June 25, 2024

Salamat: An open letter to all Gilas teams who gave their all for country’s pride and honor

Salamat: An open letter to all Gilas teams who gave their all for country’s pride and honor
Art by Royce Nicdao

Gilas Pilipinas started out as a developmental program in 2009. Its original goal was to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. To this day, Gilas has yet to play a single Olympic game. Nonetheless, it has secured a third straight FIBA World Cup appearance after the Philippines won the bid to co-host this year’s edition of the global hoops tournament. Not bad at all.

With the battle for basketball’s crown jewel tipping off anew tomorrow, August 25, it’s only right that a thank you letter be written for all the Gilas teams that, brick by brick, constructed the bridge that gave the country its access to this historic moment.

To start things off, Smart Gilas deserves a HUGE thank you for laying the foundation. Coach Rajko Toroman guiding amateur studs Chris Tiu, JVee Casio, Fil-Am recruit Marcio Lassiter, along with naturalized player Marcus Douthit. They showed that a group of blue chippers can come together in the name of national pride. Salamat, OGs.

 

Words aren’t enough to express the admiration and gratitude that Filipino hoop fans have for Gilas 2.0. The team’s efforts in the 2013 FIBA Asian Championship—when the so-called Korean Curse was snapped—and its spirited run in the 2014 FIBA World Cup moved an entire nation, similar to when Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines its first-ever Olympic gold medal. Without a doubt, this Chot Reyes-mentored group was special. Thank you!

 

It would be a crime not to single out a few names who created some of Gilas’ most memorable moments. Let’s begin with the Captain Jimmy Alapag. Thank you for your leadership and dagger threes. Your courageous play let the world know that Philippine basketball is here to stay.

 

Gabe Norwood will forever be loved for dunking over Argentina legend Luis Scola. But really, the unrelenting service he rendered for the national team was more than enough for him to be called a Gilas hero.

 

From the same squad, Marc Pingris and Ranidel de Ocampo embodied the iconic "Puso" battle cry. Their all-out play and willingness to suit up for the national team deserve to be praised over and over. So, thank you!

 

Next on the list of cagers to thank would be Paul Lee and LA Tenorio.

Lee’s cold-blooded free-throws with zero seconds left against China gave Gilas a bronze medal in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup.

Overflowing clutch genes were also on display in 2012 when Tenorio hit a game-winner against a team representing USA in the Jones Cup. Thank you to both of you for showing how courageous and resilient Filipinos can be amid staggering adversity.

Terrence Romeo needs to get his flowers as well. Gilas was always more exciting to watch when its golden boy was in the lineup.

Even Jordan Clarkson got out of his seat when Romeo busted out a sick crossover against Chinese Taipei in the 2015 Jones Cup. Fans badly missing Gilas Terrence is simple math.

Who can forget about Gilas’ adoptive brothers in coach Tab Baldwin, Andray Blatche, and Justin Brownlee?

Coach Tab has become a crowd-favorite, and it's easy to understand why. In 2015, he steered the remnants of Gilas 2.0 to another silver medal finish in the FIBA Asia Championship. A few years later, Baldwin weaved his magic once more as a young Gilas core, headlined by Ange Kouame, Kai Sotto, Carl Tamayo, and RJ Abarrientos went toe-to-toe with a powerhouse Serbian squad during the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Thank you, Coach Tab, for letting the fans know that the future is bright for Philippine basketball.

 

Thank you, Dray, for giving your all until the wheels fell off. To this day, he remains as Gilas’ most productive naturalized player. His loyalty to his teammates and the Philippine flag was in full display during the 2014 and 2019 FIBA World Cups. In the 2019 Asian Qualifiers, he even gifted us with a 41-point explosion against Kazakhstan to seal the country's ticket to the FIBA World Cup.

 

Lastly, Filipinos owe Justin Brownlee a standing ovation. He erupted for 41 points against Jordan in the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. He carried Gilas in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games as the Philippines reclaimed the gold medal by beating a heavily-reinforced Cambodian squad in the final.

While he was gunning for a spot in Gilas’ FIBA World Cup roster, Brownlee did everything right, yet he graciously accepted the team’s decision to pick Clarkson over him. For that, Justin Noypi will forever be the man!

 

In the next few days, a new batch of Gilas players will have a chance to add a new chapter in the legacy that their predecessors have built.

Playing on home soil, the support of an entire nation might just push them to make history. The hope is that it happens right from the get-go, when Gilas takes on the Dominican Republic.

(GM)