MANILA, Philippines - Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes refused to promise his team will bring home the gold at the upcoming 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. However, he did vow the hard-fighting Gilas will leave everything on the floor.
“We're not in the habit of making promises,” he began on Wednesday, September 17 during the team’s thanksgiving and send-off party at Max’s Restaurant, Araneta Center in Cubao. "We didn't make any promise going into the FIBA World Cup, except for the fact that nobody's gonna try harder so it's going to be the same thing.
"We promise the Filipino people that we're going to practically die to make every one of you proud that this is the team representing you. That's the only promise we'll make, that nobody will try harder,” he declared.
After what is regarded as a successful FIBA World Cup showing that followed modest expectations, Gilas Pilipinas is moving on to the Asian Games where expectations are much higher.
Gilas, despite heading into the tourney minus naturalized big man Andray Blatche who gave the Philippines a big boost at the World Cup, is aspiring to clinch the gold and end the country’s 52-year gold medal drought in basketball.
Tougher road ahead
Reyes’ promise of fighting hard holds greater weight due to the injuries plaguing the national team.
Even before the World Cup began, Gilas members Marc Pingris, Jayson Castro, and Paul Lee had already been dealing with injury.
Castro was forced to opt out of the Asiad due to a strained Achilles tendon which worsened as he played through it in the World Cup. He sat out the Philippines’ last game against Senegal.
In Castro’s place is veteran playmaker and team captain Jimmy Alapag, who was supposed to end his international career at the World Cup, but, because of the injuries, will instead postpone his retirement for one more tournament and suit up at the Asian Games.
"It's been a challenge,” Reyes admitted. "Jayson (Castro) hasn't been healthy enough to practice. Jared (Dillinger) just started practicing really full-court (on Wednesday) and Marc (Pingris) didn't even practice, he had to rest. So the injuries have really taken its toll on us.”
Lee, who also gutted it out during the World Cup, has been hampered by plantar fasciitis - an inflammation of the tissue across the bottom of the foot - on both feet. His status is still day-to-day.
Dillinger, meanwhile, also hurt his right calf at practice during the World Cup. Pingris sprained his right ankle as well in Spain.
All of these injuries have Gilas on the short end of the stick yet again. They will have to make do with the exhausted and hurting men they have right now, most of whom barely had any rest to begin with coming off a rough PBA season.
But Reyes remains confident they can manage since this is not the first time they’re facing odds stacked against them.
"I'll be honest; we're not gonna be 100% going to the tournament in the Asian Games,” he said.
"But hey, whoever gave us a chance in the World Cup anyway? This is not new to us, being in front of almost impossible odds. We'll just keep fighting and we'll see what happens.”
Banking on experience
The World Cup did not batter Gilas Pilipinas for nothing. After a week of battling some of the world's best, the national squad emerged bruised but also much more experienced, learned, and definitely more confident.
Those intangibles, according to Reyes, are what the team intends to take with it to Incheon.
"It's mostly gaining the experience. I think getting the confidence and experience as a team is important,” he said.
Reyes also noted how far this version of Gilas has come since last year’s FIBA Asia Championship, seemingly rising one level higher and accomplishing something significant for every tournament they’ve played.
They’ve beaten formidable opponents over the past year such as South Korea and China and have come very close to pulling off World Cup upsets against Argentina, Croatia and Puerto Rico.
"I'd like to think this team has grown,” Reyes said. "The team you saw in the FIBA Asia last year has grown. I think you saw in our games in the World Cup how far the team has gone. I hope we continue to improve, we keep growing because that's really what the program is about, getting better."
At the Asian Games, Reyes is hoping they can finally pull down a giant in Iran when they meet on September 25. He cautions that it will take a healthy and fully charged team for it to happen.
One other concern for the team is how they will react to inevitable hostilities from the crowd in Korea, which will have prepared for Gilas well in order to avenge last year’s FIBA Asia loss.
Despite playing away from home, Gilas has enjoyed tremendous support of Filipinos abroad, especially in Seville where, because of the huge turnout, it seemed like Gilas was playing at one of the Philippines’ arenas. But in Korea, though Filipinos may also flock to support them, Gilas will still have to develop thick skin to stand strong.
"It (crowd support) was a big boost to us,” Reyes admitted. "Now it's not gonna be there and we just have to find it in ourselves.” - Rappler.com