FORMER Olympians and basketball greats showed their support the Team Pilipinas ahead of the fifth window of the Fiba World Cup qualifiers.
A small group of veteran and cage heroes led by Rafael Hechanova, Tony Genato, and Robert Jaworski Sr. were present as the national team held its last practice at the Meralco gym on Wednesday.
Coach Yeng Guiao brought up the idea to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, and the federation obliged.
"Alam naman nila (SBP) na we have a debt of gratitude dito sa mga ito (former national players)," said Guiao after practice. "Nandito kami dahil sa kanila. They started this. These guys had been there, they've been to the Olympics, they've been to the World Cup, some of them. So we're trying to draw strength and inspiration to them."
A sendoff lunch at the adjoining ballroom followed suit, with Team Pilipinas players getting to meet other Olympians and former national players such as Turo Valenzona, Marte Samson, Ed Roque, Manny Paner, and Jimmy Mariano.
Chito Loyzaga, who also donned the country's tricolors during the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, came over to represent his late father, the great Caloy Loyzaga. Ditto with Alaska team governor Dickie Bachmann, on behalf of his late father Kurt.
For Jayson Castro and Beau Belga, it was a chance to see Mariano again, who was their coach in college at the Philippine Christian University.
Panlilio and Paul Lee also acknowledged Valenzona, who handled them at one point of their playing careers.
Guiao actually disclosed it was Valenzona who paved the way for his coaching career.
" I started my coaching career as an assistant of coach Turo Valenzona. Doon po ako nag-umpisa at hindi ko akalain na makakarating ako dito," said Guiao as he reminisced about the past.
The national coach also mentioned on a personal note that it was the family of Hechanova, along with the Aranetas and Concepcions, who gave him the break in his career by tapping him first, as a player and then later, as coach of the Swift franchise.
"And so I owe them a debt of gratitute for giving me the opportunity na makapag-coach," he said.
But it's the legends' presence that really mattered, according to Guiao, as they try to inspire Team Pilipinas for its coming games against Kazakhstan on Friday and Iran on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"Madalas po nating sabihin, 'Laban Pilipinas, Puso.' Siguro kung makuha lang natin yung katiting na puso ng mga national team players noong araw, siguro kaya na nating manalo," he said. "These are people who represented the country with great pride and great honor."