WHILE Filipinos celebrated until the wee hours of the morning following a landmark victory over Korea in the Fiba-Asia Championships, the Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff was busy preparing for one final order of businss — the title match against Asian powerhouse in Iran.
The magnitude of an 86-79 semifinal win over Korea has yet to really sink in early Sunday morning, yet Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes and his coaching staff were already holed up in their hotel room watching tapes ahead of the match against Iran later in the day.
Reyes was a bundle of emotions shortly after the victory that ended the Philippines' run of heartbreaking losses to Korea, but he was quick to gather his players and put things in their proper perspective.
Gilas has indeed achieved its goal of booking a return to next year's world championships in Spain, Reyes reminded his players, but a shot at becoming Asian champions doesn't come often.
“We have achieved our objective. The dream is at hand," the multi-titled coach said. "I said the objective was to win a medal but our dream is to win it all. The dream is in our hands.”
The Philippines will be aiming for a repeat of the 1973 Asian Basketball Confederation (former name of Fiba-Asia) Championship where an all-Filipino team led by Mon Fernandez, Robert Jaworski, and Bogs Adornado won the title before its adoring countrymen.
The country's last Asian championship came in 1985 courtesy of Ron Jacobs' team that included Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, and Samboy Lim as well as naturalized players Jeff Moore and Dennis Still.
But to pull off a similar feat, Gilas will have to get past a formidable Iran team that has yet to drop a game in the tournament and looks poised to add to the two Asian crowns it won in 2007 and 2009.
One major problem for Reyes would be on how to stop Iran's giant Hamed Hadadi, more so after Gilas' naturalized player Marcus Douthit aggravated his calf injury in the Korea game and only has a "40 percent" chance of suiting up against Iran, according to the team therapist.
Hadadi should be a handful for Gilas, especially with the hosts' remaining big men either too small or too lean to match up against the hulking 7-foot-2 NBA veteran.
The one player who has the bulk and the height to go up against Hadadi, June Mar Fajardo, is far too inexperienced and has seen the least action among the Gilas players in the tournament.