March 2, 2024

From June 16 to 20, the Samahang Basketboll ng Pilipinas (SBP), through the auspices of chairman Manny V. Pangilinan has sponsored the FIBA Asian Qualifying Tournament at Clark, Pampanga.
Eight teams from different regions in Asia entered the competition. The teams were divided into two brackets. The Gilas Pilipinas was bracketed in group B with Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand.
When the tournament started, Gilas Pilipinas was expected to perform poorly since the team was composed of relative upstarts. Gone were the likes of Junemar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Marc Pingris, Jimmy Alapag, and Jason Castro, among others. In their stead are collegiate players who, despite being stars in their own right, were considered too raw for the international competition. The new group was composed of unknowns, perceived to be too young to carry the fight for flag and country.
Kai Sotto, the tallest at 7’3” is only 19 years old. Jordan Heading, the oldest at 25 years old, is a journeyman who played in unpopular leagues like the Asian Basketball Tournament. And, who among Filipinos have ever heard of Archangel, Baltazar, Go, Ramos, Navarro, Chiu, Abarrientos, and Tamayo? For us, they are newbies who cannot match well with the seasoned veterans of the other countries.
When the lineup of the Philippine team was announced and it was revealed that there were no players from the PBA listed in it, people started to doubt. Basketball-loving Filipinos got angry that the SBP is compromising the interest of the nation by assembling a squad that is underqualified and overmatched. It was committing suicide by fielding a rookie-laden team to contend against the grizzled veterans of the other Asian ballclubs.
Thank God, we were proven wrong. The young guns of Gilas Pilipinas more than vindicated themselves. They proved to all and sundry that they are at par, if not even more, than their predecessors who, in the past, have given pride and honor to the country. However, there was still one more stumbling block to overcome – the South Korean basketball team, the archrival and nemesis of all Philippine basketball teams.
For the past eight years, Gilas could not seem to defeat the South Korean team. What is more, these losses were heart-rendering and devastating such that, even at the throes of victory, the South Koreans somehow always find a way to etch a dramatic comeback. Who could ever forget the Busan Asian Games where during the last two seconds with Gilas leading by two points, Olsen Racela missed two free throws. The rebound was taken by a South Korean player who heaved a three-point “Hail Mary” shot that went in. Man, it broke our hearts and made us cry. Our cries were heard as far as Busan, South Korea. It was the same in the Incheon Games and the other games that followed. Gilas was always at the losing end. Since then, it became known as the “Korean curse.”
Not this tournament. It was payback time. And, it had to take the new-look Gilas to make us believers again that, yes, we can beat the Koreans. The team of Tab Baldwin ambushed the South Koreans not only once but twice. That is right, we beat the South Korean team two times with the first victory done in as much dramatic fashion as the painful defeats that we tasted in their hands in the last eight years. The two wins buried the ghosts of the past and showed the vulnerability of the Koreans. More importantly, it broke the “Korean curse.”
If at all, the basketball program initiated by the SBP is going towards the right direction. After sweeping the FIBA Asian tournament at Clark, Pampanga, this basketball-crazy country is alive with great anticipation. There is so much expectation and belief that finally, we have assembled a team that has the right height and proper might to run and gun against the best in the world. At this juncture and with what we witnessed; we can shout with appreciation: Go Gilas!