A knockout star named LA TenorioBy Recah Trinidad
Philippine Daily Inquirer
There may never be another win like this.
One hefty serving of native heroics was not enough so, for the championship on Sunday, LA Tenorio played his heart out a second straight night.
Tenorio’s will go down as the most memorable gold-studded performance by a tiny member of the Philippine national basketball team in an international tournament.
A bullpup against growling giants, Tenorio was indeed underdog-small in the same way his Pinoy grit would sizzle boundless in the do-or-die closing minutes of the Jones Cup title game in Taipei.
Often out of sight, the 5-foot-8 Tenorio would not be taken seriously until Smart Gilas-Pilipinas’ penultimate game against host Taipei-A on Saturday.
Tenorio came out of nowhere to rescue his team by exploding with 11 timely points in the final quarter.
Unlike that Taipei game though, Sunday’s thriller against powerhouse United States was a monumental tightrope act, with the Philippines trailing and clawing from more than 10 points down at least three times.
In what threatened to be a reprise of his Saturday heroics, Tenorio on Sunday sparked a 10-0 blast that put his team up by one, 61-59. But in an uncharacteristic half-hazard move, Tenorio missed a triple, thereby giving way for USA to strike back and recover the lead. There was a brief exchange inside and USA took over at 75-74 but Tenorio promptly took back the lead with a jumper, 76-75, only half a minute left.
What would however shine as the most startling move on the PH side came when Tenorio, spurred by a flubbed short stab by the USA, took a winged leap and grabbed a monumental rebound, the insurance final possession, past the upraised arms of his big, burly rivals.
Unbelievable, cried the losing American coach.
The Americans were indeed doing things right until they were outwitted by Tenorio in that crucial air battle.
Tenorio would later confide to Musong Castillo of the Inquirer that he was already very tired but took heart in what the immortal Michael Jordan had preached about “the heart not getting tired.”
Of course, it was not only Tenorio and his hefty heroics that made the difference.
There was principally the maturity and expert handling by coach Chot Reyes.
Reyes was later quoted as telling his players the rare privilege of playing the USA team for the gold in a world tournament may never happen to them again.
Reyes had himself been through a series of tests and failures with the national team.
In the end, there’s the assuring trust and confidence of his immediate big boss, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan, who has tirelessly supported this mission to regain basketball honor for the country.
The morning after, there was evident thrill and gladness among commuters and market-goers out in the streets.
It was not unlike the bright mornings after big Manny Pacquiao victories in the recent past, with Filipinos, the rich and mainly the poor, feeling truly assured and fulfilled.
In fact, there was this suggestion that the Tenorio heroics, equal to a resounding Pacquiao title-grabbing knockout triumph, should be preserved for future generations to savor among the greatest moments in Philippine sports.
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