Gilas Pilipinas: Short not on inches alone
How true is it that a victory parade around the city would be staged for the Gilas Pilipinas team?
The fat, dusky kid with long curly hair who sells rice in the wet market did not sound exactly surprised, just wanted to know if the national basketball team that clinched a slot in next year’s Fiba World Cup would be honored like his prime idol Manny Pacquiao.
There was no confirmation of the ticker-tape honor for the national basketball team that finished runner-up to big, awesome Iran in the Fiba Asia championship as we went to press.
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Of course, it was not only the local crowd, but a worldwide audience, which thrilled and roared to the splendid exploits of the gallant Philippine national team.
“The success of Gilas Pilipinas gave us something to be proud of,” noted Filipino Sanny Jegillos from the United Nations Development Program headquarters in Bangkok where he serves as chief adviser on crisis control.
“It was similar to the pride we feel when Pacman wins and Lea Salonga shines in the international stage,” Jegillos added.
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When the Filipino television panel took in felicitations during one halftime break last week, the text messages came from as far as Athens in Greece and Nambia in Africa, sent in by proudly amazed Filipinos, who either got up early or stayed up late, to savor the heroics of their shorter countrymen on the basketball battlefield.
From a nightmarish finish against Taipei after leading by 13 points after three quarters, the Philippine team continued its voyage, sailing unevenly over Japan, Hong Kong and Qatar to arrange a grim survival match against powerful South Korea.
There was great apprehension against SK, which opened its campaign with a crushing conquest of defending champion China.
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The victory over South Korea, achieved under the most trying conditions, automatically clinched for Gilas Pilipinas a slot in the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain.
But another intriguing message came thru the forced pullout of the naturalized reinforcement Marcus Douthit in the second quarter.
It was indeed a stuff out of a dream theater how the Philippine team successfully slugged it out on its own against the stronger, visibly superior Koreans.
Veteran sharpshooter Musong Castillo of the Inquirer put it most apt when he swooned how the Philippine team has phenomenally re-assumed a lofty world-class status.
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It’s a bit odd, but in the finale against Iran, majority of Pinoy fans who trooped in record droves to the Mall of Asia obviously felt Gilas no longer needed a miracle, considering what the team demonstrated the night before, when it conquered South Korea on its own.
So who cared if Douthit would be riding the bench all night long?
The first half against Iran finished tight, the Philippines down by only one (35-34).
Sorry, but the second half was a complete turnaround after Iran emphasized its awesome superiority in inches, mainly through the quiet, efficient job of the burly bearded giant Hamed Haddadi.
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After the all-revealing loss, coach Reyes went out of his way to confide to the Inquirer they would not be going to Spain without a seven-foot reinforcement.
Soon after, there were strong suggestions Gilas would be needing more than just one legit foreign reinforcement.
An honest closer second look would however show Gilas Pilipinas, which could weave wonders with its tiny outsider shooters, was deficient not on inches alone.
Yes, nodded Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios upon being reminded about the suspect physical condition of the Gilas team, which often blew hot and cold, and could not visibly recover fully after one hard game.
For his part, coach Chot closed the random interview with the Inquirer by saying they recognized the superiority of the shooters from other Asian squads like Taipei and South Korea, the phantom snipers who could snap instant baskets at the peak of leap, without making a dribble.
These great gunners supposedly launched their shots from the so-called “wrong foot.”