Robert Jaworski was the captain of the last Philippine basketball team that played in the World Championship. That little piece of history wasn’t lost on Jimmy Alapag on a rainy Monday evening at Moro Lorenzo gym on the Ateneo campus.
That’s why when Jaworski chatted with Alapag during a visit to the Gilas Pilipinas practice, the current skipper of the national squad struggled to put the moment in words.
“You know what Jimmy? It’s going to take the heart and soul of everyone on this team to win this tournament,” Jaworski told Alapag. “But that’s what you’re known for. So lead these guys and get the job done.”
The job is to at least get into the top three of the Fiba Asia Championship that starts tomorrow at Mall of Asia Arena. That will book for the Philippines its first appearance in the World Championship since 1973, when Jaworski and his teammates accomplished the feat.
As Alapag and his teammates try for a repeat of that, they won’t be lacking in inspiration and motivation after Jaworski’s visit.
“To hear those words from him addressing [me] and the team, it’s all the motivation we need to go out there and get the job done,” said Alapag. “It’s one of those instances where you can’t really put to words how special [the moment] is.”
Jaworski spoke to the team when he arrived, and urged them to do their best.
“This is going to be a tough competition and we [need] the mindset that we’re going for it no matter what,” Jaworski, a former senator, told reporters later.
The meat of his message to Gilas Pilipinas, though, is to take pride in representing the Philippines.
“The highest point of being an athlete is to be given the privilege of representing the country in international competition,” Jaworski said.
For national coach Chot Reyes, parts of Jaworski’s speech helped ease the pressure on the Gilas Pilipinas players.
“Maganda ang sinabi ni Sen. Jaworski (Sen. Jaworski said it well),” Reyes said. “Enjoy the game. That’s going to take our minds off the pressure. Through all this, yun ang nakakalimutan, eh (that’s what we always forget): how much we love the game and how much it’s a privilege for us to be doing this.”
For Alapag, though, his brief chat with Jaworski provided a passing-of-the-torch moment that he’ll always cherish.
“Hopefully, one day when I’m done playing, I can look back in my career and say… Sen. Jaworski and I helped the Philippines win the Fiba Asia Championship,” said the Talk ’N Text veteran.
“I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
Malaysian player dies in training
Meanwhile, tragedy struck the Malaysian basketball team a few days before it was to plunge into action in the Fiba Asia Championship.
National player Jacky Ng Kiat Kee died due to a suspected heart attack Monday while representing Malaysia in an invitational tournament in China.
In a report by Malaysian news agency Bernama, Malaysian Basketball Association secretary general Chey Tat Woon said Ng was on the bench during a match in Jinjiang when he collapsed about 4.30 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 7 p.m. while receiving treatment in a hospital.
“The death of Jacky Ng is a great loss to the team and country,” Chey said.
The 6-foot-5 Selangor-born player played a few minutes in Sunday’s game. Teammates said Ng looked pale after recent training sessions.
Chey said there was no indication that Ng had health problems. With a report from Cedelf P. Tupas