What was seen as a walk in-the-park title retention campaign for the all-pro Philippine men’s basketball team in the just-concluded Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) turned historic.
All four sides the Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas fielded to vie for gold medals did more than that as they emerged victorious with both the men’s and women’s 3×3 bagging top honors in their events.
The biggest surprise, though, is the all-amateur women’s squad, which after almost four decades of waiting, gifted the country its first ever gold medal in the division.
Relegated to bringing home six silver medals and an equal number of bronze since the early 80s, the Philippine lady dribblers had every five bronze medals Filipino basketball enthusiast, including themselves, stared with open eyes when they overwhelmed favorite Thailand by a huge 20-point, 91-71 decision in their gold medal encounter on Tuesday at the Mall of Asian Arena.
Having done that, which no one expected the ladies can, their men’s counterparts followed with a routine 115-81 conquest, also of the Thais, five-time titlist, for the Filipinos’ 13th straight diadem and 18th overall since 1977.
The Filipinas swept all their assignments in the women’s competition, hurdling Indonesia and Malaysia, before battling the Thais in the winner-take-all title showdown.
The Philippines came from a pair of fourth-place finishes in 2015 and 2017. Before that, the Filipinas took the silver medals in the 1981, 1983, 1995, 2011 and 2013 editions of Games. The Philippines ended up third in 1987, 1993, 2001, 2003 and 2007.
The Filipinas’ heroics is hoped to bring them the respect and recognition reserved only to their men’s counterparts until this year.
“Now, I hope we get noticed. It’s been a long time, we’ve been doing this since 2015, and now the gold is with us,” head coach Patrick Aquino blurted out following her ladies’ victory. “I’m just so happy. I’m happy not just for the girls only but for the whole country and the women’s side.”
The Filipinos’ triumph in the men’s division wasn’t only a walk in- the-park, though, for the All-PBA squad of coach Tim Cone.
The title matchup against the Thais, in fact can be classified as the biggest heist in the history of basketball in the twice every two-year conclave. The John Dillinger’s hold up sprees. Bonnie and Clyde’s.
First, it’s the first time that an all-pro superstars, with an American coach at that, represented a country in the shoot and dribble game, which happened to be the Filipinos’ favorite pastime.
The Philippines has, except in one instance, been playing amateur since it was admitted into the SEA Games fold in 1977.
And the Filipino basketeers have won all the basketball tournaments since the earning the respect and admiration of their neighbors in the region who considered the Philippines as the basketball capital this part of the globe.
The Filipinos failed to retain the plum only in 1989 when they were dethroned by Malaysia. Basketball wasn’t play in 1995 Games, ironically hosted, too, by the country.
The Philippines was then serving suspension imposed by the international ruling body FIBA brought about by the tug-of-war in leadership between the now-defunct Basketball Association of the Philippines and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
From 1977, the Filipinos ruled the sport six uninterrupted times until 1987. They recaptured the crown in 1991 never to relinquish it until this year.
For powering, too, the national women’s 3×3 side to the title, Afril Bernardino, Jack Danielle Amimam, Janine Pontejos and Clare Castro, thus, have scooped up two gold medals each.
Members of PH’s 3×3 men’s squad are Chris Newsome, Jayson Perkins, CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa.(Eddie Alinea)