It has been a long time since Team Pilipinas has taken their basketball prowess to the global stage. In this basketball-frenzy nation, passion for the sport of basketball extends from the professionals ranks in the PBA to the college hoops in the NCAA and the UAAP, and more so, it even extends up to small barangay and village leagues among young kids and adults. Almost every sports league in the country has basketball as one of its main, if not its primary, attraction. Perhaps basketball, among Filipinos, is the modern “national sport”. However, despite the sport being a staple in the Filipino identity, culture, and athleticism, the Philippine national team has not seen action in basketball’s biggest stage, the FIBA World Cup since 1978.
For decades and years long, Team Pilipinas experienced a drought in its basketball program. Various PBA legends and top talents have suited up for the national team during this long wait, but to no avail. But in the 2013 edition of the FIBA Asia Cup, a qualifying tournament for the world cup, the tables have turned in favor of the Pinoy cagers. Behind the sponsorship of business magnate and well-known basketball patron Manny V. Pangilinan, the revamped national team, Gilas Pilipinas, earned a silver medal in the Asian cup. And consequently, the silver medal booked them a ticket to the FIBA 2014 World Cup to be held in Spain.
The 2013 squad of Gilas Pilipinas was comprised by players in the likes of Marc Pingris, Japeth Aguilar, Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood, Gary David, June Mar Fajardo, Larry Fonacier, LA Tenorio, Jayson Castro, Jimmy Alapag, and Ranidel de Ocampo, among others. Naturalized import, Marcus Douthit, also suited up for the national team during the said tournament. The semifinals victory against South Korea was a momentous win for Gilas, since this signified their marked return to basketball’s biggest stage. The win personified their “puso” battlecry, which refers to playing with heart and utmost passion until the very end. And although they failed to overcome the taller Iran team in the championship, Gilas’ feat was enough to earn the respect of their basketball-crazy countrymen.
Strengthening the forces
A few months before the much-awaited FIBA 2014 World Cup, Gilas engaged in the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China. Unlike last year’s Asian cup, this tournament was merely a friendly competition among the different Asian teams and had no bearing to the world cup qualifiers. Gilas PIlipinas had a decent showing in the competition. Earning a bronze medal, the national team made history once again since this is their best-ever standing in the said tournament.
Although they again succumbed to the Iran team, this time in the semifinals, Gilas’ bronze medal was a result of their nail biting, 80-79, victory against hosts China. It was Gilas newcomer Paul Lee and his clutch free throws that lifted the team at endgame, again living up to their “puso” battlecry.
Only sporting a 12-man roster during this Asian cup, Coach Chot Reyes’ squad missed the services of top guns, Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood, and LA Tenorio, among others. However, fresh additions to the line up were Paul Lee, Jay Washington, and former Gilas cadets Kevin Alas and Garvo Lanete.
World cup preparations
With the world cup set to commence on August 30, the entire Gilas Pilipinas squad flew to Miami, USA for an intensive two-week training in preparation for the world cup. Despite the disaster brought about by the Last Home Stand fiasco, the Gilas players aim to remain focused in their world cup bid as the tournament draws closer and closer.
With the final roster comprised mostly of the 2013 runner-up team, the Gilas squad is even more reinforced by some key additions and changes in the line-up. The recently naturalized Andray Blatche of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets has joined the Gilas pool, and he joined the entire squad in the US training. Meanwhile, 2014 Asian cup hero Paul Lee made it to the roster, as Larry Fonacier has bid out of Gilas due to injuries.
The FIBA 2014 World Cup in Spain is set from August 30 to September 14. The Philippines is part of Group B, together with Senegal, Greece, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Croatia.