Before FIBA 2014 opened in Seville, the Gilas Pilipinas and we had set a low expectation, thinking we can’t win against the world’s top basketball teams and will only take chances at the two lowest ranked teams in the group that we’re in. Without a graphic memory of our national team winning against other countries’ lineups, our national psyche allowed us to think that simply showing up is not that bad. This was in a sport that, as a nation, we welcomed like a religion.
But with the rest of the world, we realized we underestimated ourselves and were wrong in our expectation right after we played Croatia, again right after Greece, and especially again right after Argentina. We didn’t win any of those games but we damned Fiba world ratings and rankings like they were tables that merely conjured numbers that didn’t mean anything. Our losses against the 16th, 5th and 3rd ranked teams in the world were close that they could have went to our 34th ranked squad. We lost our fourth game to 17th-ranked Puerto Rico but this game didn’t emit the promise of the first three games although this was also a near-win loss.
Philippines “put a scare” and “made us look like fools,” the press and our opponents said. Philippines “belong here,” in this league, planet basketball said. They stopped considering us a dark horse. They saw a growling lion heart, or a heart lion that can devour them. We shone right after our first game even when we were far from a polished international team.
However as a team, sustainability and consistency became a repetitive sour point in each of our performance. But these, more than skill, require experience to fix, experience on the same stage and level that we didn’t have. Lacking experience, jitters make any player decide to pass even if it’s an easy shot for him at a league elsewhere. Or, players decide to shoot but an emotion-induced mental preoccupation will make the tentative shot a painful miss on crucial moments. Worse, even passes can be tentative that can be easily lost or stolen.
This is why I shun comments that say coach Chot Reyes or any player, with their actions or decisions, had cost our advance to the next round. It is Reyes and all of the players, with their actions and decisions, who showed us that we have strong chances to advance in the next round.
Of course we should appreciate countries that are perennially on top of such tournaments. They showed us the other requirements to win a game.
We have more homework to finish to again play in same or better fashion in the global stage. For now we can only parade a unanimous high respect from opponents and global audience. A championship for us is now impossible in Spain but who knows, we might get it in Manila, Cebu or Bulacan. By that time our basketball program could already have developed arsenals to complement our biggest asset: “puso.”
Last night we played our last of five games in the tournament. We are exiting with just a single win against Senegal, also a breakout team in this cup’s group B.
Our 1-4 win-loss card? I’ll take it any day if it means regaining what we lost for more than 3 decades: world recognition of our brand of basketball, and to see that winning a world basketball trophy using our brand is not an impossible dream. Bilog ang bola. Bilog and mundo. We will not be on top on a wishful someday, we will be on top on a foreseeable soon. We are not clueless anymore of what we can do.
Mabuhay ang Gilas Pilipinas.