February 28, 2024

Fab Five: Top Gilas performers in golden run in Asian Games

Fab Five: Top Gilas performers in golden run in Asian Games
Art by Royce Nicdao

There’s no "I" in team.

That classic sports mantra was embodied by Gilas Pilipinas in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Consequently, the Philippines captured the gold medal for the first time in 61 years. Despite the short prep time, the national squad displayed team spirit, good enough to make the likes of Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, and Baby Dalupan proud.

That being said, individuality still had to stand out. Certain situations call for it. And these cagers answered with gusto.

Honorable mentions: Chris Newsome and Kevin Alas

Newsome only averaged 4.1 points in the Asiad but in the gold medal game against Jordan, he turned into a two-way assassin. Not only he held Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to 12 points on 8-of-29 shooting, the Meralco Bolts star also scored 13 points, including a few timely baskets.

Alas, meanwhile, only put up 3.3 points per game. But his five markers down the stretch in the semifinals against China were much-needed, and so was his scrambling defense against hot-shooting Thailand during the group stage.

Kevin and Chris stepped up when the team needed them most.

5. Cjay Perez  

Perez played a good all-around game throughout the tourney. He scored, passed, and at times, rebounded the ball a la Scottie Thompson as well. He averaged 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.3 steals, as he was given a heavier role compared to his stint in the FIBA World Cup. Thailand made a run at pulling off an upset but the spitfire guard said no and delivered 16 markers. Against China, wherein he fired eight points, Perez made several big plays to help Gilas complete its epic comeback.

4. June Mar Fajardo

June Mar was Gilas’ rock inside the paint. Through seven games, he posted 9.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. His signature outing came in the quarterfinals against Iran, as he finished with 18 markers, including a King Kong-sized putback that ultimately prevented the Iranians from taking a three-point lead in the waning moments. To help Gilas survive Iran, Fajardo also hit all four of his free-throws, grabbed eight boards, and dished out four dimes.

3. Ange Kouame

Kouame mainly played backup center in Hangzhou, posting 7.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks a game. During the semifinals and the finals, however, the hardworking big man was coach Tim Cone’s clear-cut choice to finish the games. Kouame’s ability to switch and defend pick and rolls were as important as keeping the wife happy. Saving his best for last, the former UAAP MVP, went berserk in the battle for gold, notching 14 points, 11 rebounds, and two swats.

2. Scottie Thompson

Scottie was hated on by fickle-minded fans after his underwhelming FIBA World Cup stint. But tallying 8.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists a game, all while wreaking havoc all over the floor, he dropped the mic on them haters during the Asian Games. With Gilas’ back against the ropes versus China in the semifinals, the reigning PBA MVP rose to the occasion and fought his way through the monolithic frontline of the home team. Without Scottie's 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals, Gilas probably wouldn’t have made it past the penultimate round.

1. Justin Brownlee

No explanations needed, right? Just ask Japeth Aguilar

The hope now is that JB and the rest of the core will suit up for Gilas in the upcoming FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to help the Philippines rewrite history once more.

(PM)