Gilas Pilipinas Shines in World Basketball

Once in a while, you witness greatness in all its splendor. What Gilas Pilipinas exhibited in the FIBA World Cup 2014 held in Seville, Spain is nothing short of greatness. The team showcased to the whole world Philipine’s own brand of basketball like never before. And in return, it earned the respect of other teams and basketball fans all over the world.

In case you’re wondering, what exactly is Philippine basketball? The Nike ad below perfectly captures it.

The Gilas Pilipinas roster is made up of well-selected players from the PBA. They are big men Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, Marc Pingris, Ranidel De Ocampo, and naturalized center Andray Blatche, alongside with prolific guards Gabe Norwood, Jeff Chan, Gary David, Paul Lee, Jimmy Alapag, LA Tenorio, and Jayson Castro.

The squad earned the slot by winning bronze in last year’s FIBA Asia championship held in Manila. This is the country’s first entry since 1978 when it was the host. This is a team on a mission, they have to at least reach the quarterfinals. To achieve that they have to notch at least 2 wins. By all accounts, it is a herculean task considering the quality of opposition they have to face.

After watching the pre-tournament games with France, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic, I’m convinced that the team is ready and will make a good account of themselves in the world stage.

In the tournament proper, we were stacked together with Croatia, Greece, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Senegal in group B. Croatia is 16th, Greece is 5th, Argentina is 3rd, Puerto Rico is 17th and Senegal is 41st ranked in FIBA as of 2013. Philippines meanwhile is 34th, we are the 2nd lowest ranked in the tournament.

In the 24-team contest, the Gilas team held the distinction of being the shortest team with an average height of only 6′ 4″. Also, three of the shortest players in the competition are Jimmy Alapag, LA Tenorio, and Jayson Castro. LA is the shortest player standing at 5′ 6″.

On the other hand, Croatia has a pair of 7-footers. Greece has three 7-footers, Puerto Rico also has a pair of 7-footers. And Senegal has a 7-footer and the 6′ 11″ Gorgui Dieng. Plus there’s the presence of NBA talents in Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia, Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece, Luis Scola of Argentina, and JJ Barea of Puerto Rico. These are just some of the popular names, there are a lot more lesser known NBA players.

Obviously, we are in a very tough group, but it is in this very setting that Gilas Pilipinas will execute its finest performance in world basketball to date.

First assignment is Croatia, one of the powerhouses of European basketball and once a finals contender against the US dream team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Despite the glaring disparity in height and international exposure, the Philippines have the element of surprise on its side. It is the team’s first game and it’s players aren’t properly scouted yet.

For 40 minutes of play, Gilas gave the Croatians all they could handle, we even lead them at some intervals of the game. It was a tight game that had me on the edge of my seat. Our player’s refusal to give up, pushed the game into overtime, sending fans alike in a wild frenzy. I almost can’t believe that they played like the way they did.

In the end we lose 78-81. However, in this game we received a lot of bad calls, 2 of which in my opinion, cost us the game. One is the questionable “flopping” charged on Jayson, this specific call gave Croatia 5 additional points. Second, in the dying seconds, the obvious foul committed on Jayson while in a 3 point attempt but was never called. On the positive side, in its debut, Gilas showed that they are for real and they play to win. Here’s the highlights of the game to relish on.

Based on their riveting performance with Croatia, I’m now looking forward to Gilas’ next game with Greece. The Greeks didn’t actually qualify and were only in the contest because of the wild card slot awarded to them. Nonetheless, they fielded a very strong team and have proven their worth by beating Senegal. They are mainstays of the Eurobasket and they have actually beaten the US in the 2006 Worlds edition.

Using their heft to full advantage, the Greeks started strong and played a physical game. They lead by as many as 17 points, but as always Gilas persisted and in the last few minutes were able to chopped down the lead to a single digit. Gilas’ “never say die” attitude turned it into another exciting game that have the fans shouting and jumping. But the height and size mismatch is just too much to overcome and Greece maintained its perfect record with an 82-70 win.

In this game, it was June Mar that stood out as he matched pretty well against the bigs of the other team. He bagged 10 points. You can watch the game’s highlights here.

The first two games, in reality are just appetizers to what I consider is Gila’s best showing in the tournament, the match with Argentina. The Argentinians are a perennial contender and a tested powerhouse in the FIBA Americas. They are ranked third in the world and are former Olympics champion. The Filipinos however have nothing to do with their opponent’s credentials.

In this game, Gilas played the dribble drive to an almost perfect execution. Long distance shooting, rebounds, blocks, free throws, you name it, we showed all that. The game was nothing short of a thrilling non-stop action from start to finish, basket after basket. Almost everybody in the team got into the game and contributed. Can you imagine that we lead by as many as 10 points, at least 3 times in the game? Have you seen Jimmy’s incredible 3 point shot from long distance? How can you ever forget Gabe Norwood’s awesome one handed dunk over Luis Scola.

This game is different, this is the game that got the world talking about Philippine basketball. Yes, we still lose by score of 85-81, but this one is celebrated as a victory. Relive the glory by watching the highlights below.

If there’s a team in group B that’s more or less considered a match, it would be Puerto Rico. It is interesting as the Puerto Ricans have the same running game as Gilas, plus the player heights and build isn’t that much different. They have JJ Barea, a tornado of a point guard and will be a handful to Gilas’ own guards. The Puerto Ricans won the FIBA Americas repeatedly in 1980, 1989 and 1995. Their finest accomplishment in the Worlds was in 1990, when they reached the semifinals, but ended up fourth overall.

This game is crucial for both teams as they are winless. For the Philippines, this game is a must win if they have want to reach the quarterfinals. And so, the pinoys started waxing hot, ending the first quarter on top by 12 points. However, a quality team like Puerto Rico doesn’t just fade away, they fought back and by the end of the third, they now lead by 4, mostly on the efforts of Barea. Gilas’ in turn played harder and even took the lead 70-67. The teams provided an excitement that had the crowd on their feet. However, the pinoys faltered in the remaining minutes, missing all seven shots from beyond the arc. This game is another heart breaker for the Filipinos with the final score 77-73.

The loss ended the Philippine squad’s quest to play with the elite teams of the other groupings.

In what is now clearly their last game, Gilas’ cannot afford to go home winless. They have to win their game with Senegal who are the bronze medalists of the 2013 FIBA Africa championship. At this point, the Senegalese themselves are a revelation as they achieved what the Filipinos can’t, they have beaten Puerto Rico and Croatia. Senegal is now expected to go to the quarterfinals.

Tall and lanky, they posed another tough job for the Filipinos. But Gilas being Gilas, repeated their feat and dragged the Senegalese into overtime, except that this time the pinoys prevailed, 81-79.

It was a historic win, our first after more than 36 years of absence and it was celebrated as if we won the championship. Relive the jubilation in this video.

We ended our FIBA World Cup 2014 stint with a record of 4-1, highlighted by close loses to top quality teams, a feat by itself. Yes, we are shorter in height but we are never short of heart. Gilas Pilipinas gave fans the kind of excitement never before experienced. We played an entirely different kind of basketball, one marked not by height and or any another physical attributes, not by athleticism, but by intensity, passion and heart combined with superb play making skills, quickness and talent.

Just as the country entered this tournament with distinction as being the shortest team with the shortest player, we ended it with our team and players earning high performance ratings and the Filipino fans gaining an award.

The Philippine team got the highest Efficiency Rate among the Asian countries with Efficiency Rate of 73.20 besting Iran’s 64.80 and South Korea’s 61.80. It is the 14th-highest in the entire tournament.

June Mar Fajardo is the second most efficient player with PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 44.92 just behind Pau Gasol’s 48.66. Fajardo is among the top five for total rebound percentage at 28.68%.

Andray Blatche is the fourth leading scorer with 21 points per game. Andray is also the tournament’s top rebounder with 13.7 a game and the only player to get a double-double in all three games.

Finally, the Filipinos gained FIBA’s special citation called the Most Valuable Fan (MVF) Best Country Award for having the most passionate fans in the tournament.

After its excellent performance, the Philippines is now ranked 31st, not bad at all.

Gilas Pilipinas showed the world Philippine’s own brand of basketball. Ours is not a copy cat of say European or US basketball. We play fast and hard and it is good enough to challenge major teams, we just need to improve on it.

In the games, I noticed a few plays that’s quite effective and would be good if Gilas would focus on it and continue improving it.

Ranidel Deocampo is very good doing the drive and lay-up, I think Marc Pingris and Japhet Aguilar need to do this too. They shouldn’t be limited to just playing the low post. If they can learn this move, they would have another form of attack and an additional thing to worry for the opposing team.

Jeff Chan and Paul Lee drives then jump shoots, they have done it a couple of times and were very effective at it. The other guys need to learn this move too. If we add this as another arsenal, the opposition now has to deal with 3 possible scenarios every time our guys drive in. That will render the defenders guessing whether we will pass, lay-up or shoot. The monotonous drive-pass or drive-layup is susceptible to steals or blocks as defenders will just wait for our players to either pass or lay-up.

We need another big man underneath the basket for a 3 way rotation. Greg Slaughter needs to be invited again to join the team. He has a listed height of 7′ 1″ and with a declared weight of 285 pounds he can provide the much need rebounds, blocks and box outs. With Greg, we have an incredibly powerful trio of towers, imagine Greg and June Mar alternating in the low post for defense, rebounding and follow-ups. Andray in the high post for perimeter offense, pick and roll and ball rotation. Our outside shooters can fire at will confident that there’s a guy down there to rebound and follow-up in case of a miss. There’s a lot of possible combination that can be played. We can even have all three together in the court. Greg and June Mar play centers while Andray can be a power forward, that can help the centers if needed for complete domination of the boards. Man this combination would be lethal.

With Jimmy Alapag announcing his retirement from international basketball, as a replacement we will be needing a much bigger and taller point guard, one who can bang and neutralize their defenders without the need of a pick or screen. At the same time he must have the unwavering tenacity, extraordinary speed, awesome dribbling, deadly outside shooting, suffocating defense, accurate passing skills and high IQ qualities of Jimmy.

In the FIBA Asia Championship 2013, I’ve noticed a volleyball type of passing that converted. We need to have better passing, one that is unique like this. That will help reduce the turnovers as repetitive and usual passing can be easily anticipated and broken by the opposing team.

Lead management is another area to work on. We lead by as mush as 12 points and yet we were not able to maintain it. If we lead by as much as 6 and above, let’s slow down the game, pace ourselves, stay focus and not hurry our shots. Consume as many seconds as possible. Playing fast and missing the shots actually is an advantage to our opponent as it gives them more time and opportunities to catch up.

We need better end games. How many times did we lose because the end game didn’t work out? Lets plan and execute plays that is not repetitive and routine, one that the other team is not expecting. Surprise is the key for the game winning play.

And then, there’s the free throw. We really need to improve the percentages as it adds up, especially that fouls are an important tool in international games. Who knows, if we only succeeded in sinking more free throws, we could have won those close games.

We can call this much improved team as Gilas Pilipinas 3.0. If ever it becomes a reality I personally think it is a championship caliber team that can give us fans a lot of memorable games to remember.

In fact, Gilas’ performance in FIBA got the other Asian countries worried. The Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee (IAGOC) ruled that Andray Blatche is ineligible to play with Gilas Pilipinas in the 2014 Asian Games to be held in Incheon, South Korea. The ruling is definitely malice as Blatche was allowed to play by FIBA. Not satisfied, other teams now try to stop Marcus Douthit, the replacement for Blatche from playing too. Their attempt failed. Obviously they are sour-graping.

We can’t stop other countries from whining, but they can no longer escape the fact that going forward, Philippine basketball will be a force to reckon with. We will be a dominant team in regional games and a contender in the international scene.

Last FIBA World Cup 2023, Gilas Pilipinas played host but failed to book its ticket to the 2024 Olympics. All is not lost though, the Philippines still qualified to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament(OQT) next year, at the expense of china which was handily beaten to a pulp.

But before the OQT, we have the 2025 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier which is scheduled as Feb 22 and Nov 21 2024. And Feb 20  2025. The following players have already been chosen for the 12-man pool under coach Tim Cone. Its very tight, what happens if there’s an injury? Better go for 15 members to be safe.

Kai Sotto, 7′ 2″, Center
Junemar Fajardo, 6′ 10″, Center
AJ Edu, 6′ 10″, Power Forward/Center
Carl Tamayo, 6′ 8″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Jaime Malonzo, 6′ 7″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Kevin Quiambao, 6′ 7″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Justin Brownlee, 6′ 6″, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Import
Calvin Oftana, 6′ 5″, Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Dwight Ramos, 6′ 4″, Shooting Guard
Chris Newsome, 6′ 2″, Shooting Guard
CJ Perez, 6′ 2″, Point/Shooting Guard
Scottie Thompson, 6′ 2″, Point Guard

For the OQT, this is my dream team:
Kai Sotto, 7′ 2″, Center
Junemar Fajardo, 6′ 10″, Center
AJ Edu, 6′ 10″, Power Forward/Center
Justine Baltazar, 6′ 9″, Power Forward
Kemark Carino, 6′ 8″, Power Forward
Keith Datu, 6′ 8″, Power Forward
Carl Tamayo, 6′ 8″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Kevin Quiambao, 6′ 7″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Jaime Malonzo, 6′ 7″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Dwight Ramos, 6′ 4″, Point Guard/Shooting Guard
Schonny Winston, 6′ 4″, Point Guard/Shooting Guard
Jordan Clarkson, 6′ 3″, Point Guard/Shooting Guard

Backups:
Ange Kouame, 6′ 10″, Center
Justin Brownlee, 6′ 6″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Troy Rike, 6′ 7″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Calvin Oftana, 6′ 5″, Small Forward/Power Forward
Ken Tuffin, 6′ 4″, Point Guard/Shooting Guard
Ray Parks, 6′ 4″, Point Guard/Shooting Guard
Jordan Heading, 6′ 2″, Point/Shooting Guard
Chris Newsome, 6′ 2″, Point/Shooting Guard
CJ Perez, 6′ 2″, Point/Shooting Guard
Scottie Thompson, 6′ 2″, Point/Shooting Guard

As you can see, this is a pretty tall line-up, with JC as the shortest, would you believe that? Can’t wait for the OQT.

Go Gilas Pilipinas, into the future!

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