By REYNALD MAGALLON
Many may have doubted and already gave up on Gilas Pilipinas’ gold medal bid when it suffered a shocking loss to Cambodia in the group stage.
But not head coach Chot Reyes.
Not a moment. Never in a bit that he was disheartened by the defeat or questioned the ability of the team to get the job done.
For him, despite the lack of preparation time, the team that he brought to Phnom Penh was the team needed to complete the task.
“We knew we have the game to beat Cambodia but we have to play our game,” said Reyes. “We were worried when we didn’t have Calvin, we didn’t have Justin but we knew we have the team and the game to beat Cambodia.”
The belief did pay off. They may have run through some adversities and tough challenges along the way, but the team showed enough grit and heart to reclaim the lost gold – Gilas’ lost pride.
It was the country’s 19th gold in the sport – one of the most dominant runs in the biennial meet in any discipline.
It may be tainted by the loss in Hanoi last year, the only third time the country did not finish with the gold after the 1979 and 1989 editions, but Gilas has proven that it’s still a cut above the rest.
“We did it. We did it,” said Reyes after the Gilas’ 80-69 triumph over a Cambodian side which, behind its naturalized players, posed the biggest threat the Filipinos had faced ever in the biennial meet.
“I don’t know if there’s anything else left to say. I know a lot of people doubted this team after the first time that we lost,” he added.
It was all flowers and butterflies now for Reyes, who, after a year of being criticized due to the Hanoi debacle, is now enjoying the praises and love from the basketball-crazy nation for restoring the country’s pride.
But for the veteran coach, the credit all goes to the players who battled through bumps and bruises as well as the tough environment just to accomplish their mission.
“I came here and I envisioned this. I visualized this but I didn’t make it happen. It was the players. It’s the players that made it happen, it was their effort, their unwillingness to give up,” said Reyes.
Justin Brownlee was back to his old self, far from the person Cambodia played against a few days ago, this time spearheading the team with 23 points. Marcio Lassiter, CJ Perez, Chris Newsome, Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser and even young gun Jerom Lastimosa all left their imprint in the win.
Perhaps, the group stage loss was a blessing in disguise.
“I didn’t tell you but the first words in the dugout after we lost, I said this was the loss that we could afford and I thought we needed that loss actually so we just kept our focus and here we are,” said Reyes.