By JONAS TERRADO
There was plenty of disenchantment inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum and on social media as Gilas Pilipinas was beaten badly by New Zealand at the conclusion of its campaign in the February window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Gilas was simply outclassed by the well-rounded Tall Blacks in an 88-63 defeat before a disappointed audience who for the second time since the pandemic was able to see the national team in the flesh.
Those who had to endure the team’s rough outing described that some fans were quick to voice their displeasure by calling for the return of Tab Baldwin on the sidelines in lieu of reappointed coach Chot Reyes.
Reyes still opted to laud his team for doing everything it can do to avoid the more disappointing outcome, which sent Gilas’ record to 1-1 in Group A.
“I was very proud of the efforts of our guys. We played a tough team and we didn’t back down,” Reyes said. “We were really we kept ourselves in the ball game until I think late in the third quarter.
“But like I said, couldn’t ask for anything more from our players,” added Reyes, who saw Thirdy Ravena and Dwight Ramos as one of the few bright spots in the defeat with their impressive play.
Many were stunned when the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas announced the return of Reyes in lieu of Baldwin, who the national federation said stepped down to concentrate on his role as coach of Ateneo in the UAAP.
Fans cited Baldwin’s success in turning a team of non-PBA players into a well-oiled machine, resulting in the sweep of last year’s third window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and a courageous showing in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Skeptics, however, point at rumors that Baldwin had a hand in the exodus of several Gilas players for Japan to play B.League as the reason for the change, something that were later belied by SBP President Al Panlilio.
Reyes did have his share of obstacles since he was given three weeks to prepare the team. He opted to have some of his TNT players join forces with the Gilas pool while Ravena and Ramos took a break from their B.League duties.
“We still have a lot of things that we have to work on and the players are not yet familiar with each other. And even me, this was my first time to coach Thirdy, Dwight and several orhers on the team,” he lamented.
“So I think we will get better as time goes by. But there’s certainly a lot of bright spots, a lot of things to build on. And we just have to be able to put in the work.”
That may mean some changes in the Gilas composition for the succeeding windows and other important tournaments like the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games.
Reyes is set to talk with the PBA to discuss the possibly of tapping players for the long-term program aimed at putting up a strong showing in the country’s hosting of next year’s World Cup.
Good results, however, remain the important thing or fans may otherwise lose their patience even more.