IT is still a year away, but players of Gilas Pilipinas are all excited to play in a stage where they could potentially go against the world’s best - specifically NBA stars - at the 2014 Fiba Basketball World Cup in Spain.
Last Sunday’s loss to three-peat champion Iran, 71-85, for the 27th Fiba-Asia Championship failed to dampen the nationals’ enthusiasm in what would surely be a significant step back to basketball respectability in the international stage.
A Filipino presence in the world championship was secured after Gilas finally got the better of perennial tormentor South Korea with a historic 86-79 win last Saturday.
“Sobrang saya lang na maging part muna ng history na mabalik sa World Cup,” said sharpshooter Jeff Chan who said victory against powerhouse Korea felt like winning the championship.
“Very happy kami - parang nag-champion eh,” he said.
The semifinal win against Korea also broke an 11-year old curse when players from the 'Great East' continually eliminated the Philippines from contention, breaking the hearts of Filipino basketball fans.
“Ibang klase na … hindi ko ma-describe sa words,” added back-up guard Larry Fonacier. “It’s nothing compared (to anything)."
Fonacier recounted the evening after the game at the hotel where they were billeted, soon after they turned back their former tormentors.
“Actually ‘di talaga kami makatulog,” he remembered. “Pag nakikita namin sa screen ‘yung slot sa World (Cup) na may P-H-I (Philippines), ay grabe.”
Like kids on Christmas morning, the modern-day Filipino heroes cannot contain their excitement over the trip to Spain next year.
“Sobrang hindi ko mapaliwanag yung nararamdaman ko, excited na kaming lahat sa next year," said Marc Pingris.
For one, the Pinoys are looking forward to going up against NBA players who will make up not only Team USA but also represent the top teams in the Spain showpiece.
“Best of the best na ‘yun eh, pwedeng makalaban mo na doon ‘yung ibang NBA players,” Chan gushed.
"Pinaka the best sa buong mundo, sana makalaban namin 'yung mga taga-NBA para makapag pa-picture," said a grinning Pingris
On a serious note, Pingris said whoever will be chosen to go to Spain will bring more than just starstruck awe.
"Pusong Pinoy ang dala namin, mas dadagdagan namin ang effort kasi kahit mas malalaki kalaban ibibigay at gagawin namin ang lahat, umpisa na sa practice," the burly big man from Pangasinan said.
Fonacier agrees, “I think yun ang mapa-promise namin sa World Cup - na ang Pilipinas ‘di basta-basta magpapatulak sa ibang bansa. ‘Yun ang aasahan niyo, more than sa limits namin ang ipapakita namin."
Teammate Chan added: "Syempre, mas mabigat na laban 'yun, I know mahirap pero, ibibigay namin 'yung best hanggang hindi pa tapos yung laban.”