Since 2007, the Philippines has steadily climbed up the Fiba-Asia men’s basketball ladder.
The 2007 edition in Tokushima, Japan saw the national team mentored by Chot Reyes finish ninth. Mark Caguioa, Danny Seigle, Jimmy Alapag, Dondon Hontiveros, Jayjay Helterbrand, Eric Menk and Asi Taulava were part of that team, which participated in the Asian championships for the first time since the country’s Fiba suspension in 2005.
Two years later, in Tianjin, China, it was James Yap and Cyrus Baguio’s turn to lead the Philippines, helping the country climb a notch at eighth in the Asian men’s championships that also served as a qualifier for the 2010 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
In 2011, the first Smart-Gilas basketball program that produced the likes of former college standouts Chris Tiu, JV Casio, Mac Baracael and Mark Barroca bannered the national side. Marcus Douthit served as our naturalized player, while PBA veterans Kelly Williams, Taulava, Alapag and Ranidel de Ocampo provided their veteran presence.
Smart-Gilas dropped a stinging 75-61 defeat to Jordan in the semifinals, and had to settle for fourth after bowing to South Korea via a narrow 70-68 decision.
The Jordanians were then coached by Tab Baldwin, who now handles this year’s Gilas batch.
Then in 2013 in Manila, with the support of thousands of basketball-crazy Filipinos every game, the PBA-backed Gilas 2.0, again, mentored by Reyes, made history by placing second behind Iran and in the process, punch a ticket to the Fiba World Cup in 2014 in Spain.
It marked the first time for the Philippines to make it to the world championships since the last national team saw action in 1974 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
And tonight (Oct. 1), the rejigged Gilas side under Baldwin, continues its Asian gold medal quest and more importantly, the country’s Olympic dream as it faces Lebanon.
Gilas simply needs to win three straight to achieve that dream, but the Filipinos will have to work hard for every game, beginning against the Lebanese, who are marking their return to Fiba-Asia this year.
This latest Gilas team has showed character, PUSO and togetherness amid the adversities it faced since the start of training camp in early August.
Baldwin, in his straightforward response to past interviews, always said that he has set his eyes, not just at a semis stint or second place – but the Asian men’s basketball gold.
May Gilas bring home the gold and more importantly, put our country back at the map of Olympic basketball.