MADRID - The tour guide speaking over the microphone at the front end of the bus had a very subtle way of warning tourists about the notorious, and no doubt skillful, pickpockets that roam the streets of this city.
"They're very professional, you know," he warned.
The Filipino tourists were lucky to be forewarned; some of the best basketball teams in the world weren't, and consequently weren't prepared for this 'little, strange team' from Asia which certainly turned heads in the 2014 Fiba World Cup.
As a result, this irreverent Gilas Pilipinas team stole the thunder from a lot of more celebrated teams, and certainly stole not a few hearts, with an audacious performance that made the Philippines one of the toasts in this 24-nation showpiece held once every four years.
Gilas came within one basket of bringing down world No. 3 Argentina and world No. 16 Croatia, gave world No. 5 Greece and Puerto Rico a giant fright, before beating Senegal in overtime for the Philippines' first victory at this level in 40 years.
There were also highlights to remember along the way, from Gabe Norwood's dunks over two Argentinian big men (including NBA veteran Luis Scola) to Jimmy Alapag's five second-half three-pointers against Argentina to June Mar Fajardo holding the fort in Andray Blatche's absence in overtime against Senegal.
Manny V. Pangilinan, who steadfastly stood by his belief that the Philippines can stand tall in this big man's game when few others would - then put his money where his mouth was, let out a smile on Thursday when asked how it felt to be proven right.
"I think the world woke up to the brand of basketball that the Philippines can play," said the man known simply as MVP, posing briefly in mid-thought, as if savoring the moment.
Perhaps more incredibly, Gilas stunned the world with a game so distinctly Filipino - a playing style not copied from the Europeans or Americans or Chinese, which is a surprise in itself considering the Filipinos' love for anything foreign.
The world, naturally, wasn't prepared for something it had not seen - a playing style closer to the games played in street courts in the concrete jungle of Manila than those seen on TV in the NBA; a game that had none of the precise patterns of the Europeans and only little of the above-the-rim plays of the Americans.
It was more like organized confusion at its best - so tough to read because there's nothing to read in the first place.
"The scouts here said we were very tough to scout. Their own words were, we were hell to scout," said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who initially espoused the dribble-drive offense but soon found his baby evolve into something else when the distinct Filipino touch came in.
"We figured we can't come in playing the styles of other teams. We needed our own," he added. "We can't play with the European game because European teams will only out-European us. We can't play like the Americans because they will just out-American us. So we had to be different."
And they were.
One particular coach who was forewarned about a 'very, very tough team' from the Philippines, Greece's Folios Katsikaris, even had trouble convincing his players about the danger awaiting them against Gilas once they saw this 'small team' in the scouting videos.
"It was difficult to convince my players that because when they saw the videos, they saw small players, all shooting three-pointers," Katsikaris said.
Asked about the future of the Philippines at this level, the Greece coach was optimistic without sounding condescending. "It's a different team, completely different from other teams. So anything different is good," the former Russia coach said.
Argentina coach Julio Lamas said the match-up against Gilas was the 'most uncomfortable game I've coached in my life,' not only because of the wide contrast in style but because of one other thing.
"They play so well because they play with a passion," he told Spin.ph.
But more than the accolades, PBA commissioner Chito Salud said it is the lessons learned from the whole experience that Gilas can take away from Spain that will help Philippine basketball down the road.
"We came here for two reasons: to win and to learn," said Salud. "We may not have won as many games as we wanted to, or should've won, but we certainly learned.
"We learned a lot about ourselves, we learned a lot about our competitors, and most of all we learned how to win."
The challenge awaiting officials now, Salud added, is how to sustain the gains of the Seville experience. As big a leap as it was, officials admit it was but one step whose benefits, tangible or otherwise, should cascade into the whole Philippine basketball program.
Already, Pangilinan said he will sit down with Reyes the moment they get back in Manila to do a 'forensic post-mortem' of the World Cup campaign, to see what things they can still tweak to sustain the program moving forward.
One particular challenge Pangilinan sees is continuity, pointing out that the team is getting old and should have a well of talent to tap leading up to the 2019 Basketball World Cup which he hopes the Philippines would be able to host.
But the most tangible gain from this whole experience is the confidence the players now have after proving that they belong in this tournament. That should go for all the local players, all thinking the Filipino can hold his own against anyone in the world in a game closest to our hearts.
No one exemplifies that better than June Mar Fajardo, who, after struggling to find his feet in the Gilas program since he came onboard last year, finally believed that he can run with the best of 'em in Seville - and as a result became the man of the hour for Gilas.
"I think he'll only get better from hereon," said Gilas assistant coach Norman Black of the 6-10 Cebuano big man. "That's a giant step for June Mar - and a big leap for the country."