Gilas Pilipinas is currently in the second round of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
In their first four games, the Philippines faced Palestine, Hong Kong, Kuwait, and most recently, Japan. They won three out of the four games. It’s a good start if you think about it. We are after all, the silver medalists from the 2013 edition of the tourney. Gilas is expected to at least get through the first round, just as the team was expected to beat Japan, even though it took a Herculean effort from an injured Andray Blatche.
In their last game prior to the second round, Gilas took care of Kuwait easily, beating them with the score of 110-64. That was expected.
The day before, against Hong Kong, the game was practically decided from the first period. Gilas won by a whopping 51 points. That was also expected.
However, Gilas lost in their opener against Palestine. It was a shock. It was a wakeup call. That was not expected.
After four games, and looking ahead to their match-up against Iran, what should we expect from our national team?
Gilas showed incredible strength and promise in the opening round of the FIBA Asia but they also showed vulnerability. We liked the things we saw when Gilas was breezing through Hong Kong and Kuwait, but we felt uneasy and unsure of our team when they lost to the Palestinians and when Japan had a clear chance to steal a victory.
The possibility of being crowned the best in Asia is within reach and basketball glory is waiting for us at the end. However, there is also the unfortunate possibility that we might lose, not just the tournament, but also the chance to go to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
What can we expect then from Gilas Pilipinas moving forward? Better yet, what did we expect from them to begin with anyway? Were we thinking we would win silver again? gold even? Did we think that we can go into China and finally beat the mighty Iranians?
When the final 12 of Gilas was announced, what were the thoughts that ran through your head? If you were excited about the lineup, then you had every reason to do so. We have Jayson Castro, arguably the best point guard in Asia. We have the bash brothers – Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva – to wreak havoc both offensively and defensively. We have Andray Blatche, an automatic double-double guy and instant game-changer for the Philippines. Veterans Asi Taulava and Dondon Hontiveros are past their prime but we love them nonetheless for their effort and leadership. Seeing this 12-man roster, you probably said to yourself, “we totally have a chance here.”
Then again, maybe you weren’t expecting a lot in the first place. Maybe you were one of those who were skeptical about the Gilas program the moment a handful of ex-Gilas members from the 2014 FIBA World Cup squad had various reasons for not rejoining the team. Maybe you immediately had doubts when the final roster was announced.
Romeo is a complete ball-stopper who would rather do fancy dribbles than even think of passing the rock. Taulava and Hontiveros are too damn old. JC Intal shouldn’t be there because there are a lot of other players more talented than the Barako Bull forward. Blatche is clearly out of shape. If you had doubts about the team heading into the FIBA Asia Championship, then you had every reason to do so.
So what should we expect from our national team then? If we win versus Iran and win the championship eventually, would it be an affirmation of some sorts? Will we say, “O tignan mo, kaya naman pala eh!” Will we be as proud of them knowing that this incarnation of Gilas has been surrounded with doubt and skepticism?
And then there’s the harsh reality of us losing. We might just finish third, or worse, not place at all and get eliminated quickly.
Do we play the blame game? Do we start pointing fingers at Asi? At Romeo? At Blatche? Or even Coach Tab Baldwin? Do we start to imagine the “what ifs?” What if June Mar Fajardo was healthy and cleared to play? What if Paul Lee was there alongside Castro? What if Marcio Lassiter had a chance to play?
Okay, let’s say we don’t blame anybody; should we downplay the loss because this wasn’t our “best team”? We could just give the 12 guys who represented us a huge pat on the back, feel sorry for them, and move on. We could actually say, “Okay lang yung talo, hindi naman sila in-expect manalo talaga.”
We could also come up with a ton of excuses. Asi and Dondon are too old. Romeo is too young and inexperienced. Abueva is just too uncontrollable. Castro must have lost a step or two. Blatche was out of shape. The list goes on.
Is there a double-standard for this Gilas team? If they win, great! If they lose, do we start coming up with reasons to justify our loss?
Again, what should our expectations be?
If you really think about it, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what expectations you and I have. There some of us who believe in them. There are also some of us who don’t. But what anyone thinks at this point is irrelevant to the team. They’re too focused, too determined, and too passionate just to settle for anything less than gold. Gilas teams are built that way.
It doesn’t matter if you think they’ll fall versus Iran. It doesn’t matter if you think Blatche won’t be effective because he’s injured, or if Asi doesn’t stand a chance against Haddadi.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t expect them to take home the hardware, because what’s more important is that they expect to win it all. If the entire Gilas team believes that they will win, who can tell them otherwise?
For what it’s worth, maybe I’m just waiting for the unexpected from Gilas. I’m hoping and believing for a little bit of magic from all our players.
Maybe we’re divided on our expectations, but we shouldn’t fall short on our devotion and admiration. If you’re still convinced that this is isn’t our best team, then so be it, but this is our team. If you don’t think that they’ll make it in the finals and win a medal, that’s okay, but let this team surprise you.
As we move deeper into the second round of the FIBA Asia Championship let Gilas surprises us, wow us, and amaze us.
Here’s to expecting the unexpected.
Photos c/o FIBA