GILAS Pilipinas assistant coach Jong Uichico was moved to tears the moment the national squad pulled off an emotionally-charged 86-79 semifinal win over longtime Asian basketball nemesis South Korea on Saturday night.
For one, Uichico was at the helm of the national team when the Koreans, behind Lee Sang-Min’s three-point shot in the endgame, broke the hearts of the Filipinos during their 69-68 semifinal win in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.
The moment Gilas Pilipinas ended the game with a 10-2 windup, Uichico pumped his fist in the air and began jumping for joy along with the rest of the players on the bench as the jampacked crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena erupted in frenzied celebration.
“Happy, happy, we won the game. Siyempre in front of the (home) crowd, we won the game,” said Uichico, who was choking back tears as he tried to hurry back to the dugout.
Uichico, the soft-spoken multi-titled PBA coach, refused to say this victory erased the bitter memory of the Asiad debacle 11 years ago. But one thing for sure, he said it was great to be back in the Asian final.
“Wala namang ano 'yun eh (Asian Games debacle). Basta, kailangan lang nating manalo ngayon and basta you get to the championship masaya na,” he said.
The victory towed the Philippines back to the Fiba-Asia championship round for the first time since the national squad, then mentored by American coach Ron Jacobs, won the Asian title in 1985 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a team backstopped by naturalized players Dennis Still and Jeff Moore.