Braver, better Gilas Pilipinas in 2023

As drums continue to roll for the biggest spectacle in 2023, this basketball-crazy nation has endured all kinds of cheers, boos and jeers. And while Gilas Pilipinas may have failed on some occasions, not a moment the Filipinos went puffing without a fight.

NBA star Jordan Clarkson is poised to lead Gilas Pilipinas in the 2023 World Cup (PBA Images)

Year 2022 may be tumultuous, underwhelming and jaded for Philippine basketball especially with the events that transpired earlier but it also has its own share of highs worth noting amid the disappointing lows.

The departure of former head coach Tab Baldwin had Gilas Pilipinas in limbo earlier this year resulting in now concurrent head coach and program director Chot Reyes taking the helm. Under Reyes, Gilas played decent performances in its first pair of games and split its schedule against India and New Zealand.

But the writings were already on the wall. And it was clear as day.

The change in direction left Gilas grappling for stability in the next few months. With hastily built lineups and the lack of preparation time, Gilas was somehow fated to hit the rock bottom.

The proud national team went on to suffer disappointments after disappointments. Gilas lost the gold medal in 21st Southeast Asian Games in May for the first time since 1989 despite being composed by PBA players. It’s now infamously known as the "Hanoi debacle".

The Philippines failed to win any game against countries not named India during the third window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers and the group stage of the FIBA Asia Cup 2022. Gilas was 2-4 during that stretch in June and July and also failed to qualify to the quarterfinals of the Asia Cup for the first time in 15 years.

Reyes, once hailed for putting the country back to the world basketball map when he steered the nationals to a World Cup spot in Spain in 2014, had become the "most hated man" in Philippine basketball.

Calls for his resignation were all over social media and the fans made sure to let him know their opinions during Gilas home game against Saudi Arabia in the third window. He was jeered and booed every time he was shown at the jumbotron inside the Mall of Asia Arena.

He looked unbothered, seemingly focused on the task at hand but there was a show of emotions when his players, one by one, stood up for him, led by Jordan Clarkson, viewed as the saving grace to what looked like a faltering Gilas program. Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto and the rest of Gilas followed suit.

As if it magically happened, the words from of Clarkson’s caliber – the NBA Sixth Man of the Year awardee and the player expected to carry the weight of the nation in the 2023 World Cup next year – had the SBP, PBA, the top collegiate leagues UAAP and NCAA working together.

From there, Gilas saw a steady rise. The team that will fly the country’s colors is starting to shape up and the glimpse of it was seen during its gallant stand against Lebanon in the fourth window and the sweep of the fifth window against a formidable Jordan squad and gritty Saudi Arabia.

Sotto, Scottie Thompson, CJ Perez and the rest got the fans excited once more as the nationals hoped to crawl their way back from the hole they dug themselves into this year. And the fans? They still want to see more from Gilas but they are nonetheless fine with the steady progress.

The country’s sixth man just recently bared its own powers. Legion of fans trooped to the MOA Arena on Christmas Day to cheer on Barangay Ginebra in Game 1 of the 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals against the guest team Bay Area Dragons.

The Hong Kong based team took the PBA by storm, even taking down a stacked San Miguel Beer in the semifinals, earning the respect of the Filipino fans and proving that they are formidable challengers ready to conquer the PBA.

It was a game of Gilas’ gravity for Ginebra, the last Filipino team standing was tasked to defend its home turf. Ginebra won convincingly in the series opener and the crowd gave the Kings a huge lift – showing that if their enthusiasm and passion is replicated inside the court, they will be rallying behind any Filipino team even against the most unbeatable foes.

As the countdown clock trickles down to its final seconds in the lead-up to the FIBA World Cup this coming August, hopes and stakes are high for Gilas Pilipinas – the team bloody and wounded by its misfortunes of this year would rise up braver and better in the most historic year for Philippine basketball in 2023.