August 8, 2013
Gilas Pilipinas Kong Mahal
“Dreams Make Us Who We Will Become.”
So our Gilas Pilipinas team is in the quarterfinals. And by a stroke of luck, our Dirty Dozen managed to snatch the top seeding in our bracket. Imagine, it would have easily been us versus China, or the Great Wall. Or possibly against the sharpshooting South Koreans, our nemesis and perhaps worst enemies. Remember Busan? But in a bizarre twist of fate, we managed to avoid all that and ended up with a surprisingly easier path. The basketball gods must be crazy. Or work in mysterious ways. And we’re glad breaks went our way.
Gilas will tackle Kazakhstan, which wound up the fourth seed in the other group behind Asian powerhouse teams Iran, South Korea and China. This is the reason why Gilas coach Chot Reyes and his think-tank chose Group A, to get into this exact ideal situation.
By making the quarters, we moved two victories away from clinching a spot in the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Spain. Meaning, we need to beat the Kazakhs in the quarters first for us to gain two chances of advancing to the FIBA Worlds. The first one being the semis showdown with the winner of the South Korea-Qatar game in the other quarters match up. The other, which would only come in should we lose our semis assignment, in the bronze medal match against one of these four in the other bracket–Iran, Jordan, China and Chinese Taipei. The Iranians topped their group with a clean, emphatic sweep to forge a duel against the Jordanians, their old conquerors in the FIBA-Asia Championship in Wuhan, China two years back, while the Chinese wound up No. 3 for an equally interesting showdown with the Taiwanese, their small brothers and the No. 2 seed in our group.
Sportsmaryosep will not summon the crystal ball of Madam Auring and come up with a forecast. No, we won’t. Better to use our favorite fortune-teller to cast her spell, perhaps black magic, on all our foes starting with the Kazakh and this guy named Jerry Johnson, who is their naturalized player, instead.
So we will just dissect as much as we can one by one the quarters match ups starting with…
Iran vs Jordan
The Jordanians, who came close to upsetting the Chinese in their gold medal match in Wuhan, struggled in the preliminaries and needed to beat the Japanese, 65-56, to catch the last quarters bus. They’re terribly missing Sam Daghles and Zaid Abbas. The 6-6 Daghles is one of the best, if not the best, point guards in Asia while the 6-8 Abbas is machine-like, versatile and a potent force at his position. They’ve upgraded by getting Jimmy Baxter, who is averaging a fifth best 14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists, as a replacement to the prolific Rashiem Wright.
Against the Iranians, they will be undermatched. Iran is eyeing no less than vengeance after getting the boot at the hands of the Daghles, Abbas-led Jordan in the quarters in Wuhan. This is a team that has been playing together for about a decade now. In fact, World Championship veterans Hamed Haddadi, Samad Bahrami, Mahdi Kamrani Hamed Afagh are the players that Gilas I coach Rajko Toroman honed. So you could imagine how seasoned this squad is. Unless Jordan finds a way to control the 7-2 Haddadi, an NBA veteran who averaged 17.2 points (No. 2), 8.6 rebounds (8.67) and 1.67 blocks (No. 3) in this tournament, it looks like there’s no stopping the Iran juggernaut.
China vs Chinese Taipei
This one reeks of political undertone. It’s like Duke versus North Carolina in US college basketball. Or Army vs Navy in US college football. Or Ateneo vs La Salle in our UAAP. This match up also reminded me of the Cebu Gems-Negros Slashers rivalry in the good old days of the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association. In the past. China should run over their smaller Taiwan. But now, its much different. Especially now that Yi Jianlian is saddled with a nagging injury and Wang Zhizhi, the first pure Asian to play in the NBA, is well beyond his years. The gap is eerily closer now. You could bet your 29 days of your monthly salary China will win. I left the one day alone though because I have a feeling Taipei may end up pulling the rug from their big brother in Mainland.
South Korea vs Qatar
Of the four match ups, this one is the most intriguing and should be closely fought. Qatar has the best player in the 27th FIBA-Asia Championship thus far with norms of 18 points (league best), six boards and 1.4 assists. He is complemented by a pretty solid front court and able wing men. They also have a wise man of a coach in grizzled veteran, Tom Wisman. They played hero to us by beating Chinese Tapei, 71-68, while a bane to themselves as they wound up No. 3. If Wisman runs for president now, I will vote for him. I will even register my cats and dogs to vote for him if I could. if the basis of defining strength is the preliminary round performance, we could argue that Korea appears better than China because the former beat the latter, 63-59, in the first round. Its debatable really. But here they are, ranged against the guns of Sokor. For the Koreans, their traditional weapons are their gunners, who are considered in years as the finest in the region. Here, they’ve made 37 triples already including a combined 25 from the trigger-happy duo of Cho Sung Min and Kim Ming Oo, who attempted 63 for an impressive 39-percent clip. So it will boil down to Qatar’s inside game and rugged defense against Sokor’s vaunted perimeter game. It will be tough to call this game. If there’s a draw in basketball, this duel is gotta be it.
Gilas vs Kazakhstan
Don’t believe people if they say Jerry Jamar Johnson, Kazakhstan’s naturalized cager, will not suit up against us in the quarters because of injury. You see, Johnson missed his team’s 53-85 loss at the hands of the Iranians. But we all know he’s probably being rested since we all know they’re going to end up at No. 4 no matter what. Johnson, of course, is the key to Kazakhstan’s solid showing of late after he averaged 15.3 points (No. 3), six assists (No. 2), four rebounds and about a steal a game. So good was Johnson that LA Tenorio took the cudgels for the unenviable assignment of slowing down Johnson. And Tenorio is so determined to get the job that he went short on saying of asking Johnson for marriage. And oh, have you seen how they played us in a tune up game a few days before the tournament started? We won, but man, it was ugly. Expect an uglier game and if our guns keep going ablaze and our defense holds fort, hello semifinals.
But of course, what everyone us will say will not matter now. Its how the team plays and reacts to various situations on game day because every possession will make or break campaigns. Experience will count too. Whatever the teams did in the past will no longer matter. In short, anything can happen in the playoff phase. The only candle that we can hold if things go bleak is that we have the deepest bench of all the teams here. The home town crowd. Us. You and I. So when you’re at the MOA Arena, eat well, carbo load, take your ascorbic acids and multi-vitamins, drink Cobra or Sting and perhaps mix it with Gatorade because we will need to cheer harder than before. Perhaps the hardest. For those forced to watch games at home, kneel and pray. Because Gilas needs us. More than ever.
P. S. Please Wear WHITE!!!
Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Photos courtesy of Pilipinas Basketbol, Nuki Sabio and 2013 FIBA-Asia Championship)