Gilas Pilipinas Youth learn the burden of carrying the flag

Young or old, we all have had dreams of becoming superheroes. Swooping in like Superman and catching a falling airplane to save the day. Spiderman saving a train with the use of his webs. Iron Man doing the snap. These possibilities tickle our minds and give us plenty of joy.

For amateur level basketball players, being part of the Gilas Pilipinas Youth is the closest they can get to becoming a part of the Avengers.

Making it to the team gives young players a certain kind of joy. They’re given the title of being among the best players in the country. But being part of the team to make it to the FIBA World Cup brings about a different type of happiness. As an individual, they’re no longer just limited to being the cream of the crop of their home country. There’s a different flavor when a player is recognized as world-class. Making it to the World Cup ensures that. A player becomes elite prospect that should be taken seriously.

Making it to the World Cup is an achievement, that’s easy to grasp. But it also comes with responsibility. Uncle Ben said so himself, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” What makes the Avengers so awesome isn’t just because they can shoot laser beams off their suits or warp time in ways no one can. It’s because they do this for the good, a matter that goes beyond their own personal desires. Being given that type of accountability can be difficult to swallow, especially for High School kids.

Why not just enjoy their time in the FIBA U19 World Cup? They made it there anyway, an achievement in itself for a country without the physical tools of prototypical basketball teams. Why not just enjoy the culture of the country abroad they’re in, while taking selfies with potential NBA stars? Heroes also deserve to enjoy things. Is that so selfish?

More than the chemistry and skills, what was important for Coach Sandy Arespacochaga during this whole process with the Gilas Youth team was building a sense of responsibility among his players. It’s always thrown around, “Dala-dala namin ang pangalan ng Pilipinas.” whenever an athlete is about to embark on a journey representing the flag.

Coach Sandy didn’t want it to turn into a PR answer used during press conferences. He wanted it to be something real. So he invited over people who could show what it truly means to represent the flag.

“We had an Ateneo High School teacher who I knew had a brother, General Yucoco, who actually referred us to the Scout Rangers (of Marawi),” said Coach Sandy. “Our idea was to have someone to talk to the team.”

“Diba battle cry ng team ‘Laban Pilipinas!’, tapos ‘PUSO!’. What better example to embody that battle cry than our soldiers.”

The team could have chalked it up as another gimmick to try and capture their interest, a common thought teenagers have whenever teachers invite speakers over during classes. But once the Marawi soldiers faced them, it felt more than just another boring presentation. Armed in close to full battle gear and ready to share their experiences, the Marawi soldiers told their stories to this group of U19 kids.

The battle footage the soldiers showed was already humbling in itself. But to actually see the people in these clips, face to face, was a different experience altogether. Any teenager, as rowdy as they may be, will have to listen when faced with such a group. But there was one that definitely caught the eye of the team.

“There was one soldier who was still confined in the hospital,” said the Gilas Youth head coach. “He joined the Scout Rangers group (for the talk). May prosthetic leg siya and he was missing a finger.” This soldier didn’t even need to talk. His mere presence alone, with a fake limb and incomplete fingers, was enough.

The term “patay kung patay” is thrown around a lot in basketball. But the people these 19 year olds were facing weren’t chasing after balls. They were putting themselves on the line in battles that could have easily resulted in their deaths. “These soldiers are actually risking their lives for the country,” said Coach Sandy. “You’ve got Filipinos who embody the fight that we want to exhibit.”

It puts into proper perspective then the kind of responsibility Gilas Pilipinas Youth holds as representatives in the country. Yes, they did work hard to get a slot in the FIBA World Cup. But the battle doesn’t stop there. It only continues with bigger challenges ahead, with the opportunity to establish the Philippines as a power in the world stage. Instead of asking “Why not just enjoy your time in the World Cup?”, it has now turned into, “Why not try our damned hardest to fight for the flag?”

It would be the kind of performance best fit to try and pay back whatever the Marawi soldiers shared to them. “These are real heroes we’d like to emulate. The character and fighting spirit that they showed,” Coach Sandy explained.

Because that’s what being a true hero is all about. Using your gifts not for yourself, but for a greater cause. In their own little way, Gilas Pilipinas Youth U19 has this platform for them to represent the Philippines.

It was only fitting then that during the send-off for the team, the players came in with focused, ready for battle. They shared laughs here and then, but not the type where you’d accuse them of fooling around. They know what’s at stake here. Greatness is right at their grasp. Why not battle through adversity and grab at it?

This is what Gilas Pilipinas Youth is; true heroes who have the talent to do great things. They have the power, it shows by how much they have achieved. The responsibility is coming and they’re ready for what may come. Lahat para sa bayan.