December 02, 2023

GUTS AND GLORY | Gilas silver lining AJ Edu is a beast on the court, and a gem off it

GUTS AND GLORY | Gilas silver lining AJ Edu is a beast on the court, and a gem off it
Art by Royce Nicdao

AJ Edu was the last member of Gilas Pilipinas to leave the Smart-Araneta Coliseum after the team’s loss to Angola as he was randomly selected to undergo FIBA’s doping test. As per protocol, the bus departs earlier with the rest of the squad to give them more time to rest. Joined by team doctor Randy Molo and one of their liaison officers, Edu waved to a few people to acknowledge them as he walked to their designated van.

The young big man tried his best to still muster up a smile even if Gilas took an even more painful loss in their second game in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

But that’s just the kind of guy Edu is. Tired, frustrated, fresh off the added responsibility of going through the doping protocols, Edu still wanted to be as pleasant as possible to everyone around him.

It might be hard to believe right now but this is just his second seniors game with Gilas and already he is one of the team’s top performers.

7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 27 minutes against the Dominican Republic.

9 points, 6 rebounds, and a block in 31 minutes versus Angola.

Impressive numbers for a youngster but what makes these numbers even more special is the fact that he battled against two NBA players. This means his best contributions to the team were not even the numbers but the defense he played against Karl-Anthony Towns and Bruno Fernando.

Off the court, he’s been a gem as well. He says yes to every interview request and is respectful to everyone he comes across with. After the game in the Philippine Arena, he gave away his shoes to two young fans to thank them for their support.

Things are looking difficult for Gilas Pilipinas. Two losses in the first two games leave them needing not just a win but a double-digit win against world number 10 Italy in their final game. A spot in the second round and even a shot at the Paris Olympics will require maybe the biggest upset win in Philippine basketball history.

Gilas needs a 13-point win against the team that beat them by 46 points in 2019.

With everything looking bleak, Edu offers a bit of consolation, the silver lining in a winless World Cup stint so far. The campaign of Gilas Pilipinas got a lot dimmer after the loss to Angola but somehow the future of Edu looked brighter after the game.

“I need to feel what it’s like to go up against those guys,” Edu said about Towns and Fernando. “The NBA is the level I want to get to and I need to know I can compete with the guys already there.”

Before he acquired Filipino citizenship, Edu drew interest from other countries such as Nigeria (where his father is from), Cyprus (where he was born), and Great Britain (where his family stayed) but he chose to play for the Philippines. It’s a choice that he doesn’t take lightly as evidenced by the effort he plays with every time he’s on the court.

The 23-year-old is playing with the experience beyond his years. He credits the early start in basketball he got in Cyprus where he played against much older guys. Now, he’s hoping the same formula, competing against NBA vets, will also push his career forward.

With the frustration and negativity surrounding the World Cup campaign of Gilas Pilipinas, sometimes we need to hear a story like Edu’s to make us believe that good things happen to good people, that the seemingly unending adversity he had to endure with injuries was all worth it to be able to get to this moment.