By Thad Mangalino
Photos by NORMAN ROXAS
The final score was Australia 84, Philippines 68. With over 5,600 in attendance, the vibe on centre court at Margaret Court Arena was electric, it was crossed between a Tony Robbins seminar and the feeling you have just before Christmas morning when you are about to open your Christmas gift. The crowd was a loud and predominantly cheering for the Philippine National team.
The first quarter was closely contested; Gilas was off to a great start. The Boomers pressed heavily and their man-to-man defence was not effective in stopping the Gilas players from scoring. Gilas Head Coach Chot Reyes stated, “I have no illusion that the Philippines will beat Australia in their home court but we (Gilas) came here to compete.” Reyes continued, “ Australia learned to adjust and we made rookie mistakes and the Boomers capitalised on that.”
The Gilas team did well considering that their top guard Jayson Castro did not play, young guns like Ateneo Blue Eagle and first round second pick in the PBA draft by NLEX Road Warrior Kiefer Ravena, and he is backed by former Letran College point guard Kevin Alas. In the open shootaround, Ravena stated that he is optimistic and he is hoping that the team stays healthy and put on a top performance. Japeth Aguilar the 6’7 big man added that the preparation has been quite short due to the hectic PBA schedule. The Gilas team only got a handful of training sessions and scrimmages but they will make the most of it.
Coach Reyes also pointed out the conflict of schedule with the PBA and the National Team, the PBA has an ongoing season that comprises of conferences and the players play all year round with minimal rest, the players and coaching staff have to scramble to get time to drill and work on their game. Unlike other countries, which allows leagues to be more flexible in their scheduling to accommodate the growth and improvement of the National Team. The 9-hour flight from Manila to Melbourne also became a factor, as the team did not have the luxury to take their time and acclimatise.
The game was close up until the 3rd quarter, multiple MVP winner June Mar Fajardo got in foul trouble, the captain Andray Blatche was heavily defended, Ravena earlier suffered a minor ankle twist that saw him rolling on the hard-court and moved to the bench to rest. The Gilas team did not throw that many outside shots and only shot 5 from 9 3pt attempts. The Boomers learned the Gilas gameplay and adjusted. The normal uptempo fast transition plays of the Philippines got neutralised and the lead kept increasing. All in all the Philippine team lost to a disciplined, structured and adaptive Boomers side, Australia is undefeated and is the number one team in their group. Gilas needs to win convincingly against Japan on Sunday, February 25th at the Mall of Asia Arena. We hope that the Philippines can run on the momentum they set after playing Australia and take the crucial win. Australia will play Chinese Taipei, both teams are familiar with each other as they have played against each other in the past.
As a Filipino who grew up in Australia and love the sport of Basketball, it was an honour covering the event and writing about it. I see a bright future in Philippine Basketball, the resurgence and the renewed faith in the national team will propel the Philippines high in the rankings and give the feeling we had back in the 1950’s when the Philippines was a dominant force in the world of Basketball. It has already started.