So what have we learned from 2017 SEABA Championship that we didn’t already know heading into the tournament?
Not much, to be honest.
With an average winning margin of 59 points in Gilas Pilipinas’ undefeated romp in the tournament, the Philippines reestablished its claim to basketball dominance in the Southeast Asian region in resounding fashion. Not only did the home team run over the entire field, it did so in such a cold, calculated manner that left absolutely no doubt which team was the best.
The young Myanmar squad? Won by 100 points.
The Singaporeans that boasted of developing players like Wong Wei Long and Delvin Goh? Non-factors.
The pesky Malaysian squad that gave other teams so much trouble? No trouble at all for Calvin Abueva and company.
The Thai squad that was supposedly the Philippines’ biggest competition and was quickly catching up? Their leading scorer was held without a point because of Gilas’ unrelenting defense from jumpball to the final buzzer.
The Vietnamese squad? The crowd took care of them, and were the sixth man in more ways than one.
And the Indonesian squad that was also undefeated, had a naturalized player, and were looking to for an upset? It didn’t matter.
None of it mattered. The Philippines came, saw and conquered.
Our tendency as Filipinos is to want to remain humble and gracious in defeat in all circumstances – and I think that’s an admirable trait. I was especially proud of how Gilas Pilipinas handled each game. There were no outbursts on the floor, no antics and hooligan moves. On the bench, the team was invested in the game and encouraging one another.
After the games when players talked to members of the media, they always went out of their way to praise their upcoming opponents, knowing in the back of their minds they would win by over 30 points when they meet at center court.
All in all, I thought that the Philippines was an impeccable host for the six visiting countries. For these basketball players living in a world where another sport is king, the opportunity to compete in front of thousands must have felt like a thrill.
So, for the moment, we celebrate. We revel in Gilas’ ability to summon the strength for six games in seven nights, the way that they put it all together to wrap up a dominating run in front of a devoted home crowd.
We marvel at the way guys like RR Pogoy and Allein Maliksi worked their tails off to become starts on Gilas Pilipinas. Pogoy the rookie, Maliksi the last minute inclusion. They were all instrumental in helping establish Gilas’ big men and Jayson Castro’s penetration.
Or perhaps we continue to be amazed with Castro and Japeth Aguilar, two guys that have seen it all in Gilas competition yet continue to compete at such a high level.
And finally, Calvin Abueva. After seeing him put on a Gilas jersey, raising his head up high during the national anthem, encouraging his teammates and looking for them at all times on the floor, we wonder how in the world we ever lived without him, and how damn good it was to have him back on the team. Back on our team.
We will remember SEABA 2017 because of the domination of Gilas Pilipinas. But at the end of the day, it will only serve as a footnote to bigger and better things. The reward for our efforts is a trip to FIBA Asia, and eventually the World Cup qualifiers. For sure, it will not be this easy. Despite how great the squad looked now, they’ll need to take it a step further for us to dream about returning to the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
But that’s for a different time. Now, we celebrate. We bask in the glory of Gilas Pilipinas winning its first tournament, and doing so on Philippine soil. We revel in the squad’s devotion to playing the right way, and leaving no doubt that the Philippines is still the best in the region by a mile.
But most of all, we remain thankful that there is still a lot of basketball left to be played by Gilas Pilipinas. And the fire, intensity and passion that we saw from each player on the squad will soon be rekindled against bigger, better and stronger opponents.
Gilas Pilipinas has only begun to fight.
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