Feelings of frustration floated inside the Gilas Pilipinas locker room. You would think that they just lost an elimination game. They didn’t. In fact, they were just playing their second game of the tournament. The match wasn’t even done yet. It was just halftime and Gilas was even leading by one point.
But the team knew they were much better than what the scoreboard read. Just two days ago, Gilas was on such a high. They defeated mighty China in a battle wherein people reasonably saw them as the underdogs. They pulled off a shocker and they felt on top of the world.
Not long after, they were dragged back to Earth when Iraq danced, step-by-step, with the Filipinos in the first half.
“‘Yan ang sinasabi ko eh,” Gilas coach Chot Reyes disappointedly addressed his troops. “Nanalo lang tayo sa China, akala natin sikat tayo eh. Suddenly, we’re playing like señoritos.”
Led by naturalized player Kevin Galloway, Iraq dictated the game early on. They dominated the glass. They scored on second chances. They held the Pinoys to shooting 4-for-22 from two-point range.
Coach Chot called his players out for being too relaxed, for taking bad shots, for getting beaten on the boards and for committing too many turnovers.
“The thing about our first turnover is that showed me right away where our mind was,” Reyes told the team. “Whenever we get denied, we stop. That’s not our game. That’s a selfish game. That’s señorito basketball.”
“Suddenly, everybody wants to score. Everybody wants to prove that they can score on the two bigs. That’s not our game.”
The message was clear: revert back to Gilas basketball. They knew what needed to be done in the first place. Maybe they just forgot in the first half. Maybe were still on that high that came from beating China. Maybe they did feel like señoritos. At the end of it all, the important thing is that they were able to get back.
In the third quarter, Gilas unleashed a 21-0 blitz that completely took care of business against Iraq. The lead went as high as 23 points. And even if the Iraqi brought it down from time to time, the Filipinos always responded with something.
After a sluggish start, Gilas showcased some of the best basketball we’ve seen from this group.
I’ve been lucky enough to join Gilas huddles for quite some time now. I’ve heard a lot of words from Coach Chot – from his scolding of players, to his empowering motivational speeches, to him simply saying, “there are no adjustments to be made.”
I wish I could tell you that, in that halftime huddle, coach threw out some magical words that resulted to that incredible second half. But there were none. In a gist, the only thing he tried to tell his guys was “let’s play Gilas basketball.”
Apparently, it was all he needed to say.