By Dr. Herman M. Lagon
THE EXCITEMENT is palpable as the 32-team FIBA Cup approaches, and the Philippines, one of the hosts, gears up to showcase its basketball prowess on the global stage. The Filipino spirit burns bright, igniting a fiery passion for the sport that runs deep in our veins. As the final 12 members of the Gilas team step onto the court, they carry the hopes and dreams of a nation hungry for retribution and success.
The Philippine quintet has weathered storms and triumphs, demonstrating resilience and dedication that epitomize the essence of Filipino sportsmanship. Their 85-62 routing of Ivory Coast last Friday is one bright light they have made in a friendly lately. They bravely fought 18-ranked Montenegro, led by Nikola Vucevic of the Chicago Bulls, last Sunday but ended up short at 102-87. Their Clarkson-less tune-up with Mexico this Monday also ended up short, 77-84. As of date, the top brass of Gilas are cracking their brains in choosing the final dozen of the team.
Nonetheless, the Pinoy players are indeed not just athletes playing a game; they are modern-day heroes representing the heart and soul of a country. In a world where the odds may seem insurmountable—with NBA-compact USA, Canada, France, Australia, Spain, Slovenia, and Serbia as betting favorites—they remind us that with determination and unity, we can achieve greatness.
However, every team, no matter how spirited, needs effective guidance. Herein lies a challenge that has stirred conversations among pundits and fans alike: the leadership of Coach Chot Reyes. A figure who evokes stingy admiration and generous skepticism, Coach Reyes has been at the helm of the Gilas program, steering it through turbulent waters and triumphant seas. While his ego and coaching style may have drawn critiques from various corners (many believe Coach Tab Baldwin is the better choice), it is important to remember that constructive criticism can often fuel growth if one allows it to.
Yet, let us remember that behind every triumph or setback lies a collective effort. The players, fueled by passion and a fierce sense of nationalism, are the driving force behind the Gilas team. Their dedication to the game and unwavering commitment to their country are awe-inspiring. As they chase victory on the hardwood versus Dominical Republic, Angola, and powerhouse Italy in Group A, they continue to inspire us to pursue our goals with the same vigor despite all odds.
The initial lineup is a mix of power and talent: Dwight Ramos, Chris Newsome, CJ Perez, Rhenz Abando, RR Pogoy, Scottie Thompson, Jamie Malonzo, Japeth Aguilar, Ray Parks Jr., June Mar Fajardo, Kai Sotto, AJ Edu, Calvin Oftana, and Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena. Justine Brownlee and Ange Kouame are already ruled out, as the naturalized spot will be given to Jordan Clarkson, while Poy Erram recently retired from his national team duty due to a knee injury. Carl Tamayo and Jordan Heading had earlier begged off due to injuries. Thompson and Sotto, meanwhile, have returned to Gilas training after sustaining injuries in the past weeks.
As Gilas gears up for global action as host of the FIBA World Cup after 45 years, let us back them up with full force. Every player, coach, and fan contributes to the story of the crazy Philippine basketball. The road ahead might be bumpy, but the bumps shape us.
So, let us celebrate the unity and resilience that defines the Filipino spirit. Let us celebrate the sweat, tears, and determination that the Gilas team pours into each practice, each game, and each moment. As the final 12 don their jerseys and step onto the court, let us stand united, roaring with pride, and let the echoes of “Pilipinas!” reverberate through the halls of the 55,000-seater potential-record-breaker Philippine Arena (versus Dominican Republic at 8 p.m. of August 25) and the historic Smart Araneta Coliseum (versus Angola at 8 p.m. of August 27, and versus Italy at 8 p.m. of August 29).
Remember, this quest for basketball redemption is not just about winning on the scoreboard. It is about the lessons learned, the friendships forged, and the stories told. And as the Gilas team embarks on this journey, may their efforts inspire us all to chase our dreams relentlessly, fueled by the undying spirit of the Philippines.
Go Gilas! Laban Pilipinas!
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.