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Sports

Gilas, MVP mission: Claim Asiad gold

Gerry Carpio - The Philippine Star

INCHEON – A Gilas Pilipinas team, toughened in the battlefield of the World Cup, begins the nation’s quest for the ultimate prize in this part of the globe when it battles Group B top qualifier India today in the Asian Games basketball competitions.

From a team that had a slim-to-nil chance of winning a game in the World Cup, the Nationals suddenly assume the tag of “team to beat” here and they have to measure up to that expectation in seven games they must each win minus key player Andray Blatche whose stint was blocked by no less than China and Korea, the only noteworthy title contenders aside from Iran.

This may be the best chance to make their mission possible since China is fielding a tall but young, untested team. Korea has the homecourt advantage with a team of shooters and Iran has the caliber of NBA players both on the offensive and defensive end.

Manny V. Pangilinan, who reluctantly assumed the top position of the decadent Basketball Association of the Philippines over seven years ago, was in a lose-lose the moment he took over.

If he put up a team for the Asian Games or any competition higher, he would draw the ire of the basketball population for fielding losers again.

If he did not put up a team for the Asian Games or World Cup, he would be chided for not putting up one.

He attacked the issue head on. He put up a team with the help of a carefully selected coaching staff, chosen players from the PBA whose teams were at first reluctant to lend theirs by trading players on his ball for those he could take in for the national team. He reinforced it with naturalized players, and gave the best incentives imaginable and unimaginable to assure their commitment for as long as possible. Then he made them believe they could win.

The Asian championships of August last year when they took the second spot to qualify for the World Cup was the most attended tournament in the last 40 years and for the first time, the entire Smart Gilas team, collectively and individualy, was named Athlete of the Year by the Philippine Sportswriters Association.

That became the morale booster for the Smart Gilas team as well as for the PBA which rearranged its calendar to give the team two months to practice using the best, the tallest and the toughest of the PBA.

Despite all the hype, Filipino fans still believed Gilas would have a slim-to-nil chance of winning in the World Cup. It was never done before. The last time they played in the World Cup was 36 years ago.

Never in the history of Philippine basketball had a team played so well as the great teams of the world, and each game spoke well of the character that every player put into each game. The close defeats and the win over Senegal convinced pundits that the new Smart Gilas is totally different from national teams formed during the last 40 years.

Now comes the Incheon Games.

The expectation is for the Smart Gilas to win the gold – no more, no less – and add to the gold medal of 1962, the silver of 1990 and the bronze of 1998.

That was the objective when MVP defied the lose-lose situation of his leadership and he wanted to win the gold now, in this Asiad.

It’s up to Smart Gilas to prove again its worth, its courage and its determination.

 

A GILAS PILIPINAS

ANDRAY BLATCHE

ASIAN GAMES

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES

CHINA AND KOREA

GILAS

GROUP B

SMART GILAS

TEAM

WORLD CUP

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