Gilas Diaries: A Lesson in Commitment
MANILA, Philippines -- I found out on the day itself (Monday, February 18) that the venue of Gilas Pilipinas’s second practice was moved from the ancient Ultra/Philsports Arena in Pasig to the swanky Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay.
Okay. No biggie, right?
It was actually quite exciting. The Gilas boys were finally going to practice in the exact venue where they will have to wage war against Asia’s best hoopsters. This was the first step in making the MOA Arena a true home court for the team. Again, it was exciting.
It was also exhausting.
This is how my day went:
- A long day of teaching at Ateneo High School.
- A long drive to Taguig to pick up my very pregnant wife (still the MOST BEAUTIFUL preggy lady ever – check that, the MOST BEAUTIFUL lady period – hi honey you might be reading this).
- A long drive to near-Fairview in Quezon City, where we live (we actually had a stopover at the Teacher’s Village area for early dinner. The drive is typically so exhaustive that we need to stop and get a quick bite).
- Drank some water, kissed my baby daughter, brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, then got into the car to drive ALL THE WAY to Pasay City.
- The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought. Took me roughly an hour going through Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon Avenue, España, Quiapo, and Roxas Boulevard to finally get to the MOA Arena. The traffic wasn’t exactly light, but it was MUCH WORSE on the opposite lane. Yikes. I’d have to go through THAT on the way home. Oh well.
- Arrived at the MOA Arena. Parked the car. Got down. Went to the Employees’ Entrance, which doubles as the Media Entrance.
- WAS. NOT. LET. IN.
- My name wasn’t on “the list.” Only the names of one media outlet’s personnel were listed along with the members of the Gilas Pilipinas team (players, managers, etc.).
- Made some calls, but still no cigar.
- Some other guys who wanted to observe the practice were let inside because they “knew someone.” Haaaaay.
- Waited for about 30 more minutes.
- I just asked the guard if he could escort me inside, and I’d just talk to one of the coaches or manages because I KNEW they KNEW I was coming to observe.
- Guard was awesome enough to oblige. He was being really strict at first because, well, he was just doing his job after all.
- Got to courtside and saw one of the team managers. He welcomed me with a smile and told the guard, “Okay na.”
- Boom. Finally. Thank you!
- I guess I officially “know someone,” too.
Practice was already commencing, and I was advised to just observe and refrain from taking pictures or recording video for now – or, at least if I did, not to upload them or “show them to the world” yet.
I sat down about three rows from behind the bench. Courtside seats. I would be so lucky to have the same POV when the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships begin in August.
The MOA Arena is famous for being quite possibly the most sophisticated basketball stadium in the country. Aside from hoops, of course, it has already held other events like concerts, volleyball games, etc. It has luxury boxes, a plethora of food outlets, extremely (and I mean EXTREMELY) bright lights, a slew of video screens, a modern pressroom, spacious locker rooms, and, perhaps best of all, a 20,000-person full house capacity.
In this evening, however, there weren’t 20,000 people. There weren’t even fifty.
I counted fifteen Gilas players – Greg Slaughter skipped this session due to injury, while Sonny Thoss flew to Cebu to be with his ailing father. Coach Chot Reyes and his staff were all there, along with their respective aids, and, of course, a handful of media people.
The Gilas boys were already in the middle of what I could only assume was a dribble-drive drill. In one play, San Mig Coffee’s Marc Pingris jab-stepped (yes, MARC PINGRIS can jab-step), handed off to Japeth Aguilar, who made a shuffle pass to Ranidel De Ocampo. RaniDirk drove then kicked the ball back out to Ping. Ping drove hard and dished the rock to a cutting Japeth. Aguilar caught the ball, got vertical, then stuffed it like crazy.
“Sige habang bata pa!” yelled Ping. Everybody cheered.
In another play, it was Jimmy Alapag starting everything. He passed the ball to June Mar Fajardo, who flashed to the free throw line. June Mar handed it off again to Jimmy, who passed it to RaniDirk at the left wing. RDO drove within 5 feet then kicked it out to Ryan Reyes on the opposite end. Reyes faked a J, drove inside, pulled up then passed the ball to Jimmy at the far corner. Alapag quickly bounced it to a waiting Fajardo under the basket. The 2013 PBA Rookie Draft top pick received the pass and slammed it with one hand.
Alapag to Fajardo. Wow. Where else, right?
Ranidel had a smile on his face at this point. He walked towards Fajardo and gave him a low five. Before practice began, De Ocampo was dunking the ball himself. According to Team Manager Butch Antonio, RDO was stuffing it like crazy, doing reverses and windmills, but only because the rims were not adjusted properly for the practice session – they were just 9 feet high!
Sir Butch narrated how he, along with the MOA Arena personnel, had to improvise in order to readjust the rims to the proper height of 10 feet. Ranidel, naturally, wasn’t too ecstatic about it. He could still dunk the ball at 10 feet, of course, but there would no longer be any fancy stuffs, just the run-off-the-mill jams like what June Mar just did.
I heaved a sigh. Slogging through all the traffic and enduring the distance at such an hour was worth it. Seeing these guys – guys who were usually the bitterest of foes in the PBA – don the same jersey and run the same plays was a treat, nay, an honor.
I wondered if I could do this again next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. Could I continue following the practices? Could I continue braving the dreaded Manila evening traffic? Could I continue leaving my family for a few hours every Monday night? Could I commit to this?
And then I looked at these fifteen guys, the coaches, and the other guys involved with the team. Weren’t they sacrificing much more? Weren’t they braving the traffic, too? Weren’t they away from their loved ones as well? Weren’t they committed – all in – in this thing?
At the end of this second practice, just like the first one, all the team members trooped to center court, put their hands in, and coach Chot yelled, “Laban Pilipinas!”
Everyone, in unison, responded, “PUSO!”
There is no commitment, after all, without heart.
#parasabayan diba? - Rappler.com
Enzo Flojo is one of the closest followers of the Philippine National Basketball Team. He is a self-proclaimed Asian Basketball hoop nut, and he doubts if anyone knows as much as he does about the best players in this corner of the world. He maintains a nationally-recognized basketball blog (HoopNut.blogspot.com), and he hopes you can pester him on Twitter -- @hoopnut.