FOR Jimmy Alapag and Gilas Pilipinas, it all boils down to this final stretch of the Fiba-Asia championships.
“This is it,” said the 35-year-old playmaker ahead of the knockout rounds of the tournament, where years of buildup and millions spent will be put on the line with every do-or-die game Gilas will play beginning with the quarterfinal against Kazakhstan on Friday.
“We have the eight best teams in Fiba-Asia so it’s important really for us to come out with a strong start and play our best basketball.”
Alapag has declared a few months back that this showpiece that cost the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas P70 million to host would be his final stint with the national team.
And he knows what it would take to accomplish Gilas' goals: two wins will mean a return to the world championships, three wins will give the country it's first Asian championship in 28 years.
The 5-foot-9 Talk ’N Text guard, however, is careful not to get ahead of himself by thinking of the later rounds, saying they need to take care of business against Kazakhstan in their knockout match.
Alapag believes they have a very strong chance of beating a Kazakhstan team that has lost all its three games in the second round preliminaries.
But he cautioned that Gilas needs to collectively come out and play team defense for 40 minutes in order to prevent naturalized playmaker Jerri Jonson from leading the tall Kazakhs’ charge.
“He’s (Jonson) tough and he’s quick. He’s a guy who can shoot and penetrate to the basket, so we have to guard him well,” said Alapag.
The nationals are also expected to be extra careful this time after nearly slipping in the match against winless Hong Kong before securing a 67-55 win.
Meanwhile, LA Tenorio, one of three Gilas playmakers, said their mindset come Friday is to “win at all cost.”
“It’s win at all cost on Firday. Wala kaming ibang iniisip kundi to win, and whether that’s one point or two points, we’ll take it,” said Tenorio, who scored nine points in 17 minutes in Gilas’ win over Hong Kong on Thursday that clinched the top seed for the Filipinos in Group E.