We are a basketball-loving nation. Time and time again, this statement has been proven by just about every single star player or foreign coach that visits our country. The energy and passion the fans bring to the stadiums—whether we’re the underdog or not—earned us the appreciation of sports media worldwide.
To say that we can’t compete on an international level when it comes to basketball is to have an outdated opinion. The country hosted the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, a tournament that saw our national team go up all the way to the finals against powerhouse Iran. Coming in from almost zero reputation to bringing home runner-up honors was no small matter, but our team did it. The 2014 FIBA World Cup was Gilas Pilipinas’ first outing out of the country in a long time, and while we didn’t get the podium finish, the world was watching our brand of basketball.
The recent 2015 FIBA Asia Championship had us on the favored side of matchups, but we again came in second, this time versus China’s national team. A lot of talk about China having all the possible advantages (venue, fans, court, referees, training, even age, height, and size) were levied against Gilas 3.0, but our team was able to focus on the task at hand—all for the chance to represent our country in a game we love to play and watch.
In the short span of time of the “Gilas” brand, the team—a mixture of veteran smarts and youthful energy—in its three different lineups, all had something new to bring to regional and international basketball. Beyond conditioning, teamwork, and dedication, (these should not be taken lightly, of course), each and every member of team Gilas Pilipinas carries the heart and passion of the Filipino basketball fan with them each and every game. It’s evident on their faces the moment they step on the court to play. The passion our country has for the sport—height, size, and conditioning be damned—is a testament that David brought down Goliath. We’ve proved this time and again—so much, that when the world looks at our team, it’s not about being the underdog anymore. It’s about being dominant.
The 2016 Olympics is coming up, and our player pool is complete. Calvin Abueva, Gabe Norwood, Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Marc Pingris, and Terrence Romeo have remained on the team. They are joined by June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Japeth Aguilar, LA Tenorio, Greg Slaughter, Jeff Chan, Paul Lee, Ryan Reyes, Troy Rosario, and Ian Sangalang.
Reyes, Rosario, and Sangalang are the new faces in the Gilas pool, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the experience being in a national team. Reyes was a member of the team sent during the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship, while Rosario and Sangalang served in the national team for the SEA Games.
The short training time—around two months—the team had in preparation for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship won’t be happening this time around. Ever since the pool was finalized, the team has been meeting at least once a week to train together, in addition to the conditioning they received from their respective PBA teams’ practice sessions.
The latest incarnation of Gilas Pilipinas has big men, complemented by hardworking forwards and quick guards, and rounded off with deadly sharpshooters. Gilas 4.0 is arguably the best national team incarnation given the active roster of PBA teams. All have experience playing ball outside of the country, and should have no trouble fitting in the Gilas system under head coach Tab Baldwin. Coach Tab had served with other teams from other countries, and has done impressive work molding Gilas 3.0 into a cohesive unit during the recent FIBA Asia stint in Changsha.
But are the players and coaching staff enough to pursue an Olympics bid?
More than the players and staff, Gilas—in any version—has a valuable asset: the fans. Young and old alike, Filipino basketball fans come together as one during games, akin to how Manny Pacquiao lowers the crime rate during his fights, win or lose. Basketball is a national passion, and the unity our team gives our nation is unbelievable. Our fandom is one of the best in the world, having had the unofficial title of “Most Valuable Fans.” When Gilas 4.0 steps on the court, the opposing team doesn’t see a team of basketball players. They see each and every Filipino fan stepping on the court with the team.
So should we still pursue an Olympics bid? The answer is yes. The competition alone is enough to drive fans—who are naturally competitive—to see how their team ranks against other national teams. An Olympics bid helps inspire the youth to dream bigger and work harder for their goals—all because they watch a few grown men play the game they also play in their hometowns, be it on the streets or in barangay basketball courts.
Seventeen men will be under the microscope come the 2016 Olympic qualifiers. And all these 17 men will carry the hearts of Filipino basketball fans each and every game day. Amid the jeers and cheers, win or lose, these 17 men carry with them the heart of a nation obsessed with the game. And that’s more than enough reason for us to pursue an Olympics bid.