Credit to Author: Tempo Online| Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2019 12:30:47 +0000
by Waylon Galvez
ASTANA – Five years after Jimmy Alapag reconfigured the international three-point arc with his extra-long bombs in Seville, Spain, and Gabe Norwood posterized NBA veteran and Argentina center Luis Scola with a Statue-of-Liberty dunk, the Philippines returns to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for its 18th edition in China this September.
Alapag is no longer around for Gilas Pilipinas, but Norwood still is as with Andray Blatche and Jayson Castro and June Mar Fajardo along with a number of fresh guys and a new man at the helm – Yeng Guiao, who steered the national team through a perilous mission of having to steal two games in enemy territory.
In the end Gilas didn’t merely ‘steal’ the games as much as ripped them away from host countries Qatar and Kazakhstan to join China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Jordan as Asian qualifiers on the world stage.
It was a journey that had its ups and downs but which concluded in triumph as Guiao got hoisted on the shoulders of his players with whom he has shared much in regional battle although they now prepare for global war.
Gilas booked a trip to the FIBA World Cup with a little help from, of all teams, longtime nemesis South Korea late Sunday after beating Kazakhstan, 93-75, at the Veldrome Saryarka here.
The win avenged the Nationals’ stinging 92-88 loss to the Kazakhs in November last year at the Mall of Asia Arena where their World Cup campaign was put in jeopardy following a 78-70 loss to Iran for a 5-5 card.
But the PH team regrouped and bounced back with firepower, thrashing Qatar, 84-76, in Doha last Thursday before dumping the Kazakhs.
Guiao dedicated this to the fans.
“Para sa mga kababayan natin ito,” said Guiao.
“Nakarating na tayo. Medyo nahirapan tayo. Medyo masikip yung dinaanan natin, pero nakarating pa rin tayo at yun ang importante.”Korea’s 84-72 triumph over Lebanon also Sunday gave the PH team a push after the Lebanese finished the qualifying round at 6-6. A three-way tie involving Jordan, Lebanon and the Philippines would have eliminated the Filipinos due to an inferior quotient.
Jordan edged New Zealand, 86-80, to advance from Group E at 7-5.
Guiao said the presence of Blatche provided the spark for the Nationals as the 6-foot-11 forward exploded for 41 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Kazakhstan. The former NBA player went 12-of-20 from the field including 5-of-10 from behind the arc while also managing four steals and two blocks.
“This might be his best game playing for the Philippines,” said Guiao of Blatche, who started playing for the squad in 2014 in time for the World Cup that year. “At the time when we needed him most, he was there. He was great against Qatar and was even greater against Kazakhstan.”