Friday, September 30, 2011

My Reflections on the FIBA Asia (Part 2)


We are very grateful and lucky to have Coach Rajko. There is no question that the new 'system' he has introduced to Philippine basketball has been effective both offensively and defensively, and it suits the international game. Of course, nobody is perfect but Coach Rajko is an extremely clever guy. Respected national coaches from other teams would go up to me and tell me how lucky we are to have Rajko as our coach. And more than the X and O's that he has taught us, for me, his biggest contribution is the non-negotiable values that he instills upon the team. "Work as hard and as HONEST as you can!" Those are his famous words. Even if he seldom smiles, I suppose this is the reason why he is so loved by the Filipino fans. It's tough to be a coach, there are many other 'experts' especially when you lose a game. But I cannot forget what he told us, "Even if I will be digging my own grave, I will continue to do what I believe is the right thing to do!" That's why we players have utmost respect for the guy.

What got me more emotional after the Korea game was when Coach started saying goodbye to the team and to the Philippines in the locker room. I remember in our first team building session 2 years ago, we played a game where each team member has to give one chip to just one person he trusts the most in the team. Many of us gave our chips to Coach Rajko. Coach Rajko gave me his chip. I cannot forget that. And now I feel like I've let him down.

For bringing Philippine basketball to another level, we must give utmost appreciation to Coach Rajko. And we have to admit, sometimes he is even 'more Filipino' than some of us through his sacrifice and dedication towards the improvement of Philippine basketball. At this moment, his status is uncertain but he already has bigger offers internationally and he will not have problems finding another job. That's for sure. Wherever he goes next, I wish him well. I think what he needs to do is to rest and take care of his health first and foremost.


Throughout the tournament, I prayed the rosary every night. I've been reading a book of homilies (I'll talk about it in another entry). I spoke to God more than I usually do because I have more idle time when I'm abroad, which should not be the case though. We should make an effort to pray and talk to God as much as we can despite our busy schedules. After the loss, again I prayed for answers.

I remember what Jimmy (Alapag) told me after the game when I was feeling bad, "Making it to the final 4 is a huge step already. We cannot just expect to win the Gold overnight. It's a step by step process."

Then I thought about they way we lost to Korea, it was an unreal game! Like a divine hand had something to do with it. God is telling us something. Despite being unlucky in the last two games, He showed us throughout the tournament that we are very competitive with all the teams who participated, including the top teams that finished ahead of us. I believe it is His way of telling us that "you are a good team, but it is not your time yet. You must first fine tune and resolve all your divisions and differences! " God is a good God and He has a purpose for everything. It just wasn't meant to be yet.

I'm very very thankful to be given this rare opportunity to represent the country for the past 2+ years! It's truly a big big honor! It's both fun and painful but all worth it!

I'd also like to honor my teammates who have sacrificed tremendously for the country and poured their hearts out during the games, whether or not there's a lot at stake. It's been so much fun playing with some of the best players in the country, not to mention great guys as well. It's sad that we will have to part ways after years of practicing, traveling & competing in tough games together but I know they will make wonders for their respective teams in the PBA and I wish them all the best!

I believe in destiny, but for now, making it to the London Olympics wasn't meant to be. Sooner or later, I strongly believe that the Philippines will regain its top spot in Asian basketball. We saw how close we are. We just got to keep working towards that goal, together! I hope I will still be actively playing when that happens. But for now, life must go on and we have to keep getting better. 2013 is not so far away.

Once again, a super big THANK YOU to all of you for your unwavering love and support for the team!! You certainly keep us inspired! GO PILIPINAS! :)


P.S. After the heartbreaking loss to Korea, I bumped into Coach Baldwin of Jordan in the hotel lobby. He gave me a big hug and he said such simple yet wonderful words that hit the spot and I'd like to share it to you guys because it can be applied to all. He said "This is just the first of many more tougher games you will experience in life. Just remember to be the best player that you can be. More importantly, be the best person that you can be. Hold on to those two things and you will be fine."

My Reflections on the FIBA Asia (Part 1)

It's so ironic how I wrote about 'grabbing opportunities that come your way' in one of my recent posts. We just missed an opportunity of a lifetime for Philippine basketball. Our recent 4th place finish in the FIBA Asia, which was held in Wuhan China, drew mixed emotions. On one hand, it was a great success because the team was able to make it to the Final 4 quite convincingly after a series of victories against UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Japan and Syria in the elimination round and against Chinese Taipei in the Quarterfinals. Basketball experts say the top 4 finish hasn't been done in 20 something years and probably the best finish since the emergence of the middle eastern nations. But after the quarterfinals, horror began!

I talked about painful losses, but the wounds of this one will take a lifetime to heal. I thought I'd somehow get used to dealing with lost games/tournaments but this one is just the most painful and most difficult.


The loss against Jordan in the semifinals was tough and painful, but nothing compared to the one against Korea. Jordan is a tall, experienced and skilled team, not to mention they have Coach Baldwin whom I truly respect not only because of his ingenuity and professionalism inside the hardcourt but also his kind, humble and friendly personality off the court. Those who closely followed the FIBA Asia would know that Iran (ranked #1 in the QF) was the clear favorite to make it to the finals, and we knew that if we can get pass Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals, that we would have to face a huge road block , which is Iran. Having included Kazemi in their lineup, Iran has never fielded a stronger team. But guess what, they were upset by Jordan in the quarterfinals. When we heard this, we suddenly saw a crack in the door leading up to the Olympics. This was because we knew we would match up better with Jordan than Iran and that we've defeated them several times in prior games including that in the elims.

Unfortunately, the Jordanians were very focused and they did their scouting homework excellently , causing us to lose our offensive fluidity, as a result of their switching man-zone defenses. I will not expound on the details anymore. Basically, they deserved to win that game.


In the game against Korea for the bronze medal, it was pretty much a won game for us until the dying minutes of the 4th quarter where Korea got their shooting confidence. One layup or a pair of free throws would have put our lead up to 12 or 14 points coming into the last 5 minutes of the game and that would have been enough to put the Koreans away. But no, instead, they brought the lead down to single digits and it gave them hope until they finally found their shooting stroke and ended up winning by 2 points! That shocking game for us will be recorded as one of the greatest comebacks in the Korean history books.

What makes it more painful, was that we had everything going our way. From the body language of both teams at the beginning of the game, our players were more energetic, motivated and clearly wanted the win more. Korea had an 8pm game the night before and they look very tired. Our defense made them miss a lot of shots throughout the game, but they also missed 3 or 4 point blank layups in the 1st quarter. Some of their key players were even injured. Everything was going right for us until the unexpected happened! We were stunned!


One of the main reasons why I felt some regret is because we missed a golden chance to place ourselves in the history books by at least bringing home a medal for the country. That hasn't been done in decades, not even by some of our basketball idols. We had it in the palm of our hands but somehow it slipped away.

I have to admit that the Pinoy fans have been extremely supportive and appreciative of the result but still there's that feeling of disappointment that we could have made them even more proud, knowing that the Philippines is still a basketball-crazy nation! It was so close. We've been receiving very supportive and appreciative messages on twitter, and since we got back, right when we stepped off the plane or wherever I go, people would go up to me and congratulate me for a job well done but there's always that expression of 'Sayang!' whether explicitly said or not. You can see it through their faces.


But more than all that, the main reason why I felt disappointed not winning the Gold or any medal at that is because I wanted the Gilas team to prove something to the nation. Something that can truly inspire us to dream beyond our imagination. From the very beginning, only a handful of people believed in the program. Many people laughed when we said we were aiming for the Olympics. Some said that the Philippines should forget about basketball and focus on other sports since basketball is a big man's game and we Filipinos obviously don't have the height. But this gave us motivation, the reason why we wanted to succeed so badly is not for any personal glory but because we wanted to inspire the millions of Filipinos that tasks like this that seem impossible can be achieved despite the odds. We, Pinoys are often underdogs. We live in deep poverty, but if we first BELIEVE, then through extreme hard work, cooperation, sacrifice and dedication, nothing is impossible!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quick update on Gilas at the FIBA Asia

Hello there,

The team arrived here in Wuhan close to midnight last night (Tuesday). It was an extremely long trip which got delayed further. From 4:30am at NAIA1, we finally got to our hotel rooms at 11pm. Connecting flight in Beijing got delayed. We spent almost 8 hours in the Beijing airport, which i used to finally write my blog below about the NBA experience. It felt like we traveled all the way to Europe when in fact, Wuhan is just an hour plane ride west of Shanghai. That wasn't it. We had to get up at 7am this morning for our 9am practice schedule. Anyway, we got to rest in the afternoon.

Team spirit is okay. We are all excited to play! We play UAE tomorrow (Thurs) then China on Friday, then Bahrain on Saturday. Games should be televised live in Manila through BTV & AKTV.

I'll try to keep you posted on any developments through this blog since twitter, FB and other social networking sites are blocked here in China.

Again, thank you so much for your continued support and prayers!!

Let's go Philippines!


Gilas vs NBA Stars in Manila

It's been more than a month since the NBA superstars gave the Filipino basketball fans an experience of a lifetime. Until today, random people would go up to me asking how it felt to play against Kobe, D-Rose, Durant, CP3 and the rest of the gang. They were super excited to hear what it was like guarding Kobe and them so I promised to blog about it. As a matter of fact, the sports editors of a major daily were too excited and mistakenly placed my name as an author of a reflection wrote by my brother, Charles, about the Smart-NBA experience that was published after the game. I think they forgot that he is a member of our coaching staff that's why he wrote his experience using the first person point of view. Anyway, my memory of that day is still very vivid and I'm sure the same goes for those who caught the game. Hope this blog isn't too late.

For those who were able to watch the game live, no doubt it was an unbelievable experience!! For me, and I can speak for most if not all of my teammates, it was a surreal experience! It was a like a dream come true of a dream we never even dreamt of! Am i making sense? It was like bringing over the starting 5 of the US national team. That night after the game, I was checking out the photos of the game over the internet and just sitting in my bed thinking 'did this really happen??'.

Some might not understand how big a deal it is for us basketball players. If you were a fan of pop music, it was like performing on stage or jamming alongside your pop idols Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. If you were a soccer fan, it was like playing against David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo or Messi. You get the point.

I first heard about this game when they informed us, the Gilas team, that our mini Europe pocket tournament in July will not push through due to injuries and lack of players in our team. But instead, they are arranging a game with a selection of NBA stars in Manila to prepare for the Fiba Asia. I thought it was a long shot! Initially, we heard rumors that Kobe wasn't coming, then Durant wasn't coming, Blake Griffin was coming, this and that. Eventually, the lineup was final. Kobe, D-Rose, Durant, CP3, Tyreke Evans, McGee, Derek Fisher, James Harden, Derek Williams. Wow! Friends who never followed basketball in their lifetime suddenly would be texting me asking for tickets. It became THE event to be in.

Game day

In the locker room of the newly inaugurated Smart Araneta Coliseum, Coach Rajko reminded us that no one is allowed to bring phones, cameras nor pentel pens to the court. No picture taking, no autograph signing… NO RESPECT until after the game! He emphasized that this is not an 'all-star game' but rather it was a tune-up game for Gilas as part of our preparation for FIBA Asia. He wanted the sold-out Araneta crowd, who paid thousands of pesos per ticket, to enjoy seeing their NBA idols but at the same time, appreciate a competitive and serious game.

Coach Rajko then assigns the match ups like he normally does before a game. "Mark (Barroca), get Chris Paul. Chris Tiu, you take Derek Rose. Chris Lutz, Kevin Durant. Marcus, take McGee. Japeth, guard Kobe." Honestly, when I heard that, I wasn't sure if i was dreaming. Did I hear right? Never in my lifetime did I think of guarding D-Rose, the reigning MVP.

During the game, luckily, I had the chance to guard everyone because of the switches in matchup. Most of the time, I was guarding Kobe. I didn't mind at all since I liked the challenge but mostly because I knew I would have a lot of souvenir photos after the game. He is just so big, strong and heavy, and yet he had the quickness, precision and creativity to beat you using one of his million moves. D-rose and Cp3 are extremely quick and shifty but I just kept in mind what one of our coaches tipped me when guarding them, "don't go for the fake, just stay in front and make them shoot over you" .

Durant has unbelievable handles for a 6'11 guy. McGee is soooo long plus he got the "hops". In fact, I was 'posterized' in the dying minutes, with his statue of liberty dunk from close to the free throw line.

Post game

We lost the game by 8 points. It wasn't a bad result for us. Before the game, I already conditioned myself to think that I was not going to get any autograph nor photo with the NBA guys due to strict security measures. I usually do that so i don't get disappointed. But by good fortune, we had a great opportunity to mingle with them briefly inside the court after the game. Since I wasn't prepared, I took off my only piece of clothing that was dry, my Adizero Crazy-light shoe and had each of the big 4 sign it on each side.

And to cap it off, I got a photo with Kobe , thanks to kuya Marcus (Douthit), who happened to be his former teammate with the Lakers. In exchange, I got Pacman (who happened to be with us at ringside) to sign his jersey. He was ecstatic!

Go Gilas

The NBA All-stars led by as many as 20 points during the game. From the very start of the game, the jam-packed Araneta crowd would erupt in excitement and enthusiasm every time their idols would score or make a highlight play.They were like playing at home. Gilas felt like the away team. But unexpectedly during the 4th quarter, there was a sudden shift in emotion. This was the moment that touched and moved me the most. When we cut their lead down to single digits, suddenly the 20,000+ people in the stadium were chanting "defense, defense!" when they had possession. And each time Gilas would score, there was a roaring cheer! I got goosebumps. Until that time, I never felt that kind of support and loyalty towards the national team in years. In our PBA stint, we even got boo-ed occasionally. At least vs the NBA guys, we got cheers! It really made me feel proud to be a member of the
national team.

Thank you

Hats off to MVP and the people behind the MVP foundation for making this happen! This event brought basketball entertainment to another level for the Pinoy fans. Hopefully it will inspire more Filipinos to follow and appreciate the sport, both locally and internationally. For me personally, I'm very grateful to the Lord for making this once in a lifetime opportunity happen. If I had not been a member of Gilas at the right place and time, this would have not happened for me. It will be a story I can indeed share to my kids and my grandkids.

To the young kids out there, make sure to dream big and work towards that dream! Be the best that you can be in your field. You will never know when that big break or once in a lifetime opportunity will pass you by, and you got to be ready when that happens! Just enjoy what you do and keep working hard for God's glory. You can't go wrong. All the best!



P.S. Thank you to Tito Philip Sison for the photos