Goodbye Jimmy, hello June Mar
By Alder Almo Updated Friday September 05, 2014 - 12:09am

Gilas Pilipinas' Jimmy Alapag an June Mar Fajardo celebrate after the Philippines' 81-79 overtime win over Senegal in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain late Thursday. FIBA.com

MANILA, Philippines - There was no fitting ending to Gilas Pilipinas' series of heartbreaks in the 2014 FIBA World Cup than a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping victory.

It came in the final game of Gilas in the tournament, which also turned out to be team captain Jimmy Alapag's swan song.

Gilas Pilipinas survived Senegal, 81-79, in an overtime thriller for the breakthrough win that also marked the first by the country in this stage in 40 years or since beating Central Africa in the 1974 Puerto Rico world championships.

But the end promises to be just the beginning.

Alapag delivered a game to remember as he closed his chapter in the national team while June Mar Fajardo ushered in a new era in Philippine basketball with his breakthrough performance in the international arena. 

The 5-foot-7 Alapag sealed Gilas' victory with two crucial free throws in the last four seconds that punctuated an 18-point, four-rebound and four-assist performance. The 6-foot-10 Fajardo, for his part, stepped out from the shadows of naturalized big man Andray Blatche and held his own against the African giants with 15 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in 31 minutes, the longest he has played in the tournament.

For a while, Gilas was one the verge of another heartbreaking collapse as they blew another 15-point lead with Senegal forcing an overtime.

The whole nation held their collective breathes when Blatche, who finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds, fouled out with 1:55 left in the extra time.

But just as Blatche went out, Fajardo readily picked up the slack, putting Gilas back in the game with a game-tying layup in the final 1:35. After Ranidel de Ocampo gave the lead back to Gilas on two free throws, Fajardo outboxed and drew a loose-ball foul from Senegal's best player Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 22-year-old Fajardo calmly sank two more free throws, extending Gilas' lead to four, 75-71, with 58 seconds left.

Senegal finally succumbed to the pressure while Alapag sealed it at the line, going 5-of-6 in the final 45 seconds for the much anticipated victory after three of their first four losses went down to the wire.

"I can think back to when I was 5 or 6 years old and dreaming of moments like this once in a lifetime opportunity and I enjoyed every second being on court, playing world's best," Alapag told reporters after the epic game.

For Alapag, it's the perfect ending to his national tour of duty that brought him to the Philippines in 2002 as former national team head coach Ron Jacobs' Fil-Am recruit.

As fate would have it, Alapag got an injury right in his first game with the national team in an exhibition game and never made it to that ill-fated national team that lost a heartbreaker to South Korea in the 2002 Busan Asian Games.

Alapag moved on to have a successful PBA career highlighted by a near grand slam with Talk n Text and an MVP hardware three seasons ago.

Now, Alapag is ready to pass on the torch, and there's no fitting guy to become the next face of Philippine basketball than the reigning PBA MVP.

Fajardo, a 6-foot-10 mobile and dominant big man never before seen in the local's pro league, has finally arrived in the international stage with that near double-double.

Long buried in the bench and getting only minimal minutes to give Blatche some breather, Fajardo showed that he can hold his own against the rest of the world's giants.

This game will be remembered in three-fold: first as the country's loudest statement that we're finally back in the world's basketball map; second as Alapag's storybook ending to his international career; and lastly, as the start of the June Mar era in Philippine basketball.

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GROUP B
TEAMS WIN LOSS
Greece 4 0
Argentina 3 1
Senegal 2 3
Croatia 2 2
Philippines 1 4
Puerto Rico 1 3

 

Saturday, August 30, 2014
10:30 GMT
Croatia vs Philippines
Sunday, August 31, 2014
18:00 GMT
Philippines vs Greece
Monday, September 1, 2014
15:30 GMT
Argentina vs Philippines
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
11:30 GMT
Philippines vs Puerto Rico
Thursday, September 4, 2014
12:00 GMT
Senegal vs Philippines
RANK COUNTRY POINTS
1 USA 940.0
2 Spain 885.0
3 Argentina 490.0
4 Lithuania 432.0
5 Greece 376.0
6 Turkey 294.0