Gilas Pilipinas comes home this morning, its pride badly bruised and its name severely damaged in the wake of its horrible campaign in the 2019 Fiba World Cup now entering its crucial phase in China.
When they set foot on home soil today , the Filipinos will be carrying nothing but bad memories of a disappointing stint that saw them lose all five games and will most likely finish among the tailenders in the world’s biggest basketball showpiece among 32 nations.
National coach Yeng Guiao will be met by a lot of questions on what went wrong in the campaign that had fans shaking their heads in disbelief and dismay as Gilas absorbed one loss after another even to countries where the sport is not taken seriously.
In Beijing where his boys played in the classification round, Guiao offered his apology to fans and reflected on lessons learned from the forgettable defeats it got from heavyweights Serbia and Italy, African power Angola, Tunisia and Asian powerhouse Iran.
“We’re sorry that we were not able to perform up to the level that fans expected from us,” Guiao told Filipino sportswriters shortly after Gilas lost to Iran, 75-95, in a game where they offered only a semblance of a fight in the first quarter.
So hungry were Filipinos in the stands that they shouted in glee as the Filipinos gave the Iranians a whale of a fight in the first period. But basketball is played for four quarters and not one. Slowly but surely, Gilas started fading in the second period and missed terribly keeping pace with the enemy.
The NLEX coach in the PBA also mentioned the lessons learned from the experience despite the limitations of the team.
“This team did its best but we had our limitations. We learned our lessons and we’ll try to be a better team next time. The lessons we learned from this World Cup should be able to be passed onto the other teams,” said the multi-titled coach.
Like everyone knows, circumstances were not kind to the team.
Untimely injuries to Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright prevented the team from having their best shooters in the lineup. Not only that, a prized pointguard in Jayson Castro, begged off due to personal reasons.
“Meron ding parang mga bagay pa na pwede pa nating dapat na nagawa, in terms of preparations. Meron pa rin tayong mga breaks na saying, ‘di nangyari,” Guiao said.
However, Guiao said these were not excuses.
True enough, the Filipinos struggled with their perimeter shooting as if they left their offensive touch either at the Guangzhou airport or NAIA.
On a lot of occasions especially against Serbia (126-68) and Italy (102-68), the Filipinos looked like they were playing in another league and absorbed terrible beating to the consternation of fans who had expected a much-better showing from them.
You see, Gilas did a much-better job five years ago in Spain, losing four close games against big guns Greece, Argentina, Croatia and Puerto Rico and winning against Senegal in overtime as they finished 21st among 24 teams.
This was not the case this time.
The Filipinos found themselves on the losing end even against Angola (84-81), Tunisia (86-67) and finally against Iran (95-75), something that was a bitter pill to take for fans who had expected the team to at least salvage one game and avoid total embarrassment.
But luck was not on their side.
The team’s preparation also left so much to be desired. Guiao had wanted a longer training camp and for Gilas to compete in the Jones Cup. Both plans did not materialize.
Instead, the team trained for 10 days in Spain, played lowly African teams like Ivory Coast and Congo and saw action in a pocket tournament where they missed tangling with Spain in a game they had wanted like crazy.
Alas, they lost to Congo and missed playing Marc Gasol and friends in the finals.
“All those things could have helped us perform better. I’m not saying tatalunin natin ‘yung mga natalo tayo,” he said. “Pero ‘yung better performance, maa-achieve natin,” Yeng said.
Guiao said he’s ready to all questions and takes responsibility for this debacle.
“When you take this job, that’s part of the package that you have to answer for and be responsible for. High risk, high reward. Ano naman, high consequence din kung siguro hindi mo naabot ‘yung objective mo,” he added.
“From the beginning, I was always telling the players if something bad happens and we’re not able to get to where we want to be, ako naman ang mananagot,” he said.