FOR this basketball-crazy country of 94 million people, 2013 indeed was a memorable one.
Coach Chot Reyes and his 12 brave men who comprised Gilas Pilipinas, ended more than three decades of futility for Philippine basketball following a magical ride in the FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship which Manila hosted for the very first time after 40 years.
The Nationals found inspiration in the Filipino people – who Reyes considered their `sixth man’ and who stood by their beloved national players with every victory earned and with every loss suffered for eleven magnificent days in August at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In the end, the silver medal finish and a trip to the 2014 FIBA-World Cup in Spain was indeed, a stirring achievement for a nation whose glorious days as a basketball power seemed behind it until Gilas found a way to do the improbable.
Philippine basketball was not just the one that gained in the year about to end, which also saw the successful ring comeback of boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, the triumphs in the world stage by pool players Rubilen Amit, Lee Van Corteza, and Dennis Orcollo, and the rise in the world rankings of the Azkals, to name just a few.
But in the end, 2013 would always be remembered as the year when Gilas Pilipinas made it all happen.
Here now is Spin.ph’s Top 10 Newsmakers in Sports for 2013.
GILAS PILIPINAS EARNS FIBA-WORLD CUP BERTH – the high-profile basketball team was a win short of winning the gold medal, but it’s a runner-up finish that meant a whole lot to the entire Filipino people.
The Nationals lost the championship match to two-time champion Iran, 85-71, but the battle had already been won as early as the semifinals when Gilas Pilipinas, playing without an injured Marcus Douthit in the second half, defied the odds and turned back longtime rival Korea, 86-79, in a highly-emotional game before a crowd of 19,000 at the Mall of Asia Arena to earn back a berth in the Fiba-World Cup after a 38-year absence.
The Filipinos last played in the World Basketball Championship in 1978 which the country hosted.
When the mission was accomplished, coach Chot Reyes cried unabashedly on the bench as he buried his head on the shoulder of team manager Butch Antonio even as players hugged each other and openly celebrated at mid-court, well-aware of what they’ve just accomplished.
The victory likewise avenged the national team’s series of heartbreaking losses to the Koreans, none more horrific than the semifinal setback in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan behind the dagger three-pointer of Korean assassin Lee Sang Min at the buzzer.
“There’s no greater opportunity than to write your own history,” said Reyes after the historic win.
MANNY PACQUIAO MAKES SUCCESSFUL RING COMEBACK – After suffering the worst loss of his career, the boxing superstar from General Santos City vowed `to rise again.’
And he did just that.
Proving his best days were not yet over, the 35-year-old Pacquiao dominated American Brandon Rios right from the get-go on the way to a unanimous decision in their welterweight showdown at the Cotai Arena in Macau.
There was no knockdown in the 12-round bout fought before a crowd of 15,101, but there was no doubt who’s the better fighter between the two.
Although Pacquiao dedicated the morale-boosting win to his countrymen ravaged by the strongest typhoon in history that ever made landfall, the victory ushered the successful return of the Filipino southpaw in the ring almost a year after suffering a stunning sixth-round knockout at the hands of Mexican nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez.
“This is not my time yet. My journey will continue,” said the future Hall of Famer, who improved to 55-5-2, with 38 losses.
CUE ARTISTS AMIT, ORCOLLO & CORTEZA STAR IN WORLD STAGE – Rubilen Amit, Dennis Orcollo, and Lee Van Corteza showed the world Filipino pool players remain a cut above the rest.
The three crowned themselves world champions again after winning two major pool events in the final quarter of the year.
The pint-sized Amit, standing all of 4-foot-11, proved to be a giant among the best after winning the Women’s World 10-Ball Championship by beating Kelly Fischer of Great Britain in the finals, 10-7. It was the second world title for the former University of the Santo Tomas stalwart following her similar triumph during the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2009.
“This year, the win is definitely bigger for me than my first World Championship win. Five years ago it was a new event, but now everyone knows how much this event means," said the 32-year-old mean billiard star.
A week after in Myanmar, Amit bagged a gold medal in the 27th SEA Games by topping the 10-ball event.
Not to be outdone, the pair of Orcollo and Corteza pocketed the World Cup of Pool after defeating the duo of Nick Van Den Berg and Niels Feijen of the Netherlands in the finals, 10-8. The two became the first Filipinos outside the legendary tandem of Efren `Bata’ Reyes and Francisco `Django’ Bustamante to win the single-elimination tournament for doubles teams in 9-ball competition.
Like Amit, Orcollo won a gold medal in the SEA Games through the men’s 10-ball event.
NBA HOLDS FIRST-EVER PRESEASON GAME IN MANILA – The acknowledged biggest basketball league in the world playing before the most passionate cage fans.
In a momentous event for this basketball-crazy country, the National Basketball Association (NBA) held its very first preseason game in the Philippines featuring the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers.
Behind a strong start instigated by Dwight Howard and James Harden, the Rockets jumped the gun on the cold-shooting Pacers, led by Roy Hibbert and Paul George, to pull off the rousing 116-96 win.
Although bereft of marquee players other than Howard and Harden, the first NBA preseason match in the Philippines was warmly received by Filipino basketball fans, who commissioner David Stern described as `extraordinary’
“The Philippines deserved this and they got it,” said Stern.
As added incentive, former NBA legends and Boston Celtics icons Larry Bird and Kevin McHale came over for the game as Bird serves as current president for basketball operations of Indiana while McHale is the coach of the Rockets.
Several ex-NBA superstars such as Clyde Drexler, Robert Horry, Jalen Rose, and Ron Harper came over to the country to hype up the event.
PHILIPPINES SUFFERS WORST FINISH IN SOUTHEAST ASIAN GAMES HISTORY – In an eight-year span, the country went from best to worst in the Southeast Asian Games.
The 208-strong Philippine contingent to the 27th edition of the biggest sporting event in the Southeast Asian region did their best to defy the great odds that awaited it in Myanmar, but could not keep the country from falling to its worst finish ever in the SEA Games since it began competing in 1977.
The Filipinos managed to bag just a total of 29 golds, 34 silvers, and 38 bronzes after 18 days of pitting skills and talent against the best athletes in this side of the world.
The figures meant only a seventh place finish for the country, its lowest ever since ending up sixth in both the 2007 (Nakhon Ratchasima) and 2011 (Indonesia) editions of the meet.
The total gold medals won was likewise the least the Filipinos won in the SEA Games since bagging 20 in Brunei 14 years ago when the Philippines finished a fighting fifth.
The campaign was definitely a complete turnaround for a country which not too long ago – year 2005 to be exact – emerged as champion of the multi-sports event the last time it was held here.
In light of the tragic campaign, local sports officials are now planning to shun away from competing in future staging of the SEA Games if the prevalent practice of giving the host country the right to include indigenous sports in the meet’s calendar of events goes on as was the case in Myanmar.
But regardless, Cagayan De Oro congressman Rufus Rodriguez, a board member of the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa) which produced the most number of gold medals in this year’s SEA Games with six, said it’s high time a total performance audit be made on what really ails Philippine sports.
“There has to be a prognosis or a performance audit on what really ails the industry (sports), on what really is the problem of sports in the country, and the solutions to the problem,” he said.
AZKALS’ UNRULY WELCOME IN HONGKONG FRIENDLY AND RISE IN RANKINGS – What was deemed as a mere international friendly against the Hong Kong national team turned unruly when home fans shouted profanities against the visitors and Filipinos watching the match at the Mong Kok Stadium.
The Hong Kong crowd taunted and jeered the Filipinos, whom they called `slaves,' only for the incident to further intensify when the Azkals scored in the second half for the game’s solitary goal.
Bottled water and juice cartons were thrown at Filipino fans and even players, with some locals even making obscene gestures. Worst, the Hong Kong crowd jeered in unison when the Philippine national anthem was played.
The unfortunate incident prompted the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) to file a complaint before the international governing body Fifa.
The episode is obviously an offshoot of the killing of several Hong Kong tourists during a hostage crisis instigated by a former Filipino police officer at the Quirino Grandstand three years ago.
“The players were okay. We’re used to hostile fans already and we’ve prepared them to be calm in these circumstances. But my main concern was for the safety of the Filipino fans who went there,” said Azkals team manager Dan Palami.
The Azkals however, ended the year on a bright note as they continued their rise to international relevance when they jumped to their best-ever Fifa ranking in history at 133rd in the world.
The latest ranking also made the Azkals the best team in Southeast Asia today ahead of such football powers as Myanmar (142), Thailand (142), Singapore (154), Malaysia, (158), Vietnam (158), and Indonesia (162).
LA SALLE WINS UAAP MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP – A season that began with uncertainty ended in a blaze of glory for De La Salle.
Just three weeks before the 76th season of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament got underway, the Taft-based school made the surprise move of replacing Gee Abanilla as coach in lieu of the untested Juno Sauler.
It was one stunning development that even La Salle players were left befuddled.
“We don’t know the whole story yet, but whatever it is, we just have to adjust to it,” said La Salle’s sophomore star Jeron Teng.
Four months later, Teng and the rest of the Green Archers got to know what the story was all about.
Sauler, he with the famed poker face, steered the team to its first UAAP men’s title in six years following a dramatic 71-69 overtime win over University of Santo Tomas in the deciding game of the best-of-three Finals.
The Archers did it by coming back from an 0-1 deficit in the title series, before capping it with a huge fightback from 15 points down in Game Three to fashion out the epic victory before a roaring crowd of 23,396 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
La Salle became the first team to clinch the title after the five straight recorded by rival Ateneo.
The future looks so bright indeed, for the Green Archers that coach Nash Racela, whose Far Eastern Tamaraws were eliminated by La Salle in the Final Four, declared them as `the new Ateneo.’
“They can really dominate,” Racela said of the Archers.
SAN BEDA IS NCAA CHAMP FOR FOURTH STRAIGHT SEASON – While Ateneo ended its title reign in the UAAP, San Beda just extended its domination in the NCAA.
The Red Lions endured another coaching change and a controversy involving their back-up guard to win a fourth straight men’s title at the expense of rival Letran.
Just like in last year’s Finals, the Lions were stretched to the limit by the Knights before eking out a thrilling 60-56 win in Game Three at the Mall of Asia Arena that capped one of the longest seasons in the 89-year history of the league.
The championship was the 18th overall for San Beda – the most by any teams in the NCAA – and seventh in the last eight years.
And considering the team had to tap a new coach in Boyet Fernandez before the season began, and then had to stay together as team going into the Final Four amidst the issue hovering combo guard Ryusei Koga - accused of playing in another league in Paranaque while the season was in progress - a fourth straight championship appeared far-fetched for the Mendiola-based squad.
“By far this was the hardest among the four championships,” admitted stalwart Baser Amer. “We had issues bugging the team all-season long.”
TALK `N TEXT BAGS THIRD STRAIGHT ALL-FILIPINO CROWN – It may not have caught the imagination of others, but Talk `N Text did what no other team had achieved other than the legendary Crispa Redmanizers over the last three decades of the PBA.
The Tropang Texters clinched a third straight Philippine Cup championship with a four-game sweep of Rain or Shine in the Finals, becoming the first team to do the trick since the Redmanizers reigned All-Filipino champions from 1979 to 1984. (No All-Filipino conference was held in 1981 and 82)
But the telecommunication franchise became the first club to take permanent possession of the Emilio 'Jun' Bernardino Perpetual Trophy – a 24-karat gold plated trophy crafted by world-renowned Ramon Orlina worth P500,000 – given to the team that wins the All-Filipino crown for three successive seasons.
Chot Reyes was the man at the helm of the Tropang Texters’ first two Philippine Cup titles, before Norman Black took over when Reyes concentrated on his job as coach of the Gilas national team.
“I’m very, very happy with the victory. The players worked so hard this year. We pushed them a lot. Yes, that’s the beauty of this team. The players are all unselfish,” said Black.
The championship also crowned a successful homecoming for Black, who won a title on his return to the pro league just months after leading Ateneo to a fifth straight UAAP men’s cage crown.
“This championship means a lot to me maybe because I’ve been away for so long,” he stressed. “I’ve wanted to go back to the PBA, the best league in the country, and I was just waiting for the right time."
The title was the 11th championship in the league for Black and his first since his last one 10 years ago.
YOUNG PINOY GUNS MAKE THEIR PRESENCE FELT – If there were any signs of a changing of the guard in Philippine sports, then 2013 could be it.
From basketball, golf, taekwondo, wushu, chess, to athletics, the young breed of Filipino athletes already showed glimpses of their potential by emerging victorious in their respective fields.
Taking the cue from Gilas Pilipinas, the Philippine Youth team also earned a berth to the Fiba-World U17 Championship in Dubai next year after a surprising silver medal finish behind China in the finals of the 3rd FIBA-Asia U16 Championship in Tehran, Iran.
Another Philippine youth team composed of Arvin Tolentino, Prince Rivero, Kobe Paras, and Thirdy Ravena meanwhile, topped the inaugural Fiba-Asia 3x3 U18 Championship by beating India in the finals, 21-19. The golden finish gave the squad an outright berth in the Fiba 3x3 U18 World Championship in Jakarta, where Paras won the title in the slam dunk side event.
Golfer Mia Legaspi provided the country’s first ever gold in the Asian Youth Games by winning the girls individual event in a 1-2 finish with Filipina teammate Princess Superal. Charming 17-year-old jin Pauline Lopez later added a second gold when she beat Fariza Aldangorova of Kazakhstan in the girls’ 55-kg final.
Also in golf, the country’s young parbusters made the country proud by winning their respective categories in the Junior World Golf Championships. Pauline Del Rosario (girls’ 13-14), Kristoffer Arevalo (boys’ 13-14), and the pair of Superal and Daniella Uy (girls’ 15-17 team championship) all made their mark at the famed Torrey Pines North Course in San Diego, California.
Ken Alieson Omengan led the six-gold medal haul of the Philippines in the 7th Asian Junior Wushu Championship, while young GM Wesley So won the country’s breakthrough gold in the 27th World Universiade in Kazan, Russia.
Superal also led the charge of the youth brigade in the Myanmar SEA Games after winning the golds in the individual and team events of golf, while rising trackers Archand Christian Bagsit (400 m individual and 4x400 meter relay), Eric Cray (400-m hurdles), Christopher Ulboc Jr (3,000-meter steeplechase), and Jeson Ramil Cid (decathlon) also ruled their respective events in a show of force indicative of the future of Philippine athletics.
“These are still young but promising athletes we can really develop. Hopefully, six years from now hinog na hinog na talaga sila,” said track and field coach Joseph Sy.