Alapag hopes Gilas to be retained for World Cup
By Alder Almo Updated Monday August 12, 2013 - 7:00pm

Gilas Pilipinas with team captain Jimmy Alapag (center) holding the first runnder-up trophy during the awarding ceremonies at the close of the 2013 Manila FIBA Asia Championship. Photo courtesy of FIBA Asia 

MANILA, Philippines - It has been long and agonizing three and a half decades of dreaming. But the wait will be over next year when, for the first time since 1978, Filipinos all over the world can beam with pride to see the Philippine flag rise side by side with those of the best basketball teams in the planet in the FIBA World Cup in Madrid, Spain next year.

For team captain Jimmy Alapag and the rest of Gilas Pilipinas, those three and a half decades were encapsulated in the past three and a half months.

"Our coaching staff and the guys in that locker room, you know it was a tough three-and-a-half months and it was even tougher 11 days," the explosive point guard said. "I told the guys before the tournament started that we have to leave our hearts and souls on that court and I thought we absolutely did that and you know, hey we'll be in Spain next year."

"I'm proud to be a Filipino," said Alapag, who was born and raised by both his Filipino parents in Los Angeles, California. "I couldn't be more proud of."

For sure, Crispin and Aurora Alapag are proud parents with what their 35-year old son has accomplished.

Alapag will go down in the history books as one of the 12 brave souls, 13 including reserve Beau Belga, who led the country back to the World Championships.

"It's an incredible feeling to know that Philippine basketball is back in the world map and hopefully, we'll stay there," beamed Alapag with his silver medal hanging on his neck.

While they fell short against Iran in the gold medal match, the 19,989 that packed the 16,000-seater MOA Arena on Sunday night and millions more outside of it were witnesses to the courageous stand by the undersized Filipinos who battled the taller and heftier Iranians toe-to-toe before breaking down towards the end.

"They're tough," Alapag said of the now three-time FIBA Asia champion Iran. "Hadadi is alone in the middle.  He's a legit NBA player and anytime you have a 7-foot-2, 7-foot-3 guy, it seems like anytime you miss, he's the only one near the rim to tip the ball back in."

Alapag said Marcus Douthit could have made a difference but unfortunately, the 6-11 Gilas Pilipinas' naturalized center couldn't even walk straight with the right calf injury he suffered in Qatar that was aggravated in the South Korea game.

"It was tough especially not having Marcus tonight [Sunday] but I couldn't be prouder of our guys Junemar (Fajardo), Japeth (Aguilar), Ranidel (De Ocampo) and Ping (Marc Pingris), they fought with everything they had," Alapag said. "That's why we couldn't ask for more."

With both teams coming off contrasting wins the night before - Iran in an easier win over Chinese Taipei and Gilas in an emotionally-draining breakthrough victory over perennial tormentor South Korea - Alapag and the rest of the guys should have been spent.

"Maybe [fatigue factored] a little bit. We're really undersized especially tonight [Sunday] so that may have played a factor but then again guys fought as hard as they could," said Alapag, who admitted that they drew their energy from the home crowd led by no less than President Benigno Aquino III, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Congressman and former 8-division boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.

And Gilas Pilipinas almost did the unthinkable again as they only trailed by one, 34-35, in the opening half. But in the end, Hadadi turned their dream into a nightmare in the second half.  

"[Our motivation was] everyone here, everyone watching at home, all the love and support we've gotten from this entire country. That's what we play and that's why we couldn't be happier knowing that we're taking home this silver medal not just for our ourselves, not only for our family but for the country and that's what means the most," Alapag said.  

While he said before the tournament that this would be his final tour of duty with the national team, he's looking forward to extend it for one more year.  

"I'd love to be a part of it [World Cup team]. It's going to be once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-career experience. I'll talk to coach Chot (Reyes) and the rest of the coaching staff and see what they feel is best," said Alapag, who is hoping that the team will be retained for the FIBA World Cup.

Reyes revealed in the post-game press conference that he is still in the dark as to what will happen next since he disciplined the team to not look beyond Aug.  11. But Manny V. Pangilinan, the team's patron, has announced during the team's party at Oceana right after the awarding that he'll sit down with Reyes in the next few days to chart the next step for the Gilas basketball program. (read related story: MVP on Gilas Pilipinas dream: 'This just the beginning')

"This is great group of guys and it showed by getting this silver medal here in the Asian championship and hopefully we'll continue to step further for the Philippine basketball," Alapag said.

They made be undersized in terms of height but their heart will never be outsized.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013 @ MOA Arena
5:45 PM - Semifinal Round
Iran vs Chinese Taipei
8:00 PM - Semifinal Round
Philippines vs Korea