Gilas heartbreakers

The FIBA World Cup games have begun with an opening night of flag-waving, music-filled entertainment proudly showcasing our much-heralded love for singing and dancing. And for the next two weeks, basketball fanatics will be focused on the best of the best hoopsters in the world. Political leanings will be set aside and diplomatic disagreements among competing nations momentarily ignored by 32 countries bannered by a record number of 55 NBA players amicably but surely passionately battling for national pride on the hardcourts of Manila, Jakarta and Okinawa.

Undoubtedly, the Philippines has prepared long and hard. Undoubtedly, our Gilas pool of an exciting combination of youthful and seasoned cagers possessed finally with enough height, girth, and basketball savvy to be internationally competitive have stepped up and put their individual professional careers on hold for the opportunity to don the colors of the country.

Undoubtedly, MVP, the godfather and financial backer of SBP, has done his utmost best to deliver for the Filipino people the much-cherished dream of returning our basketball team to the Olympics by topping other Asian countries in the World Cup.

Undoubtedly, the Filipino fans have continued to pour their hearts out for Gilas, desperately hoping for the much-fantasized victories over the top teams of the world starting with the higher-ranked countries in our group, namely, #10 Italy and #23 Dominican Republic versus our #40 rank. And certainly, a win against lower-ranked #41 Angola would not be an outsized expectation.

So, what has happened so far? As of this writing, I must say that, surely, like millions of our countrymen, my heart is utterly heartbroken. Why? Two Gilas games have just been concluded and much to our lament, although we still have one more game to play against Italy, our aspirations for moving up to the second round of 16 have been shattered for all intents and purposes. We still have a long shot for a Hail Mary miracle if the Dominicans beat the Angolans, our tormentors in the second game of Gilas, and IF we beat Italy. This slimmest of slim scenarios will have Gilas tied with Italy and Angola at one win and two losses each, which will have to be settled on point differentials.

We first lost to the Dominican Republic 87- 81 in a tightly contested match-up. Our team stood toe to toe against NBA star Karl Anthony Towns, an unstoppable behemoth every time he drove in on his strong side against the defenses of AJ Edu and our own man mountain June Mar Fajardo. Both defenders nevertheless stood out with their steady shooting and defensive efforts.

The first game against the Dominicans, to the credit of our undersized team, was a nip-and-tuck affair all throughout that could have gone either way until our scoring machine, NBA star Jordan Clarkson, fouled out with about three minutes left. Without Clarkson to respond to Towns, the game of Gilas quickly unraveled and the outcome became inevitable.

The game against Angola started and ended quite differently. With dimming hopes for moving up to the next round, Gilas ferociously came out strong, even leading by as many as 11 points in the second quarter. Clarkson’s shooting, however, was not as sharp, hitting only 32 percent compared to his 38 percent clip against the Dominicans and Gilas’ penchant for turnovers continued to hurt. By the start of the fourth quarter, Angola took control and never looked back.

Some lessons to be learned. No matter how great a player Clarkson is, other players will have to step up more consistently. Basketball after all is and will always be about team play. Fajardo was marvelous in the Dominican game but couldn’t maintain his strong play in the match-up against Angola’s NBA Atlanta Hawks center, Bruno Fernando.

On the other hand, Edu, Dwight, and Pogoy showed intermittent flashes of brilliance but lacked game-long consistency. The much heralded Kai Sotto, perhaps through no fault of his own since he was denied sufficient playing time to show his stuff, was flat and didn’t really wow the crowd. But perhaps the biggest question asked by basketball pundits is if coach Chot Reyes is up to par compared to the brilliant bench tactician Tab Baldwin who unexpectedly stepped down as Gilas coach.

Until next week… OBF!


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