Hearing Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes talk for a few minutes after Monday’s late-night practice reveals the seriousness of the team’s goal of bringing respectability and sanity back in Philippine basketball.
For a nation that has embraced the game of basketball with a passion, Reyes understands that winning the Asian basketball diadem entails a lot of sacrifice, dedication, prayers and the huge support of every sector of the society.
“First of all, we’re very appreciative of all the text messages and tweets we’re getting from people professing their support for Gilas. I’ve always said this in the past, if we cud pull this off, it won’t be without the fans, their prayers and cheering, that will make us play beyond our capabilities, and that’s why the home court advantage is very important for us,” Reyes said.
Reyes admits that he has seen the good and even the ugly things that have somehow marred Philippine basketball in the past. While he didn’t elaborate, basketball-crazy Filipinos can attest to the fact that just a few years ago, the country was suspended by Fiba (the International Basketball Federation) due to the internal squabbling among our local basketball leaders.
The Fiba suspension proved to be a low point in the country’s rich basketball history that dates back to the post-war era where the Philippines used to be the toast of Asian basketball.
Carlos “Big Difference” Loyzaga, the Fajardo brothers Gabby and Felicisimo, Carlos Badion, Ramoncito Campos, just to name a few were the hard court heroes during that era.
But in the 21st Century, more than 50 years since the Philippines placed a respectable third in the 1954 World Basketball Championship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Reyes and the Gilas squad have an opportunity to try to rewrite history with a huge victory in the 27th Fiba-Asia men’s tournament set to start on Aug. 1.
Amid the apathy and numerous politicking that marred Philippine basketball for decades, Reyes is just hoping that Gilas Pilipinas’ victory in the hard court can serve as a catalyst that can create greater pride to every Filipino, while bringing a greater love for the sport of basketball.
“We all love basketball. I love basketball. A lot of the things I received in this life came from the game. But as we grow older, there are things that happen that made us lessen our love of basketball and sometimes, made us sick and tired of basketball altogether,” said Reyes.
“But hopefully, when we’re all done, this group would be remembered for by the people to say, watching this team made me love basketball again… Made me proud to be a Filipino and made me love the sport again. If we’re able to do that, then we would have done our job,” he ended.
As Gilas Pilipinas troop to court at the Mall of Asia Arena beginning Aug. 1, every true-blue Filipino basketball-crazy fan is encouraged to go and cheer for the national team, whose basketball exploits could hopefully bring Philippine basketball back to respectability, again.