Bravo, Gilas! Epic feat in FIBA-Asia qualifier highlights Filipinos' spirit, pride
By Nelson Beltran Updated Monday August 12, 2013 - 12:00am

HARDCOURT HEROES: Gilas Pilipinas players celebrate following their 86-79 win against South Korea in the semifinals of the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship. They are (from left) June Mar Fajardo, Marcus Douthit, Marc Pingris, Ranidel De Ocampo, Gary David, Jayson Castro and Japeth Aguilar. AP

MANILA, Philippines - Moments before the Gilas Pilipinas-Iran title showdown, there was a festive air inside the packed Mall of Asia Arena as the crowd remained upbeat in an offshoot of the Filipinos' storied 86-79 victory over the South Koreans a day before.

Despite the odds stacked heavily against the Filipinos as they braced for the duel with the Iranians, there was a sense of accomplishment among the Gilas players plus a heavy dose of national pride up in the bleachers of the Mall of Asia Arena.

In fact, it was a weekend like no other for Philippine basketball as the Nationals dished out hell-for-leather stand against the Koreans to secure one of three berths in the World Cup in Spain next year. That alone achieved what the Gilas set out to accomplish in the tournament and its tough stand against the Iranians came as gravy for that historic stint.

"The crowd was a big help,"said Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan, who later admitted having doubts on the team's World Cup quest as Marcus Douthit was lost to injury for good.

"Akala ko wala na noong nawala si Marcus (I thought everything was lost when Marcus got hurt)," said Pangilinan, maintaining the crowd took over and fired up the team.

The MOA packed crowd of nearly 20,000 did make their presence felt, egging on the Nationals who responded with a bold, gutsy performance, and went on to win the greatest battle of their lives.

As the final buzzer sounded, the crowd roared and emotions flowed.

Gilas coach Chot Reyes and the members of the team cried unabashedly on the court. In the stands, Pangilinan took off his glasses and wiped away the tears.

It was the first time in a long while that the Philippines has beaten Sou thKorea, thus achieving its goal of returning to the global stage of basketball. The Philippines has never been to the world championship since the country hosted the event in 1978.

With Douthit helpless on the bench, Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo, Japeth Aguilar, Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood and Jimmy Alapag seized the moment and fought the Koreans mano-a-mano, down to the last man, with heart, guts and pride.

And national pride swelled with the win.

"It was a great game and I was privileged to have witnessed it live," said PBA governor Rene Pardo. "South Korea is a great team, but our Gilas Pilipinas simply outworked and outhustled them."

"I'm overjoyed. I feel very lucky to have witnessed such a historical win. I'm very proud of Gilas and the ROS (Rain or Shine) boys on the team," said Rain or Shine co-owner Raymund Yu.

"I think we all knew we were an Asian power in basketball, but we really never had a chance to prove it before to the international community. Finally we got the right combination of preparation, leadership and cooperation from the powers that be, and amazingly here we are," said San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone.

"I'm so proud of them (Gilas), so proud of Chot (Reyes). I'm so proud of the PBA and to have grown up here and call this my home," Cone added.

Pangilinan said it's for the Filipino people.

"Masaya ako dahil masaya ang mga Filipino. This is really for them," said Pangilinan.

For many, Pangilinan, or Mr. MVP, is the MVP (Most Valuable Player) in Gilas Pilipinas' historical feat.

"If not for Mr. MVP, we can't achieve this thing. He's the one who put up this team and brought FIBA Asia in our country," said De Ocampo.

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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