departments.
China, despite all the favors it enjoyed for hosting the event, still proved to be the superior team.
But we can only be proud of the efforts of Gilas.
So to Jayson, Ranidel De Ocampo, Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, Andray Blatche, Dondon Hontiveros, Matt Ganuelas, Terrence Romeo, Asi Taulava, Sonny Thoss, Calvin Abueva and JC Intal, Tab Baldwin and the entire coaching staff, Boss MVP, Butch Antonio and everybody in the SBP, take a bow.
The Philippines can still make it to Rio via the backdoor along with Iran and Japan in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. But this would be a rougher terrain, as Gilas will have to tangle with other tough squads from Europe, Africa and the Americas just to claim one of only three slots.
Now, there’s a reason why China wants to host this tourney. For the record, this is the sixth time it hosted the Asian Championships, bagging five of the six titles.
Before the gold medal match on Saturday, I guested at the DZMM Teleradyo sports show of former senator and Olympian Freddie Webb and sports anchor Boyet Sison. On a phone interview, I asked Benjie Paras what it felt like to play against China in a championship game held in China. Paras, who donned the National colors in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, was part of the Robert Jaworski-mentored team that faced the host team in the gold medal match in that event. He said that on the day of the final game, they were given problems in finding a practice gym to prepare for the match. And when they finally got one, the heaters were turned off so they had to practice through the cold conditions.
About an hour and a half before the gold medal match last Saturday, Gilas chief patron Manny V. Pangilinan posted on his twitter account that the team’s much-needed warm-up got delayed because the assigned team bus came late. He also added that some members of the coaching staff were not issued tickets for the game.
Now I understand more what former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman meant when he said that it’s tough to beat China in China.