Gilas finally ‘unbreaks' hearts
By Pio Garcia, Unblogged Sports Updated Friday September 05, 2014 - 12:10pm

Gilas Pilipinas players June Mar Fajardo and Marc Pingris celebrate after the Philippines defeated Senegal in overtime, 81-79, in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain Thursday night. FIBA.com

I promised I would never cry. That whatever happens, win or lose, I'll always put on a smile.

This time I cannot.

It is too much. I ride or die with our Gilas Pilipinas. But the heartbreak is just unbearable. Or maybe, that's because I saw Marc Pingris with a towel on his head, on the verge, if not already, of crying. And that's when the most painful post-game reaction I have ever seen in my life flash in front of my very eyes.

Remember as a kid the crying Hanamichi Sakuragi after his crucial turnover against Kainan?

That was too much. That was the most painful expression I had to live with. And I had seen the likes of Doug Kramer cry. JC Intal cried unabashedly when he failed to bring Ateneo to the promised land. Mark Borboran let loose his tears when UE got swept unceremoniously by De La Salle.

But still, only Sakuragi crying had me on the verge of tears.

It was not a pretty sight. Never.

Ping gave it his all out there. He was just Sakuragi. A basketball player who relied on his athleticism and hustle to make his name, to make opponents respect him, to make people realize that hard work beats talent any day.

He went up against the Kawatas, the Uozmis, the Hanagatas. They had more talent. Heck, they were the top of their class. Yet, Sakuragi always found a way to beat them. Only against Kainan he did not. And that's where he had me.

That's where Pingris had me.

That's where Gilas finally made me break down.

Puerto Rico was ours. We had it in the bag. We can do this, I said to myself, after seeing Ping hustle again and again, despite having a mild Achilles strain. Kaya pa, when we opened the fourth down four. Eto na, when Andray Blatche made his charge, dropping the jump-shooting act by driving hard again and again. Then J.J. Barea happened.

And my core was terribly shaken. Not to the point of jumping ship from Gilas, but you know what I mean. I love this new national team program even when they were just taking their baby steps. I will never trade them for anything else. But my heart was broken.

There are many chances still. The Asian Games, 2015 FIBA Asia Cup (or whatever it will be named), Olympic Qualifiers, the next World Cup... there are a lot.

Unbreak my heart Gilas. Say you love me again.

Only a win can undo this hurt.

Be the Sakuragi we always and forever will champion, Gilas. You, who bucked the odds, took down the Kawatas, the Uozmis and Hanagatas.

You have shown them what you are made off. It's time to make them fear your name. And win they did against the taller Senegalese who boasted a monster inside. We had our own beast and it was nigh unstoppable. They didn't know what to do when the Kraken was released.

No matter what happens, I am mighty proud, with tears streaming down my eyes, just like how Hanamichi was after that Kainan game. It's not every day your national team ranked 34th can make a top 20 coach go nuts.

It's not every day that your national team hangs two legit NBA big men on sick posters.

It's not every day that your national team makes rival nations appreciate your brand of basketball, in fact, sharing in our own heartbreak. But take heart. We will not go empty handed. Four moral victories and a real one we will build on through the Senegal win.

This is something else. This is surreal. This is something I will happily tell my kids and future grand kids. For when we get that win, when those World Cup wins become normal, I will always go back in time to relive the memories of the 2014 squad which was the start of something special.

It was the start of how the world fell in love with our own style of basketball, our own special way. And they all stood there, slack-jawed, enamoured, and wanting to swap PILIPINAS shirts for theirs.

Don't cry for them in sadness. Cry for them in joy. They are doing you proud, Philippines. In the sport that runs hot and true in each, and every one of your veins. I can no longer hold back my adoration for this team.

I said I'll wait until it is really over. Marc Pingris said no. And then Jimmy Alapag said do it, when he sealed our win against Senegal, a fitting farewell for the longest-tenured player on the national team. June Mar Fajardo's game against Senegal and Gorgui Dieng said it cannot wait. And yes, here I am, splaying my emotions on my keyboard for everybody to see.

Don't start me on All-Filipino basketball because we're goddamn All-Filipino. Heck, Andray Blatche is more Filipino than y'all. He ain't no crab trying to pull down people at his expense. That's the job of the "Pinoys." Without him, we will never be complete. He's the chemical X to the sugar, spice, and everything nice of our Gilas. We needed every bit of Andray out there. He needed every bit of us. This is the most professional setting he has been in and did not want to let anybody down. See how he fought for Jimmy when a Senegalese accidentally undercut him? If he's just here to play for us, I'm sure he would not risk his neck with a technical on the line. He would not risk his knee, his foot, his leg, which are all gimped, to tow us close to victory day in and day out. Wherever Dray lands, that'll be my second team, no doubt, book it.

Don't tell me that you wanted Alapag to be in that team to Spain. I know you wanted somebody else. No, I wanted my Captain there. When we looked lost in that monster 15-4 run of Senegal, who do we turn to? When we were making a run at Argentina, who did we turn to? When we needed to seal the banishing curse on Korea who did we turn to? Like one foreign commentator said, there's the NBA 3-point line, the FIBA 3-point line, and the Alapag line. It has been so long since you donned the colors before you were even drafted Cap. It has ended well, your international career, that you've successfully passed the torch to one beast.

Don't tell me that Andray being with the team would hamper June Mar Fajardo. If all else, Fajardo blossomed and grew right in front of our very eyes. The Kraken is now a full-on mythic beast of fright. He showed that he'll be our future. That he is The Man. Jimmy wanted nothing else than to see this 24-year-old pillar go at the foreigners hard. Remember that time when Ping and RDO told Kuya Marcus they got this? June Mar practically told Dray he got this. Somewhere in Spain, I'm pretty sure the Koreans, and Iran, most especially Hamed Haddadi, are dumbstruck. They are murmuring to each other, pointing at Fajardo, "We have to defend THIS?" They are already scared. JMF has learned to throw his weight, and elbows, around. Hindi na kamit takot sa inyo China, Korea, Iran. Alam ko, kayo na ang takot sa amin.

For my own Sakuragi, you always make me proud. You've made the art of boxing out and rebounding very cheer-able for people who want to be dazzled by offense. I thought I was alone in revelling at your defensive PhD, I guess I no longer am. No matter what you do. No matter what Gilas does, I am one damn proud Filipino basketball student, analyst, whatever.

For Gabe, the Dunking President, I have never seen a man fly with all the fury of a thousand islands under him and stuff that leather on a legit NBA big man. I don't know what you ate, but when it's international competition, I always see the best of you. Maybe in the PBA you can strut that around too, making me tune in to the league again.

Kuya Jayson Castro, my man, there can be no other point guard fit to run that offense like you and Jimmy, at least for the time being. You were hobbled by an injury pre-World Cup. Yet you bucked it and played like a stallion galloping through the high lands.

For Jeff, Gary, Japeth, I'm sorry if I doubted you guys. Especially Japeth. I know you'd get "it" soon. And Jeff? Yeah, you're the Caidic of this generation. Gary? I'd like to see you blow your fingers off in the Asian games.

The basketball gods have smiled upon us. And mayhap, nothing can be much sweeter. I felt tears, hot and true, rolling down my cheeks as I write this. All the pent-up emotion, bursting to the dam. I remind myself that this is only the beginning. That there would be more tears of joy when it comes to the Gilas program's future.

Roll out the hero's welcome for these lads. They deserve it more than you can think of. And finally...

Let your folks say I lived in the time of Jaworski. I will gladly say I lived in the age of Alapag, Fajardo, Blatche, and the Gilas boys.

Francis Pio Garcia, galing Quezon City, buong pusong humihiyaw, sumisigaw, para sa GILAS PILIPINAS!

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Pio Garcia is a blogger for Philstar.com. His views are purely his own.

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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