BOCAUE — Still seething from the ugly conclusion to the 2019 Fiba World Cup Asian qualifiers between Philippines and Australia on Monday, coach Chot Reyes came to the defense of Gilas players who he said were just defending their home court.
The outspoken mentor shed light on the incident which led to the disappointing end of the much-awaited tussle, saying that it was the Boomers, specifically Daniel Kickert, who planted the seeds of the fracas even before the game started.
“The reality is that Kickert was hitting our players during the warm-ups,” he bared. “He hit Carl Bryan Cruz, he hit Matthew Wright, (Roger) Pogoy, and he hit Calvin Abueva during the warm-ups. We already restrained the players before the game. We already told them, ‘Huwag niyo nang pansinin,’ when Kickert did all of those things at the start during the warm-ups. We already told them to focus on the game.”
It didn’t help that Kickert came in and decked Roger Pogoy after the latter’s offensive foul on Chris Goulding, which triggered the melee.
“The foul of Pogoy on Goulding was an offensive foul, it was a basketball play. But (Kickert) was the one who came in and decked Pogoy. That was the fifth time. You don’t expect to do it to a team five times and not expect us to retaliate. Unfortunately, that triggered the entire brawl. But you know, when (Kickert) did that in the third quarter, it’s hard to restrain (the Gilas players) anymore.”
Nine players from the home team hit the showers early after incurring disqualifying fouls, leaving only June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, and Baser Amer as the lone members of the team on the floor.
It didn’t take long before the game was stopped as Fajardo and Norwood fouled out of the game with 1:57 left in the third period as Australia claimed the 89-53 win by default.
Though Reyes understood the frustration of some fans with the way Gilas Pilipinas handled the situation, he said that no one can relate to what the team had to go through if they weren’t one of those on the court.
“It’s unfortunate. We didn’t want it to happen. It’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “But as unfortunate as it is, it’s something that you have to be there to know what really went down. I know a lot of Filipinos, especially a lot of PBA players are saying their piece, but they don’t know what happened. They don’t really know what went on. That’s all that we have to say.“
“I understand the disappointment. I understand that some are embarrassed, but you don’t know what happened. You have to be in the team, you have to be in our circle, to really understand what went down.”
Reyes knows that heavy penalties are set to be slapped to the Philippine national team after the shameful incident, but if there’s silver linings the Filipinos can take from this, it’s that these players will not back down and have each other’s backs.
“We have to face those consequences because it is what it is. But one thing that they have to know about this team is that we’re not going to back down,” he said. “All I know that this team remains solid. We have each other’s back and we have each other.”
The Philippines advance to the second round of the qualifiers, set to begin on September, but it remains to be seen who the players wearing the national tri-colors will be.