Gilas vs Russia: A postscript

MANILA, Philippines - How can one describe the Philippines’ 14-point victory over a Russian team in the Jones Cup? First, silence, as if struck by lightning, and then jubilation in a rare victory over a European side.

Yes, there was none of the usual Russian team’s swift precise passing, deadly three-point sniping, and power play by a big man in this Spartak-Primorye side during the 8, but they had height and heft. 

Did coach Tab Badwin rest Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, Gabe Norwood and Gary David and rely primarily on newcomers against Russia to test their mettle and fighting heart? If so, they passed with flying colors, especially on standing their ground against the behemoths. 

“Ok yan, ah,” said former national coach Nic Jorge, whose Philippine side was exposed to European teams, led by fearsome Yugoslavia, in their buildup for the 1978 world basketball championship in Manila.

“Congrats to us for beating Russia,” said Jimmy Mariano, a former Olympian and Asian Gamer, in a text message to 

Felix Flores, who played in the 1964 Olympic basketball qualifying meet in Yokohama and the 1969 ABC championship, said in a separate text message the Filipinos’ big stand in the fourth quarter decided the game. “More fighting spirit and more puso,” said the former national team center in a separate text message.

The defeat, Russia’s first, put them at 3-1 while the victory erased a horrible loss at the hands of South Korea on Monday. But while the Philippines has two wins and one loss, they have to play the US and New Zealand, two teams which Russia beat. 

The Russian team used their height and heft against Baldwin’s crew while giving as much as they got as the Filipinos battled to hold a defensive position. More importantly, the Filipinos did not abandon executing set plays against the hardy Russians. 

The ball moved and looked for the man who was in position to score in Baldwin’s offense. But it gave enough room for players like Matt Ganuelas-Rosser who darted inside the Russians’ core, twisting in mid-air to sink a floater.  

PBA legend Ramon Fernandez, in a Facebook private message, opined that the result may be due to the fact probably “it is  probably still tryout stage” for the team. 

If the second team continues to play well, that could pose some problems for Baldwin but this is a welcome development especially after some key players begged off from the tryouts.

This showed how far the Philippines had advanced in basketball from the 1960 Rome Olympics where the national team was pounded by beefier foes in the prelims. 

“We felt the physical game in our two tuneup games against Greece before the Rome Olympics,” remembered the 6-foot-1 Ed Roque, who played center or guard in that Rome squad in lieu of the injured Carlos Loyzaga. “Some of our teammates flinched.”

Exceptions were the captain, Charlie Badion, a rugged power forward who can play point guard, Jun Achacoso, a high-leaping, well-built guard and two former Mr Footballs: Ed Ocampo, a fullback who could score, and the beefy center-forward Eddie Pacheco, who was used to hard defense, and Roque, a bedrock in defense. 

In the preliminaries, the Philippines bowed to Poland, 68-86, in a game where “they ran into a rugged defense by the heavier Poles, who committed heavy fouls in a rough-and-tumble game, and were, as Roque described, a “bit rugged and used their bodies too much," according to an excerpt of a forthcoming book on Philippine international basketball campaigns. 

After beating Spain, 84-82, in a fight-marred game, the Philippine team lost to Uruguay, 80-74 in a match where captain Charlie Badion hurt his knee and was gone for the tournament. The Philippines was relegated to the consolation round and placed 11th. 

The team can savor this triumph. Tomorrow, the Philippines battles Japan before facing the dangerous Iranian 5, which has the height and shooting touch to send us back to earth. But excessive self-confidence is a tougher opponent for the Philippine team as it gears up for FIBA Asia. –