MANILA, Philippines – It is standard operating procedure for coaches to attend the post-game press conference immediately after every match. Last night, however, was an exception.
After breaking the “Korean curse” last night with a huge 86-79 win in front of the more than 17, 000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena, Philippine coach Chot Reyes took more than 20 minutes to appear at the press room.
And when the eloquent mentor entered the door with Marc Pingris and Ranidel de Ocampo, the trio weren’t able to hold themselves back from crying.
A teary-eyed Reyes opened the interview by thanking the press and the people who supported them. He then went on to recount the hardships that they had to go through to reach where they are standing right now.
“My pre-game talk was simple. We talked about personal history. Alam na namin ang personal na kwento ng bawat isa sa team. And now, we want to write our own story altogether: Our Gilas story,” Reyes, who redeemed himself from a disappointing 9th place finish in the 2007 edition held in Tokushima, Japan.
(My pre-game talk was simple. We talked about personal history. We already know each other’s stories. And now, we want to write our own story altogether: Our Gilas story.)
Already assured of a ticket to the FIBA World Championship in Spain next year, Reyes now has a shot to bring the Philippines back to the world spotlight but they still have a game left as important as their fixture against the Koreans – the gold medal match against heavyweight Iran.
“Our objective is to get a medal. But our dream is to win it all.”
Breaking the curse
Gilas Pilipinas has a history of falling victim to the Koreans in basketball. And what makes it even more painful is that since 2002, we have dropped all but one game to Korea by less than 10 points.
“This was for Jong [Uichico], for Olsen [Racela], for Rajko [Toroman], for all the tough times against Korea,” Reyes said. “Our motivation coming into this game was simple: get into the finals and make the Philippines proud.”
And make the Philippines proud is what they just achieved as they finally took one from Korea with no Marcus Douthit for most of the game.
“Douthit’s injury is really bad. He couldn’t even go out with us. He got hit against Qatar and tonight, he got hit again on the exact same spot.”
The naturalized big man, who has proven himself in the Asian level many times, played for a couple of minutes against Korea, but limped back to the bench tallying two points and making some crucial stops. Douthit was evidently in agony as he walked back to the dugout ahead of his team minutes before halftime.
“After 2007, I thought it was done but when MVP [Manny Pangilinan] called me and told me about coaching Gilas,” Reyes quipped as De Ocampo and Pingris continued to sob heavily 5 minutes into the press con.
A couple of days back, Reyes had said that Gilas Pilipinas doesn’t have a bench. They have 12 players.
So he was not surprised a bit as players such as Pingris and De Ocampo – who scored 16 and 11 points respectively – stepped up in this game.
“We lost Ryan [Reyes], Kelly [Williams, and Jared [Dillinger] along the way. We were left with Gabe [Norwood] and Ping. We had to transform Japeth into a defender,” Reyes said.
True enough, Pingris was the main force for the Philippine five all-game long as he put on a gargantuan performance that were beyond the stat sheets. He hustled for every rebound, chased the ball around the place, and put up hard-nosed defending in the Gilas interior.
“Gagawin namin lahat para sa bayan. Sa PBA, sumusweldo kami, dito nagpapakamatay kami,” said the energetic forward off the San Mig Coffee Mixers. “Sa mga Pinoy, kayo ang nagbibigay ng lakas sa amin. Puso lang talaga eh, puso lang.”
(We are going to do everything for our country. We earn money from the PBA but here, we risk everything. To all the Filipinos, you give us strength. Only our heart carried us through this.)
Everything for the country
De Ocampo, who literally sobbed through the press con, could not contain his feelings as he helplessly tried to fight back tears to answer questions from the press.
“Salamat sa mga naniniwala. Pasensiya na po kayo ‘di ko mapiligilang umiyak. Para po sa inyong lahat itong paghihirap namin,” De Ocampo said. “Sana ‘yung mga susunod na FIBA, dito ulit maganap. Gusto namin maging defending champ dito.”
(Thank you to all who believed in us. I’m sorry I cannot stop myself from crying. Everything we do is for you. I hope that the next FIBA Asia Championships will be held here again. We want to defend our crown here.)
The first step to that however is to win their remaining match in this tournament against the Iranians. Whether they win or lose, they already made the basketball crazy nation of 90 million proud. But if they are going to rewrite the history books, they must win it all.
One game left for one nation’s dream. – Rappler.com