CHANGSHA, China – Gabe Norwood has seen how Philippine basketball has progressed – slowly but surely - from the time he first wore the country’s tri-colors in 2007.
Hopefully, it finally reaches the summit here as Gilas Pilipinas makes a serious push at winning the Fiba-Asia Championship for the first time since 1986.
Although the tournament where a berth in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics is at stake, is still a long way to go, the Filipinos made a huge step towards achieving their goal when they shocked reigning champion Iran on Monday, 87-73, at the Changsha Social Work Colleges gymnasium here.
And Norwood couldn’t have been prouder as he – along with veteran big man Asi Taulava – have the longest stint with the team among its current players, having been with the national squad that saw action in the 2007 edition of the Fiba-Asia – which marked the country’s return to the biennial meet following the lifting of the Fiba suspension the previous year.
“The progression of this team, this program over the years is something you want to maintain and take a lot of pride in,” said the big Fil-Am guard of Rain or Shine.
That team coached by Chot Reyes failed to make the knockout stage of the tournament held in Tokushima, Japan and was relegated to the classification phase. Two years later in Tianjin, China, Norwood would again play for the PH squad handled by Yeng Guiao, who steered the Filipinos all the way to the quarterfinals.
When the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) decided to form Gilas Pilipinas under Serbian coach Rajko Toroman and composed of the country’s top amateur players reinforced by a sprinkling of pro players for the 2011 Wuhan Fiba Asia, Norwood was left out of the team that reached as far as the semifinals.
But two years later in Manila, the former George Mason University stalwart was recalled for national duty by Reyes and played a key role in Gilas’ inspiring runner-up finish behind Iran to earn a berth to the Fiba World Cup for the first time ever in 35 years.
The 30-year-old Norwood could only hope the upward patten would be sustained as he looks forward for Gilas to finally winning it all.
“Hopefully this tournament will cement that progression for us, no step backwards. And will continue to look forward,” he said.