Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Who says we can't dream?

Hello, it's been a week since the last day of the FIBA Asia Champions' Cup held in Jakarta. As you may already know we, the RP Smart Gilas team, finished 5th place out of 10 participating countries. Maybe before the tournament began, we would be satisfied to clinch 5th spot. But after actually competing against those colossal and experienced national players, 5th place was actually a disappointment for me, personally. I have been advised not to get too hard on myself and the team because we did OK considering we are a young, scrawny and inexperienced team. But here's the reason why i felt that we could have easily landed in the 3rd or 4th spot.

First of all, we were unfortunate enough to have been placed in the 'bracket of death'. Our first game was against Korea. They were not unusually gigantic, maybe 6'7 and 6'8 centers, and without an import. We matched up pretty well against them. They played their usual "korean" style basketball with a lot of back screens, drive and kicks, and flawless 3-point shots. Not just were they physical, they don't trim their nails as well. This was our first official international game, we started off slow but got our rhythm going and won the game by 10+ points. (I can't remember the stats)

Second game was against Iran, the powerhouse that made it to the Beijing Olympics, plus two imports - Priest Lauderdale who stands at 7'4 and Jakson Vroman (6'9 and played for three years in the NBA) 7 of their national team players who played in the Olympics were in the lineup. Honestly, before the game, i have to admit that i would have been happy if we finished the game losing by not more than 25 points. To our surprise, we came out aggressive and even led by 2 at the half. I've never seen a human being as huge as Priest in my entire life. He was just so huge both vertically and horizontally! He simply needed to tip-toe to lay the ball on the cylinder of the rim. Vroman was a white power forward who could attack from the top or post up and finish left and right. He scored 42 points in that game. Anyway, they adjusted in the 2nd half and our center CJ Giles got into foul trouble which gave us problems trying to stop their inside points. At the end, we lost by 12, not too bad.

Third game was against Lebanon, playing without their injured star Al-Khatib, we were able to control the game pretty much all throughout, until CJ Giles had a horrible fall and had to be taken out of the game. Again, we were massacred inside the paint by their big men. But we were able to hold the fort for a bit, until CJ came back and heroically lifted our team again to victory. That was a big upset because Lebanon was another powerhouse that was expected to finish at the top of the tournament.

4th game was against Kuwait, it was a no bearing game for us. Either way, we would have finished #2 in our Group A and would have to play the #3 in Group B which was Qatar. Quarterfinals was the following day. But Coach Rajko made it clear that he wanted to win the game against Kuwait! Qatar, on the other hand, didn't even try to win their no-bearing game and played zone all 40 minutes to rest their players. On our part, we played without CJ and myself due to a quad injury. We were down all throughout the game, and thanks to the Filipinos and Indonesians who were cheering for us, we made a last minute run that gave us the lead and victory. Truly an emotional victory!

Next day, the quarterfinals, a knockout game against Qatar. We felt we could beat them because they only had a 6-man rotation but almost all 6 were of African descent, tall and very experienced. Two of which, were imports. This was supposedly advantageous for us since we like to speed up the game and pressure the ball. We had control of the game pretty much throughout the game... until the 4th quarter. Again, CJ gets into foul trouble and they pound us inside. Then , their big man hits consecutive 3 pointers to beat the buzzer which swung the game to their favor. We made a small rally at the last minutes but it wasn't enough. There goes our hopes of entering the semis! Just like that!

After 4 well-played games, we suddenly found ourselves shooting blanks one shot after another. After shooting close to 50% the day before, our percentage was nothing close to that! Pressure? Fatigue? Maybe. That was our 3rd consecutive game and 5th game in 6 days. NO excuse though since all teams have similar schedules. But maybe more so for us, since our style of play is really to run, run and run. We just couldn't get it going that night. I myself finished the game with 0 points. What was really frustrating for me, was that i was in the bench for the most part of the game. I sat down around halfway through the 3rd quarter and never got the chance to get back in the game. Really disappointing especially since I love 4th quarters! And i usually finish games.

After being eliminated by Qatar, our next goal was to finish 5th and prove that we deserve to be in the upper field of teams. Despite being down, we were able to bounce back and we did it! We beat Korea again convincingly and then beat Indonesia in an unbelievable match in overtime. In my estimate, they made about 6 highly contested 3-pointers in the last 2 minutes to force overtime., of course with a little help from the refs since they're the home team. But still, they were pouring in miracle shots from all over.

Anyway, the FIBA Asia Champion's Cup was truly a wonderful, wonderful experience for us. We got a taste of international competition at its best. We played 6 great games out of 7 and it's just unfortunate that we had to play our one and only horrible game when it mattered the most. I believe in fate. I guess it's not meant to be yet. As they say, it's the loss that builds character. Our team is only in the beginning stages of our long journey ahead, although disappointing, i know that things can only get better as we aim towards that ultimate goal - the London Olympics. We are not forbidden to dream.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Going to Jakarta - FIBA Asia Champion's Cup 2009

Hi there, it's been a while since my last post, haven't found the time since i got back on tuesday. I'm writing this just after packing for our trip to Jakarta and before leaving for the airport. For those who haven't been reading the papers, we, the RP Smart Gilas team will be going to Jakarta for the FIBA Asia Champion's Cup. It's not a qualifier for any future tournament. The teams that are participating are Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Qatar and the Philippines. I'm missing one country as it slips my mind right now. Again, we have been placed on a very very competitive bracket (they call it the bracket of death) since we're are in the same group as Iran (Asian games champion and former team of Coach Rajko), South Korea, Lebanon and Kuwait. Each team is allowed to field 2 imports but we are fielding in just one (CJ Giles).

This is going to be my first official international competition where I will be included in the line up and I'm quite excited. Of course, there's pressure to win since this is an international competition and we will be bearing our national flag. Even if we're not expected to win, I'm looking forward to this experience, to actually feel what it will be like playing in the Asian Games in 2011 since the national team players of these Asian countries will most likely be these same guys who will be playing in Jakarta. Based on the lineups submitted, the teams will be fielding their top national players. Iran has two former NBA players as their imports including Priest Lauderdale who stands at 7'4 and played for the Atlanta Hawks. This competition will be very very tough so I ask for your prayers that we may have a successful and meaningful trip!

We may be a very young and inexperienced team, but one thing is for sure, we will give it our best shot and we will play with the biggest hearts!


P.S. Happy Mother's Day to all the Mothers out there :)