The Gilas Pilipinas men’s national team touched down at 1:26 a.m., after a seven-hour delay to be back home after successfully snaring the gold medal at the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games.
After failing to advance in the group stage of the World Cup last month in Manila, losing original final 12 players Calvin Abueva, Jason Perkins, Moala Tautuaa, and Roger Pogoy, and only having 12 days of preparation, Gilas ended the Philippines’ 61-year gold medal drought at the Asian Games.
Coach Tim Cone and the players received a heroes’ welcome at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 early yesterday morning.
“I don’t know what to say at this moment. You know, the guys just worked so hard and we had such tremendous wins through that. Iran, China — China had an epic game — and then came out playing as well against Jordan. When we needed to, we saved our best for last and played big when we needed,” Cone said.
The 25-point loss to Jordan in the group stage was part of the learning curve that helped the team grow to become Asia’s best in basketball.
“We got slapped in the face when we played Jordan the first time,” Cone said.
“We felt we were playing well and all of a sudden they knocked us for a loop and it made us look at ourselves. We knew we had to change a little bit, do some things differently,” he added.
The 25-time PBA champion coach couldn’t hide the joy of bringing home the bacon for the Philippines.
“I’m so happy that everybody is so happy. You know what I mean? I mean everybody is so happy about it, and that’s basically why you coach to get those kind of feelings and it was just tremendous,” he said.
He also shared that the team treated the Hangzhou Asiad as their “last dance, because we don’t know if we’ll ever be together again.”
Coach Tim deflected credit to his players, saying they did all the work.
“I’m getting way, way too much attention and credit for this when it’s really the guys that came out and did all the work. But it’s when guys grab you and throw you up in the air, it’s quite thrilling,” he said.
“But erasing the pain of 1998? I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, that pain will always be there,” he said, referring to the bronze medal finish for the Philippine team in the Bangkok Games.
Justin “Noypi” Brownlee, considered a modern-day hero for his back-to-back threes in the last two minutes of the semifinal game against China, that gave the team a one-point win, said he is still shocked by the historic win.
“It’s just a surreal moment and I definitely would not forget any of those moments. Even the bad moments from the start, but, yeah, man. Just gotta keep working. Keep getting better and that’s what I have tried to do from day one coming here to the Philippines,” he said.
The former St. John’s University player also quipped the gold medal win was no easy feat with the quality of competition they had to face.
“It wasn’t easy for us, probably the toughest thing, in my opinion. With the team that I had to go through as far as we had to overcome in such short amount of time,” he said.
Ultimately, Brownlee said, he was happy to make history with his Ginebra coach after ending another championship spell in a different jersey.
“Super” Marcio Lassiter, who has been with the national team since 2010, said this would be his last Asian Games, but added that he will “definitely be honored to represent the country if, you know, the chance is given.”
The former Cal State Fullerton Titan said the team knew they really had a good shot at the gold medal after beating China in the semifinals.
“We knew it wasn’t gonna be easy. So, for us, it’s more a little bit sayang if we didn’t get the gold, you know. For us, we knew that it was just one little step left … to complete the whole cycle because 61 years is a pretty long time and we really wanted to get that for everyone here,” he said.
The Gilas Gold catapulted the Philippines to 17th place as of press time, with its fourth gold medal after EJ Obiena won gold in the men’s pole vault, Meggie Ochoa in the women’s 48-kilogram jiu-jitsu and Annie Ramirez’s gold in the women’s 57kg jiu-jitsu. (ABS-CBN News)