Gilas Pilipinas claimed the 2017 SEABA Championships on Thursday night as they easily defeated Indonesia, 97-64. The victory came as no surprise for Gilas and its Filipino fans. Even though Indonesia was deemed the toughest opponent in the field, we all knew that the tournament was practically a done deal.
Much has been discussed about whether or not the whole SEABA tourney experience was overkill – that we didn’t need to send our best guys against our Southeast Asian neighbors. Maybe we didn’t really needAndray Blatche. Maybe we didn’t ned to send an all-PBA team. Maybe it just wasn’t worth it.
But of course, the team, especially Gilas head coach Chot Reyes continually stressed even prior to the games, that the SEABA Championships is the first step in their goal towards the FIBA World Cup and hopefully, the 2020 Olympics. You need to send the best as early as now to cultivate the right direction for our basketball program. The ultimate goal has always been bringing the Philippines back to the world stage.
As it turned out, the seven-day tournament wasn’t just about Gilas overpowering its opponents. Heck, everything didn’t revolve around Gilas too. We always knew that we were the best in the region, that’s a fact, but we didn’t realize how much we’ve impacted, and not to mention, inspired, our neighbors too.
“The good thing about tournaments like this is the interactions that I always look forward to — talking to Tim Lewis of Thailand, and Coach Donte Hill of Vietnam, Coach Frank Arsego of Singapore. And Coach [Wahyu Widayat Jati] of Indonesia. I always take an opportunity to talk and exchange ideas,” Chot Reyes said.
He went on, “A lot of them told their teams to also relish the opportunity of playing the Philippines, because obviously of our talent and our size. But like I said in previous interviews, this is just the same as us coming out and playing the best in the world. When we go out and play the best teams in the world, we also use the opportunity to learn, and the only way we can really develop is to continue playing teams like those.”
For the other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines is the gold standard. We set the bar that they use to measure themselves. Reyes even shared the story about when they were gearing up for the World Championships, Gilas played in a pocket tournament where they faced top competition. Even though they lost, the experience essentially became a learning experience.
“We know how it feels to be on the opposite end, and I kept reminding my players, you know: Just remember, when we go up against the quote-unquote super powers of basketball, in Europe and Latin America, hindi rin sila nakakasigurado pag tayo ang kalaban,” explained Reyes. “So I told them, same thing here. Even if we are heavily favored, hindi pa rin tayo nakaka-sigurado because that’s the essence of sport. Anything can happen. We kept reminding the other teams of that.”
In essence, Philippine basketball has been not just the standard of competition in the region, but also a source of inspiration and growth.
After Gilas took on Malaysia two nights ago, the Malaysian players took pictures with Terrence Romeo. Last night, Jayson Castro, dubbed as the best point guard in Asia, spent time with the Singapore players to take selfies. Yes, the other countries want to try to beat us in these kinds of tournaments, but they also want to see these PBA stars up close. Since Castro, Romeo, and the rest of the Gilas members have battled France, New Zealand, China, and Iran, they’re practically rock stars for those young players. In a strange but inspiring way, the Philippines has become the flagbearer for Southeast Asian basketball against the world.
“We know that they hold us at the standard for Southeast Asia, and that’s why we keep reminding the players to play the game the right way,” Reyes proudly shared. “I said, ‘let’s make fantastic, spectacular plays, and then let’s run down on defense. I don’t want any gloating, I don’t want any external or unnecessary actions, I don’t want any taunting.’ And I thought we did a really good job of that. The players kept their focus on what needed to be done, no unnecessary actions, no unnecessary movements, and I thought that was very important — that we play the game the right way.”
As Gilas sets its eyes towards the FIBA Asia Cup, the World Cup, and hopefully the Olympics, the other six countries in the SEABA tournament looks on us. They want to be like us – to have a basketball culture, to have rabid fans fill up an arena, to improve, to grow, and to learn.
The Philippines have once again been named kings of the region, and all eyes are on us now as we move forward onto the world basketball stage.