SEVILLE, Spain – Following the conclusion of Gilas Pilipinas’ campaign in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Philippine team captain Jimmy Alapag bared that playing at that level and going head-to-head against the world’s best was something he had dreamed of since was 5 or 6 years old.
Little did he know, his longtime coach and mentor felt that having Alapag on his team was a dream come true.
“It’s a coach’s dream to have a player like Jimmy who’ll do absolutely anything for the team,” Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes said simply of his veteran point guard, whom he also coached in the Philippine Basketball Association with Talk ’N Text.
Alapag and Reyes have formed a player-coach relationship that’s very difficult to emulate.
“It means a lot to be in this moment with coach. We’ve shared a lot of failure but at the same time a lot of success,” Alapag said, who did Reyes proud with his 18 points on 3-of-8 three-pointers along with 9-of-11 free throws to close the book on his international basketball career.
Reyes is known to go to his trusted veteran each time the team needed someone to settle them down on the court and lead the pack. That dynamic was in full display throughout the World Cup with Reyes deploying Alapag at multiple stretches when opponents would rattle Gilas.
“Through it all I think I read coach pretty well. I know he’s gonna yell at me or he’s gonna tell me I did good before he even says anything,” Alapag shared. “But I think that just comes with time.” (RELATED: ‘We introduced Philippine basketball to the world,’ says Alapag)
The pair first tag-teamed on the international scene in 2007 for the FIBA Asia Championships in Tokushima, Japan. That was the beginning of a major rebuilding of the national men’s basketball program. That initial campaign was described as disastrous by both Reyes and Alapag as they failed to advance past their group, which was comprised of powerhouses Iran, China and Jordan.
“That was just the first step,” Alapag said. “We’ve continued to progress, continued to improve and continued to compete internationally. It all culminated for both coach and I last year in Manila, to have the opportunity to host the FIBA Asia tournament.”
(RELATED: The Mighty Captain: Jimmy Alapag makes his last dance count)
Time and various experiences molded solid trust between Reyes and Alapag, to the extent that Alapag is practically the eyes, voice, and mind of Reyes on the floor.
“The [player-coach] relationship goes deeper than that,” said Alapag. “He’s been a big mentor to me throughout my career and I think that just adds to the relationship and it carries over to the basketball court.”
Successful international journey
Since beginning his professional career in 2003 before eventually joining the national squad, Alapag has been instrumental in helping rebuild and shape the Philippine team into what it is today.
From constantly failing to toppling more experienced, much bigger Asian neighbors, to finally breaking onto the world stage, Alapag has been there. He endured all the hardships and is now reaping the rewards of years of trial and error.
But at 36 years of age, and after years of service to flag and country, the Mighty Mouse is ready to sign off from duty and pass on the torch to the younger guys in line, those who can build off of what was started and can learn from Alapag and his experiences.
“I’ve been blessed to have been a part of the national team for the last 10 or 12 years. There’s been a lot of progress,” he said.
After all he has done for the national team, it seemed like a fitting swan song for Alapag to deliver Gilas its first World Cup victory in 40 years with 5 game-sealing free throws towards the end of their match against Senegal.
“A lot of ups and downs, a lot of failures, a little bit of success last year in the FIBA Asia. I don’t know what will be the next step for our national team but I hope it won’t be another 40 years before we’re back in the world stage and competing again.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Alapag said of the World Cup and his final international stint. His contributions and sacrifices for the national cause will surely be remembered and the captain that has long provided steady leadership to Gilas Pilipinas will never be forgotten.
“I enjoyed every second, every minute being out there on the court, getting a chance to play against guys like [JJ] Barea, [Luis] Scola and the world’s best. This is just an absolute honor, a blessing and I couldn’t be more proud of all of our guys.” – Rappler.com
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