Today’s game against Saudi Arabia, largely expected to be won by the superior Gilas Pilipinas team, will hardly gauge how far our national squad could go in its perilous voyage through the Fiba Asia championship that starts today.
In fact, Gilas Pilipinas finally hitting the targeted 100 percent in today’s championship series opening could not vouch for a safe passage to the tournament semifinals.
At least, Gilas Pilipinas would have the luxury of scouting awesome opposition before it starts walking the tightrope.
* * *
Yesterday, national team mentor Chot Reyes was quoted as saying he felt good about their chances, but only as far as barging into the semifinals.
After today, the Philippines faces Jordan on Friday and Chinese Taipei on Saturday.
Reyes has listed Jordan, together with Iran, China, South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Chinese Taipei and the Philippines among the strong contenders.
If it’s any gauge to its preparedness, the Philippines beat Kazakhstan in a tuneup game last week.
* * *
Curiously, Jason Castro, battle-tested vital cog, suffered a nasty ankle injury.
There were critics who wondered about the wisdom of risking a very valuable mainstay in a no-bearing game.
At least, that exhibition victory over Kazakhstan has obviously convinced converted Gilas slotman Marcus Douthit that they were “95 percent ready.”
Just the same, a lot will depend on how quickly Castro could recover from the unfortunate foot injury.
* * *
Coach Reyes was perfectly right when he said anyone of the strong contenders, including the Philippines, can be beaten on any given night.
They can’t afford to stumble a little bit, Reyes stressed.
Anyway, to show how awesome opposition promises to be, basketball legend Robert Jaworski, skipper of the last Philippine team to rule a qualifier and play in a world championship (1974 in Puerto Rico) dropped by the Gilas Pilipinas workout on Sunday.
Short of telling team members, headed by skipper Jimmy Alapag, to try and surpass themselves, the Big J asked the players to give it their all for flag and country.
He no longer said it, but it goes without saying the Gilas Pilipinas Nationals must step up higher, tougher by competing with gallant ferocity (in the tradition of Badion, Melencio, Jaworski), definitely a vital winning ingredient in the national team that beat the Shin Dong Pa-led South Korea for the Asian crown at full-house Rizal Memorial Coliseum in 1973.
* * *
(RARE MAN: Enrique “Iking” Gonzales, 78, wrote 30 on Tuesday, July 30. He will be interred in his hometown Plaridel, Bulacan today. A man of simple ways, Gonzales spent his life as a dedicated newspaperman, at one point in the late 60s taking twin jobs—sports editor of the Philippines Herald and night slotman in the Manila Bureau of the Associated Press—in order to see his orphaned nephews through college. He had refused to take credit but he was responsible in starting out a number of cub reporters, including yours truly, in the field of sportswriting. He was a complete craftsman of incredible kindness and patience. He loved to stay behind the scene, doing things for others almost in secret. There’ll never be another one like him.)