Gilas 5 earns awe, respect from rivals
SEVILLE, Spain—What’s arguably the fightingest Philippine national basketball team in decades is making a definitive statement at the 2014 Fiba World Cup here. Loud and clear.
Despite its 0-4 record in the group phase, Gilas Pilipinas has earned the respect of all the teams it has battled tooth and nail for a spot in the quarterfinals.
“You cannot underestimate their side (Gilas),” Greece coach Fotis Katsikaris said after scouting World No. 3 Argentina following its last-gasp 85-81 victory over the audacious Filipinos Monday.
“I had the impression before that the Philippines was too dangerous to play, that it can’t take the brand of play here, like my players could easily get injured playing that side.
“I now realize, after seeing that team again (against Argentina) that it can compete here (Fiba World Cup).”
And then addressing a Filipino reporter, he added: “This is a great experience for your side, and this will help when it competes in other tournaments.”
Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa was succinct in his description of Gilas’ showing.
“Small team but very very competi tive,” said Repesa.
Repesa knew where he was coming from. Croatia survived the Filipinos in regulation time and persevered to escape with an 84-81 decision, dealing what had been described as the “supposed Asian minnows” their first defeat in the tournament.
Argentina coach Julio Lamas said the speedy Filipinos made his squad “look like fools in the first half.”
“That’s the most difficult game I’ve fought in my career,” said Lamas.
No player, however, paid greater respect for the Philippines’ fighting heart than Puerto Rico’s NBA veteran JJ Barea, the sleek, cerebral playmaker who broke many a Filipino fan’s heart at Palacio de Minicipal de Deportes San Pablo venue here Tuesday.
“First of all, I’d like to say that Puerto Rico barely got the better of a courageous team, the Philippines,” Barea said during the postgane press conference. “The Filipino guards, especially No. 5 (LA Tenorio), they’re definitely superb in this tournament.”
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