Gilas: Great heart, great talent, and more | Inquirer Sports
Bare Eye

Gilas: Great heart, great talent, and more

THERE was this damper which said the Gilas Pilipinas national basketball team would have to pass through the eye of the needle against France in the current Manila Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Now, if that was not disheartening enough, there would come a more disturbing call which said the needle would be eyeless—walang butas ang karayom—in the Philippines’ first assignment against fifth-seeded France. Gilas is ranked 28th by the International Basketball Federation (Fiba).

This was on the eve of the Philippines-France game at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

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France, as expected, would win the game on Tuesday. But the story was not that simple.

In fact, the Philippine national basketball team displayed great heart, coupled with amazing talent, that helped puncture the eyeless needle, so to say.

The French national team, sparked by NBA legend Tony Parker, beat the Philippines, 93-84, but it could be safely stated that the game was a lot closer than the final score indicated.

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For starters, the Philippines took the first quarter by eight points, 30-22, before France struggled to prevail by two, 45-43, at the halftime break.

There was also great basketball theater in the first period, and it could not be denied this was served mainly through the pulse-pounding heroics of the smaller Filipino warriors, led by backcourt daredevil Terrence Romeo and the spitfire Jason Castro.

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Before the game, there were secretly spoken fears that the Nationals, despite the imported team pillar Andray Blatche, could end up shamed, mangled by the taller, bigger Frenchmen.

It therefore came as a happy surprise after the Philippines got off to a sensational and robust start, even posting a 10-point lead, before Parker would rise and score nine straight points.

Anyway, if there was agony on the woodcourt, it would mostly be on the part of coach Vincent Collet of France, who had appeared pale and lost on the bench. With his bothered behavior, vividly captured by the television camera, Collet was obviously wondering what native magic was sparking their smaller opponents for them to be able to zoom, zip, soar from impossible directions.

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On the eve of the contest, coach Collet had been quoted as sending a message to President Rodrigo Duterte that he was sorry, “impossible, there’s no way the Philippines could win.”

OK, Collet was right, but if he did win, the Philippine team, underrated, had more than shown that it belonged and has the right to do battle with the best.

Gilas Pilipinas wove passionate, creative basketball to the thrill of home fans but, close to the end, turnovers and the quiet efficiency of the solid French team, as elegantly personified by Tony Parker, made all the difference.

At least, after a great, heartwarming stand against vastly superior France, hopes went high for Gilas Pilipinas in its win-or-go match against New Zealand scheduled last night.

Puso, Laban Pilipinas!

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(GOODBYE GREAT FATHER: Mayor Isaac O. Tolentino, a lawyer and professor who served as chief executive of Tagaytay City for 26 consecutive years (1954-1980), passed away last July 2. He was 93. An obituary—which stated “he will share genuine concern for your welfare”— announced that his remains will lie in state at Tagaytay City Hall on July 7 and 8, before interment at Tagaytay Memorial Park. Mayor Tolentino came to the rescue of this straying deadliner-beater after I hurriedly boarded a night train from Munich following the Black September massacre in the 1972 Summer Olympics. He chanced upon me, pale and shivering, and took me under his wings, until we were able to board our Pakistani International Airlines plane together a week later, from Rome and home—to waiting martial rule. Paalam po, Tatay Isaac.)

TAGS: Basketball, FIBA, Gilas Pilipinas, Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament

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