An answered prayer
JAKARTA—After getting an answered prayer, national coach Yeng Guiao has dared to dream big in the Asian Games men’s basketball competition, which the Philippines crammed to prepare for.
“We’re here for a medal at the very least,” said the firebrand coach, who coolly watched his Nationals dismantle Kazakhstan early and then cruise to a 96-59 rout Thursday—all with the country’s designated ace, Cleveland Cavaliers standout Jordan Clarkson, watching from the sidelines.
The victory set the Philippines’ focus on one game, and the winning margin ensured that game doesn’t necessarily have to be against mighty China.
Instead, it will be the looming quarterfinal clash against a very familiar nemesis: South Korea.
“That will be our tournament right there,” Guiao told the Inquirer, referring to the Korea match. “If we win that game, we will be aiming to win a medal from there.
“It’s a game we need to win, let’s put it that way. Otherwise, we will be just trying to improve on our seventh place finish the last time out,” he said. “And we don’t want that.”
The Philippines needs to deal with China first in the group stage and will go into that Tuesday game against the Great Wall as a big underdog. But the winning margin against Kazakhstan means the Filipinos only need to keep things close against the Chinese to gain safe passage to the quarterfinals.
If Kazakhstan manages to pull of a stunning upset against China, it will have to do so via a seemingly implausible rout, otherwise the Philippines will advance via the tiebreak anyway.
The Filipinos started out hot and didn’t let up, suffocating the Kazakhstan offense with a pressing defense that allowed just one player to score in twin digits. Clarkson, who arrived after a long-haul flight from Los Angeles, went straight to GBK Basketball Hall and arrived in the third quarter to see Gilas Pilipinas put the finishing touches to a dominant win.
“The Lord blessed us with a very nice win,” Guiao said, understanding that the national basketball program is in need of heavy doses of positivity after a controversial stretch that kicked off with a brawl in the Philippines-Australia World Cup qualifying duel last July 2.
“This is the answer to the prayers of millions of Filipino people,” said Guiao, who added the team faces a “tall order” against China—which will mark Clarkson’s first match in a Philippines jersey.
A surprise win over China will allow the Philippines to skip a showdown with South Korea, owner of some of the most tormenting victories over the Philippines in the Asian scene.
But Guiao had tempered people’s expectations, especially on Clarkson’s boost to the team. Guiao took on this job on short notice, assembling the team less than two weeks ago with the help of Rain or Shine and the other PBA teams.
He admitted knowing little of Kazakhstan and deflected all credit to his coaching staff for a magnificent scouting job.
“They scouted [Kazakhstan] and prepared our defensive scheme,” Guiao said. “We were able to disrupt their offense and we were able to challenge their shots. Our anticipation was good and that’s because of the scouting.”
Stanley Pringle, one of the finest point guards in the PBA, scored 18 points and center Christian Standhardinger had 15. James Yap, whose last National Team duty was also under Guiao, had 12 and Paul Lee added 10.
Pringle played his first international 5-on-5 game and was a sight to behold. He missed just three of nine shots and quickly established himself as one of the best players in the tournament.
“I just come out to play and be the best player I can be for the team,” Pringle said. “I’m not after anything [individually]. We played a hard team game, just like what coach Yeng wants us to do.”
Anton Bykov had 13 points and was the only player in double figures for Kazakhstan, which trailed by as large as 37 after being held to just nine points in the opening period.
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