The journey was good while it lasted. For the past few years, the Philippines’ pride, Gilas Pilipinas, had mesmerized us with a series of dazzling performances that kept our hopes for hoop heaven alive. With gutsy stints that won the hearts – not just of the Pinoy cage crowd – but of countless others who dared to dream big dreams. With an overwhelming display of ‘puso’, teaching many of us what nationalism and Pinoy pride was really all about. Alas, in what would have been a golden opportunity to deliver, before a hometown crowd egging our team on at the MOA Arena, our Gilas warriors simply sputtered.
Our venerable coach, Tab Baldwin, said it all: “We just fell short.” Yes, we fell. And yes, we were short. Not just short physically, but short in maturity, short in international experience, short in preparation time.
But the bottomline remains: we Pinoys are simply short. In basketball, height is might. What was pretty glaring in those two painful, yet heroic debacles was that no matter how good our players are, the height and heft of the fancied Les Blues of France and the rugged Tall Blacks of New Zealand were just too huge obstacles to hurdle. Despite the presence of Andray Blatche at the 5 (center) post, the mismatch at the 1 to 4 posts were just too obvious. There would be no need for complicated screen plays to create mismatches here, as simple isolations would do.
Sure, there would be occasional flashes of brilliance displayed by the likes of that spitfire Jason Castro, the exciting Terence Romeo, new addition Troy Rosario and even big-man Jun Mar Fajardo at the offensive end, but we just couldn’t piece together a game-long consistency to propel us to the next level.
Tony Parker and the eventual champions from France only had to use a bit of finesse to give us – as gracious hosts – a respectable loss at 84-93. (If it’s any consolation, France beat Canada in the championship game with the same 9-pt margin 83-74.) The Enzee Tall Blacks, on the other hand, used brawn and brute force to bend and finally bury us 80-89, slamming shut that elusive dream of making the last bus to the Rio Olympics.
In all fairness, we had – as Coach Tab said – only a puncher’s chance to win this Olympic Qualifying Tournament. The competing teams were just way too big, too strong, too fast and too good for our team. But our Gilas Warriors showed plenty of heart in doing battle with the best of them, giving us a glimmer of hope for a miracle in MOA.
That said, I’d like to render my salute and express my utmost appreciation to this underdog squad that gifted us with so many memorable thrills and experiences to be proud of.
You guys may have lost, but you learned plenty. I’m sure that the experience you acquired from the higher level of competition will benefit you, particularly in the coming PBA wars you will be facing. The positive karma you gained from the millions of fans praying and cheering for you has elevated your game tenfold. We witnessed that in the past, in the way Jason, Jun Mar and the other veterans delivered upon their return from foreign battles. The aches and pains, all the sufferings and sacrifices you made, all the heartaches you suffered will pay dividends now, as you set your sights on the incoming PBA duels.
Go forth and multiply then. Use the wisdom and experience you gained to elevate the Pinoy game. Teach, profess, motivate, and inspire. This message is not just for you who are now in the twilight of your basketball careers, but for all of you who have had the privilege of joining this great and noble endeavor. This is the least you can do to help propel our country back to international sports respectability. This is your mandate now, and this shall be your noble legacy.
Thank you, Gilas, for all the wonderful memories. Thank you too for the pride you have instilled in us as a people. Finally, thank you for continuing to elevate the Pinoy game to international standards.
Next ish, we tackle how we feel the next edition of Gilas Pilipinas can be improved.
(Pics courtesy of smartgilasbasketball.com, abs-cbn.com, spin.ph, eaglenews.com, kami.com, techbeat.ph, slamonline.com, twitterwhotalking.com, powcast.net, and sunstar.com)