MANILA, Philippines – It all boils down to one final game on Thursday night, May 18, when the last two unbeaten teams clash for the gold medal and a lone ticket to the FIBA Asia Cup in August.
The highly favored Philippines takes on Indonesia to determine the champion of the 2017 SEABA Men's Championship in the Smart Araneta Coliseum at 7 pm. Both sides currently hold 5-0 records.
The Indonesians will finally be coming in at full strength with naturalized players Jamarr Johnson and Arki Wisnu cleared by FIBA to play for the tournament only since Wednesday.
This makes them a worthy opponent for Gilas, who has been on a rampage all week long, winning against 5 foes by an average of 63.8 points.
"It's hard to beat the Philippines. To be honest, it's hard," said head coach Wahyu Widayat Jati. "But at least we [will] try, we [will] not give up, we [will] try our best."
The American Johnson, 28, has been raring to see action after sitting out the first 4 games of the tournament. He and Wisnu had been awaiting clearance from USA Basketball, America's basketball governing body, and subsequently FIBA, the sport's world federation.
"First just not have fear, play regardless [of] what kind of reputation the Philippines has," Johnson said, on what the underdog Indonesia should do in order to take down the vaunted Gilas.
"Just gotta come in there and play basketball. Like what coach said, we're gonna give our best from the beginning and then we'll see the results of that," added the 6-foot-5 Johnson.
"I'm gonna play my heart out and I'm gonna do what I can to help our team win, whether that's sacrificing my body or rebounding or scoring or whatever I have to do, I'm gonna do what I have to do for the game."
Wisnu, an Indonesian-American, is likewise bracing for the Philippines. He is prepared to leave it all on the floor Thursday night if it means a major upset of the region's best and a shot at the FIBA Asia Cup and later on the Asian Qualifiers.
"It's just basketball, and we know the Philippines has a high reputation, but in 40 minutes of basketball, that can change," he said. "We're ready to play our hearts out and let's see what happens."
'Get the job done'
Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who has been enforcing discipline on the national team all week amid the string of blowouts, is once again cautioning against taking Indonesia lightly.
"From Day 1, not only now but from Day 1, we took a look at their roster and we knew it's not a roster we can take for granted, that's why we built the team that we built," Reyes said, before going through his observations of Indonesia.
"First of all, I think they're very well-coached, they have a very heady point guard who's been around, he's not afraid to take over in the clutch, great outside shooter. They have a couple of bigs who can score and shoot from the outside," he explained.
"And then they have Jamarr Johnson, who's going to be their energy guy, going to be their go-to guy. The key for us is to keep up with his motor. He's going to be raring to go, he doesn't have any minutes on those legs, so he's going to be very fresh. We gotta get ready for that."
From the very beginning the Gilas coaching staff has emphasized excelling in hustle stats – numbers that aim to quantify the effort or so-called intangibles of the game. That, on top of maintaining aggressiveness and good habits, will be tested against Indonesia, with the pressure slightly higher due to the stakes.
A loss tonight would be devastating for the Gilas program and would upset the current pecking order in Southeast Asia basketball. More importantly, a loss seriously jeopardizes the Philippines' Olympic and World Cup goals.
"We can just win by one. All we need to do is to get the W," a stern Reyes said.
"We're not concerned about the margin of victory or whatever. We just want to get the job done. We just want to make sure that we get to the FIBA Asia. And now, there's 40 minutes separating us from that." – Rappler.com