Redemption was the all-caps banner headline of Manila Bulletin’s sports page and “Mission Accomplished” was the title of the front-page photo caption showing the members of the Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team after winning the gold medal against host Cambodia that beat them in the preliminaries.
It's been quite some time since the exploits of the Philippine basketball team have been a source of personal joy for this writer. In fact, until today, my most memorable celebration was when the Philippines defeated South Korea in the finals of the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC), now known as the FIBA Asia championship, held at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Vito Cruz in 1973.
That was 50 years ago, when I was barely out of my teens.
The members of the 1973 Asian champion team included future Most Valuable Players (MVPs) of the Philippine Basketball Association such as Robert ‘Sonny’ Jaworski, William ‘Bogs’ Adornado, Alberto ‘Abet’ Guidaben, and Ramon Fernandez. Other players of that All Filipino team were Jimmy Mariano, Francis Arnaiz, Rosalio ‘Yoyong’ Martirez, Alberto ‘Big Boy’ Reynoso, Rogelio ‘Tembong’ Melencio, Dave Regullano and Joy Cleofas. Their coach was the legendary Valentin ‘Tito’ Eduque, known for his trademark all-white attire.
The South Korean nemesis was Shin Dong Pa whose long-distance shooting accuracy was well-known before the three-point shot rule was adopted.
Years later, I had the privilege of getting to know many of these basketball stars up close and personal when Far East Bank and Trust Company (which later merged with the Bank of Philippine Islands) fielded them in goodwill provincial tours.
Outstanding varsity players from leading UAAP and NCAA teams who played for Far East Bank, included national player Danny Florencio, Tito Panlilio, Gerry Verzosa and Max Estrada of Ateneo; Max Laurel and Danny Gavierres of UST, Gus Fermin and Nemie Villegas of Letran; Ernesto de Leon of UE; and Tomasito Tolentino.
After watching the first encounter between Gilas Pilipinas and Cambodia, it seemed to me that winning the championship now fetched such a high premium that a Cambodian team would be represented by players whose names do not at all project them to be native-born Cambodians.
But then, when one reviews the roster of Gilas Pilipinas, seven out of twelve of them are evidently not natural-born Filipinos. Justin Brownlee, the leading scorer and concededly the sparkplug who really powered the team to the championship was naturalized by an act of Philippine Congress. So I delved into Wikipedia’s archives and with the aid of Google search, gathered background information about our Gilas stars.
Christopher Michael Ross, the team captain, played high school basketball at John Jay High School in San Antonio Texas, “where as a junior, he sank a 50-foot half-court buzzer-beater to give Jay the 2002 Class 5A state basketball championship.” He plays for San Miguel Beer in the PBA. His mother Virginia visits him regularly, making trips to Clark Field where she probably met his late father.
Christian Standhardinger of Ginebra San Miguel, is a German-Filipino. He was born in Munich to a Filipino mother, Elizabeth Santos Hermoso. His maternal grandfather Boy Hermoso who played in the Philippines’ YMCA basketball championship in the 1950s, taught him basketball. He and Christian’s mother trace their roots to Angono, Rizal.
Christopher Elijah Newsome was born in San Jose, California to Eric, an African-American. His mother Carmelita Duque hails from Parañaque City. He helped the Rio Rancho High school win the championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was also a member of the Ateneo de Manila University’s UAAP champion team and of the UAAP’s Mythical Five.
Marcio Lassiter’s mother, Alexandra Eshabarr traces her roots to Ilocos Sur. He graduated and played college basketball for Cal State Fullerton. He currently lives in Manila with his US-born Filipina wife, Jerlyn Lassiter (née Pangilinan) and their four young sons, Montaé Izaiyah, Myles Elaijah, Marcel Josaiah and Melo Zekaiah. Lassiter graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology.
Brandon Arnell Ganuelas-Rosser’s parents – James Rosser, a retired US Navy serviceman, and Gina Ganuelas – decided to move out of Subic, Zambales after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. While his brother Matt, who also played in the PBA was born in Olongapo City, he was born in San Diego, California. He plays for the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA.
Christian Jaymar (CJ) Perez was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong and grew up in Bautista, Pangasinan. Like Brandon Rosser, he was also a first-round draft pick in the PBA after his stellar collegiate basketball career with the Lyceum University Pirates.
Michael Phillips’ mother Sharon is a Filipina physician. He recalls having visited and stayed in Davao City in his youth. Playing center for the De la Salle Green Archers, he could gain local status under FIBA rules if like Newsome he finishes his college studies and plays for domestic leagues.
Rounding off the newly crowned SEA Games champion team lineup are all-Filipino standouts Jerom Lastimosa who shone for Adamson University in the UAAP, Alvin Tolentino who played for both Ateneo and FEU, and Calvin Oftana who played for San Beda’s NCAA champion team.
Gilas Pilipinas players gave it their all and earned back the country’s treasured reputation as the top team in Southeast Asia. They deserve the nation’s gratitude and all-out support as they look forward to playing in their homecourt at the FIBA World Cup in August-September this year.