SMART Gilas-Pilipinas 2.0 may not exactly be the most talented national team coach Chot Reyes ever handled, but the players' eagerness to embrace the system and play as a team made the big difference in its successful championship campaign in the 34th William Jones Cup.
Reyes, in his second tour of duty with the national team in the last five years, pointed out the lack of a Most Valuable Player awardee in his roster, which he labeled as maybe the "most bano" Philippine team he ever coached.
“There’s not one MVP in this team. Not one PBA MVP. For the first time in the last decade, there’s no Alapag, Williams, Yap, Taulava, Kerby Raymundo, Willie Miller, Caguioa. Not one MVP on this team. Think about that for a minute,” said Reyes in his short speech during the thanksgiving dinner tendered by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan for the team on Monday night at the Meralco Lighthouse.
“But because of that, what we have are players who wanted to be here, and they all sacrificed.” Reyes added, short of becoming emotional.
The team won for the country its fourth Jones Cup title Sunday night after beating Team USA, 76-75, at the TPEC gymnasium in Taipei. It was the first major international title for the Philippines since the Centennial Team of coach Tim Cone won the same event in 1998.
The mood was festive and everybody had a good time as Pangilinan was joined by top executives of both Smart and Meralco – two companies under the MVP Group – in honoring the Nationals for a job well done given the limited time they prepared together as a team.
As food and drinks flowed, the players and their respective families watched together the game against the U.S. on the giant television sets put up around the function room.
The Nationals taunted L.A Tenorio, adjudged tournament MVP for his heroic stand in the team’s final two games, when he was flashed on the screen showing a lot of emotions after hitting a huge three-pointer against the Americans. They also heckled an obviously embarrassed Jeff Chan for missing the first of two important free throws in the final 1.9 seconds of the tightly-fought game.
But high-fives were exchanged and everybody inside the room clapped their hands in unison when the game was over and the Nationals were seen celebrating at midcourt.
“You not only made us proud, but made us hope again, that indeed, we can achieve what we believe in,” said Talk `N Text PBA Board member Ricky Vargas.
A short program followed the dinner where officials of Smart and Meralco were introduced, and so did the players and their respective wives.
In a scene that brought the house down, Gary David led a choreographed dance routine of the popular Rick Astley ditty `Never Gonna Give You Up’ on stage, with Enrico Villanueva, Gabe Norwood, Ranidel De Ocampo, Larry Fonacier, Sol Mercado, and Sonny Thoss acting as his back-ups.
David and De Ocampo later gave the audience a sample of their own comedy skit where they act as newscasters reporting the latest headlines.
“Dagul…nagmalaki,” bantered David, to which De Ocampo countered, “Palaisdaan…nasunog. Mga isda…naihaw.”
Naturalized player Marcus Douthit was also prodded to talk on stage and do his best impersonation of former Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman, all in the name of fun.
“You saw the dancing, the jokes, that’s part of our pre-game and post game routine. We can’t take ourselves too seriously,” Reyes said.
“That’s the secret. I wish I had some magic formula, I wish I had some secret sauce, but there really was none. That’s the secret, people doing their jobs, performing their roles.”
But Pangilinan reserved the best compliment for the Nationals, saying “it feels good to win the Jones Cup after a long drought of international championships for the country.
“You give us hope and I think it is our duty to reciprocate that hope with faith and will, so yes, the Filipinos can.”
At the same time though, the SBP president reminded everyone that the coming Stankovic Cup (Fiba Asia Cup) where the Nationals are going to compete, is going to be a lot tougher tournament.
“We have to be realistic and manage expectations,” added Pangilinan.
Then again, the Sept 18 tournament can wait. For on this night and the days to come, all the Nationals could care about is to celebrate as champions.