Nobody wants to join a tournament and simply play to lose.
A day before Gilas Pilipinas flew to Taipei to participate in the 37th William Jones Cup, Marc Pingris said they intend to play their hearts out for flag and country.
After five games, we’ve seen how this latest incarnate of Gilas played its heart out, even enduring the physical match against Spartak-Russia on Tuesday.
Yes, there were stretches in their first five games when Gilas played ugly – falling into a maze of turnovers and get badly beaten in rebounding. Add to that the national players’ penchant for fouls, which for me, is due in part to adjustment to Fiba style of play.
Romeo, the 5-foot-11 guard from GlobalPort, is playing with a lot of confidence during his first five games.
He may be facing defenders, who are at least four inches taller than him, but he certainly played with a lot of guts.
The young guard out of Far Eastern University used his speed and dribbling skills to get past taller, more experienced defenders to get his baskets.
Even Alaska wingman Calvin Abueva is stamping his class in the tournament.
Although he usually gets into early foul trouble, Abueva manages to contribute in a lot of ways because of his defense, tireless work off the boards against bigger defenders, scoring during transition and dishing off nifty passes – all qualities he has showed during his first three seasons as a pro.
Even Fil-Tongan Moala Tautuaa has showed his potential against some of Asia’s best. Although the 6-foot-7 Tautuaa is playing as mere backup to naturalized player Andray Blatche, the top rookie pick this year, makes sure he contributes in his own little way.
Personally, even if Gilas blew its chance of capturing this year’s Jones Cup after bowing to Asian powerhouse Iran, 74-65 on Thursday, the tournament has no doubt, offered valuable lessons for the Filipinos as they prepare for next month’s Fiba-Asia men’s championships.
We understand that the Philippines is a basketball-crazy nation, and that the Filipino people want to see Gilas reign supreme in the Jones Cup.
But then again, the goal is not just to win in this side of a tournament. Because the whole idea of joining such tournament is for the national side to get accustomed to international play and achieve chemistry.
In the end, the target is not just be competitive in the Fiba-Asia cage joust, but to become champions in order to make it back to the Olympics, set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil next year.
The ‘Road to Rio’ can be ugly – turnovers, wrong decisions, giving up too many fouls in the Jones Cup. But these won’t matter anymore once Gilas gets the coveted slot in the Olympics – something the Philippines last achieved in 1972 in Munich, Germany.