December 01, 2023

Laban lang: Top players of Gilas Pilipinas in last five stints in Asian Games

Laban lang: Top players of Gilas Pilipinas in last five stints in Asian Games
Art by Royce Nicdao

As a troubled Gilas Pilipinas looks to win gold in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, one interesting subplot to watch out for is this: Who will emerge as the team’s best player for the tournament?

Justin Brownlee might be the default choice here, but given how he is still recovering from bone spur removal, Gilas might need others to step up and carry the fight. It could be June Mar Fajardo. It might even be Scottie Thompson, whom Tim Cone predicts will have a brilliant tournament this time around after a forgettable FIBA World Cup

Whoever emerges as the torch bearer of this Gilas squad, he will follow in the footsteps of the five players below, who just happen to be the top performers of the national team in the last five Asian Games it played.

Take note, though, that while the national team was rebranded as Gilas Pilipinas only in 2010, this list has taken the liberty to include Gilas' predecessors from yesteryears, like the famed Centennial Team coached bywho else?Coach Tim. After all, they paved the way for today's Gilas generation.

1998 – Kenneth Duremdes

Prime Duremdes was ahead of his time, a slasher who could shoot and do it all on the floor. It showed in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, where he proved to be the biggest star of the star-studded Centennial Team that also included Johnny Abarrientos, Marlou Aquino, and Jojo Lastimosa.

For the tournament, Captain Marbel averaged 11.9 points per game—tops in the team—and was coach Tim Cone’s go-to option more often than not. Incidentally, this Duremdes-led squad was the last national team to ever win a medal in the Asian Games—something that Cone and his new Gilas iteration will try to change in Hangzhou.   

2002 – Asi Taulava

Just two years after his Filipino lineage was openly questioned, Taulava went on to don the country’s colors in Busan and was a force all tournament long—except in the Philippines’ 92-51 loss to a Yao Ming-led Chinese squad.

But against everyone else, The Rock was able to push his weight around as he consistently put up double-doubles, including 27 points and 12 rebounds against Japan. Taulava’s strong play helped the Philippines get to the semis, where it came a stop away—or two Olsen Racela made free throws away—from sealing a place in the gold-medal match versus China.

2006 – Did not participate

The Philippines was unable to participate in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar because it had been suspended by FIBA due to internal squabbles within the basketball federation.

2010 – Kelly Williams

Williams was never known to be a big-time scorer even in the PBA, but he has always been a reliable rebounder and an active defender. And that’s exactly what he did in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.

Reinforcing the Rajko Toroman-mentored Gilas 1.0 along with Taulava, the hyper-athletic Williams proved to be a beast on the boards, leading the team in rebounds in six of its nine games—including a couple of 13-rebound gems. For the tournament, Machine Gun Kelly averaged just a shade under 10 points and 10 caroms per game as he helped a very young squad to a sixth-place finish.

2014 – Marcus Douthit

Replaced by Andray Blatche in that year’s FIBA World Cup, Kuya Marcus nonetheless gave it all in the Asian Games and was, by far, Gilas’ best and most consistent player with per game averages of 12.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. Unfortunately, his fine efforts have been mostly overshadowed by his now infamous own goal.

With Gilas needing to beat Kazakhstan by 11 points to keep its medal hopes alive, Douthit was asked to shoot at Gilas’ own basket to send the game to overtime, where it could at least attempt to win the game by the needed margin. The basket was disallowed, Gilas ultimately settled for seventh place, and that play will forever go down in Gilas infamy.

2018 – Jordan Clarkson

Given the relaxed rules of the Asian Games on eligibility, Clarkson finally got to wear the Gilas jersey for the first time, and he sure made the most of it.

Then with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a 26-year-old Clarkson showed his all-around game, averaging 26.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists to help the Yeng Guiao-coached squad finish fifth overall—an improvement from the team’s seventh place finish four years earlier.

So, who's got next? 

Gilas will begin its Asian Games campaign on September 26 versus emerging force Bahrain