Gabe Norwood of Gilas: ‘We play to the end’

SEVILLE, Spain – To compete and play with everything we’ve got - that is Philippine basketball and it has been evident in Gilas Pilipinas’ games so far in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Despite absorbing two losses in as many games, the Philippine national men’s basketball team is not feeling down. Instead, they remain focused.

After an 82-70 loss against Greece Sunday, August 31 (Monday in PH), defensive ace Gabe Norwood said the team’s fighting spirit remains as high as ever.

“That’s what we come here for, to play against the best of the world and compete to the best of our abilities, no matter what.”

“Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the win. We played well yesterday (against Croatia) and missed some shots tonight that we were making yesterday but we have no time to feel bad,” he added.

“We gotta turn around and play again tomorrow.”

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes says he is very proud of the team’s effort and the way they battled against FIBA-ranked world number 5 Greece.

He said the team was able to execute their game plan defensively, limiting the production of Kostas Papanikolaou (9 points), Kostas Vasileiadis (6 points) and the rest of the Greek’s shooters and scorers.

Unfortunately, Gilas’ defensive strategy left an opening for some of Greece’s other players. Georgios Printezis burned the Philippines with 25 points scoring on cuts and in transition. Giannis Bourousis also delivered a solid game with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“If you told me at the start of the tournament that we could stay with the Greek squad for 3 quarters, 3 quarters and a half, I would have been very glad to accept that,” said Reyes.

“We’re crushed by the loss but still very happy with the effort.”

Despite the loss, there were still several positive notes for Gilas. Reigning PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, who had been struggling in international competition, was finally able to show what he can do.

In the beginning of the second quarter, he led the attack for the Philippines scoring the team’s first 6 points. Towards the end of the third quarter, he made his presence felt inside, scoring on a reverse layup on offense then blocking Nick Calathes in the next defensive play.

His confidence and production will be key as naturalized big man Andray Blatche continues to play hurt - a gesture that has endeared him to Filipino fans.

Blatche’s 'puso'

Coming into the tournament, there were concerns about how hard Blatche would play for the Philippines, but the big man who played for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA last season has erased all that playing through a sore right knee and still leading the team in production with 21 points and 14 rebounds.

“You wouldn’t expect anything less. His heart is with us and he shows it out there on the court. He plays every possession as hard as he can,” said Norwood commenting on Blatche’s effort.

“I think he proved himself. Got a little banged up yesterday and picked up a little bit more today but he played through,” he added.

Play hard all the way

Down double-digits late into the fourth quarter, Reyes thought about switching up their play and resting some of his players to keep them fresh for the next few games but ultimately decided they couldn’t do that. Not in front of a Filipino crowd that went to Seville from different parts of the world to support the team.

“To be very honest we were thinking of just really, you know, playing a 2-3 zone game and just holding up token resistance but in our conscience we couldn’t do it not with all these fans here.”

“I thought about it long and hard, but in the end I don’t think I can live with myself if we did that.”

Reyes said the players wanted to keep fighting.

“Five minutes when we were down 12, 14, the players were saying last 5 minutes, last push, including Andray.”

“That’s just the kind of spirit they have, so the spirit that we have and the way we play the game would not allow us to slack it off.”

He knew coming in that Greece was going to be a tough match up but it did not stop team from leaving it all out in the court and fighting through every possession to make the country proud.

“We played a Greek team that was at their best or near their best and we battled and in the end that’s all I can ask for from my players,” he said.

“At the start we were foolish enough to dream that we can compete with these teams so, we’ll just be foolish all the way.”

Norwood put into words perfectly how the team plays and what the rest of the competition should expect from the Philippines.

“We play to the end. I think that’s just our culture. That’s how we know what to do. We just keep fighting.” –