The evening before Gilas Pilipinas’ game against Singapore on Friday night, Gilas Assistant Coach Josh Reyes posted on Instagram stories a video of him and Coach Jong Uichico. The two were having dinner at Nando’s, a popular peri-peri chicken spot in Kuala Lumpur.
“Having dinner for the first time at Nando’s,” Reyes narrated. And while he was saying this, you could near a loud banging sound coming from right beside him. Soon enough, he panned his camera. And what we saw was Coach Jong, banging away at the bottom of a bottle of sauce, to complete his chicken meal.
I showed it to to the two coaches, because I thought that it was really just how much force Coach Jong put into getting that sauce to finally fall, and they thought it was funny on video as well. The frequency of the banging, combined with the loud tap of the glass cylinders bottle finally made it fall.
Gilas wrapped up their final practice of the 2017 SEA Games on Saturday afternoon. They huddled together as they always do. At the center of the group was peri-peri sauce lover Coach Uichico, and he went through what the team reviewed, and the gameplan of the squad heading into their match versus Indonesia. He has always been a man of few words, and instead of saying a lot of new things, he simply repeated what he was saying since they stepped foot in Kuala Lumpur 8 days ago.
“Magsasawa kayo sa sasabihin ko- no easy points,” Uichico reminded. “No turnovers, no offensive rebounds, sprint back. Kasi yun ang laro e. We know what to do. Let’s get it done tonight.”
Much like that bottle of sauce, Uichico and the rest of Gilas have been pounding away, trying to get that gold medal. It hasn’t been as easy as people expected it to be, and that has caused a lot of concern for people watching Gilas. With two minutes remaining, Singapore got to within 8 points, and could’ve trimmed it further if not for a botched Ng Bin Hang triple. They would eventually win, 68-60. But for a team not expected to compete against Gilas, Singapore gave the Filipinos all they could handle for 40 minutes.
“You were lucky last night that we won without playing Gilas basketball,” Gilas Head Coach Chot Reyes said. “Last night, Singapore wanted it more than you did, and you almost got bit. So tonight, take good shots, and want the ball more, get the 50-50 balls.”
The team had been bracing for a rematch with Thailand, similar to the 2015 edition of the SEA Games. But Arki Wisnu and Indonesia had other plans. As a result, Gilas had to adjust on the fly. They had to change their preparation for Mario Wuysang and company.
But what Gilas has to adjust, regardless of their opponent, is their attention to detail, effort and intensity. That will be the biggest challenge for this squad. All the pressure is on Gilas Pilipinas- the basketball standard in Southeast Asia, for decades. This squad, while talented and full of professional players will be going up against an Indonesian squad that has trained and prepared together. On the other hand, this 12 man Gilas lineup hasn’t had a single practice together heading into the SEA Games.
But there are no excuses. The past has passed. And regardless of whatever struggles they had on offense, getting fastbreak points, that all can be forgotten with a win against Indonesia. But it won’t be easy, not by any stretch. Indonesia is hungry to shock the world, and topple a titan. And the team will need to recognize what has to be done in order to pick up a gold medal.
“You were lucky last night that we won without playing Gilas basketball,” Reyes said. “We play Gilas basketball tonight, it’s not going to be even close. Yan ang isipin ninyo.”
“You train all your lives to be at your best in the biggest games,” Reyes said. “Think about it. Tonight, that’s what it’s going to take- to be at your best. And being at your best doesn’t means scoring 30 points, or getting 20 assists. Being at your best means doing the gameplan is and executing. Executing, then putting in the effort. Do not let Indonesia outwork you.”
Gilas Pilipinas is exactly where they want to be. The journey may not have been as smooth as people expected, but they’ve done enough to put themselves in a position to win it all once again.
“If everybody does the little things together, we can accomplish something big,” Coach Uichico said. Little things, like opening a bottle.
Or winning a gold medal for your country.