PH five the Pacquiao of basketball
The last time we cheered for our national basketball team was when the brilliant American coach Ron Jacobs led a Philippine team supported by Ambassador Danding Cojuangco to an epic overtime victory over a mighty United States squad in the Jones Cup in Taipei in 1985.
For the biggest crowd that showed up so far at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig for a game in the Fiba Asia Champions Cup, the Smart Gilas victory over one of the strongest teams in Asia, Jordan—reinforced by the bull-strong American import Jameel Watkins— was an almost incomparable emotional ride.
There is something about a country’s national team that brings out the fervor in an individual, and our Smart Gilas team has shown a remarkable capacity to excite its countrymen, just like Barangay Ginebra, the popular darling of local basketball.
The character of the Smart Gilas team built around a core of young men who are ready to sacrifice themselves against much bigger, stronger and talented foreign teams is simply amazing.
How can you not love the courage of JV Casio, Chris Tiu, and Mac Baracael who, despite their size, compensate with their willingness to battle fiercely.
There was the resolute defense of Mark Barroca, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and lanky Japeth Aguilar, who may have been out of sync in the Jordan game but came up big in earlier encounters.
Naturalized American Marcus Douthit gave it his all and pleased Rep. Robbie Puno, his godfather in Congress no end. Robbie, a longtime and respected friend who loves basketball, knew deep down in his heart he had done the right thing in helping steer Douthit’s naturalization through.
Douthit deserved the applause from Filipino fans, but the two men who deserved it the most on this occasion were birthday boy Dondon Hontiveros, who celebrated by giving his countrymen a gift to share and cheer about.
And then there was the indestructible Asi Taulava. Let no one ever doubt that Asi’s big heart is at least half Filipino because only a player with the heart of a Filipino could have pushed back the passage of time to play with the rare intensity that he showed in full measure.
When he was not on the court he was standing on the sidelines encouraging his teammates and enticing the crowd to cheer them on.
Let us also not forget Jimmy Alapag and Kelly Williams who may not be playing but sit on the bench and inspire the members of the team they will join for the Fiba Asia Men’s Championship, which will serve as the 2012 London Olympics qualifier.
Finally, coach Rajko Toroman. He is nowhere near the flamboyant and stylish Ron Jacobs but he’s got a philosophy of his own which is relative to the manner in which the international game is played today.
His greatest asset is his faith in his players’ ability to overcome all disadvantages with their quickness and fighting spirit, in addition to their innate natural talent.
Rajko provided us all with a master-class in tactical basketball, and even the timing of his substitutions was impeccable.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a national team in any sport bring out the fervor of the Filipino’s spirit.
The only one who has bound us together through recent years has been pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao.
In a sense, Smart Gilas is the Pacquiao of basketball, bringing down much bigger men and anchoring its achievements on speed, explosiveness and indomitable courage.