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!
MISSED A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
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.
TO BELIEVE AND TO INSPIRE
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!