Longtime national player Gabe Norwood eyes last hurrah with Gilas in Manila OQT
Gabe Norwood has been playing for the PH team for close to a decade. Jerome Ascano

WITH the revival of the Gilas cadets program for the home-and-away qualifiers for the 2019 Fiba World Cup, longtime national player Gabe Norwood has come to accept that this year is likely his last with the Philippine squad.

If that is the case, the veteran wingman plans to savor every minute, every moment of the 2016 Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament that finally gets going on Tuesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Since the PBA started sending players all qualifiers to the Olympics and world championship, Norwood has not missed playing for the national team except in 2011 when the original Smart Gilas side of amateur players represented the Philippines in the Fiba Asia Mens Championship in Wuhan, China.

The 31-year-old Fil-Am has been there since the 2007 national squad under coach Chot Reyes, all the way to this fourth edition of Gilas handled by Tab Baldwin.

Looking back, Norwood said it has been a big honor to represent the Philippines in major international competitions.

“It’s always an honor every time you represent (the country), every time you’re selected (to the national team). So I will just try to enjoy this one, and if it is my last one I wanna make sure that I go out with a bang,” stressed the Rain or Shine guard.

[See Gilas spends final practices sharpening its shooting, both from the line and from afar]

The road to Rio would be a tough one, though.

Gilas is bracketed with fancied France and New Zealand in Group B, two countries ranked higher than the Philippines in the world rankings, while Group A has Canada, Turkey, and Senegal. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout semis, with the two survivors fighting each other for the lone berth in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.

But Norwood said the team should look at the campaign in a positive way.

“That’s how I think everybody should approach it. I honestly think in this room (dugout) right now, those guys are thinking we can get to Rio,” he stressed. “I don’t think there’s a lot of doubt. We just have to get it done.”

The former George Mason University stalwart said a win over either France or New Zealand would definitely help boost Gilas’ morale going to the semis.

“Some monumental wins, and I think with that comes a lot of confidence,” Norwood said about such prospects.


[See OQT by the numbers: Six teams, 16 NBA players, all chasing one Olympic dream]

For someone who’s been playing for the national team for almost a decade now and has seen the evolution of Gilas Pilipinas, Norwood sees the 2007 team of Reyes as the exceptional one though it failed to reach the knockout phase of the Fiba Asia meet that served as qualifier of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“That’s one thing from 07, super talented team because we have a bunch of MVPs,” he said of the team that had the likes of Asi Taulava, Jimmy Alapag, Eric Menk, Kelly Williams, Mark Caguioa, and Jayjay Helterbrand.

“But it was a progression,” added Norwood, obviously referring to the return stint of the Philippines to the international stage that same year following the lifting of the suspension meted by Fiba on the country.

With Norwood feeling the door of opportunity with Gilas slowly closing on him, he said  he’ll try to make the stint as memorable as possible.

“This is definitely not given. This is something we worked hard for but at the same time we’re chosen,” he said. “So you can immediately choose somebody else, you just got to appreciate the opportunity.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos