Gilas battles China looking to regain respect and whatever’s left of Olympics quest

Gilas Pilipinas Fiba World Cup

Gilas Pilipinas against South Sudan in the Fiba World Cup classification. -MARLO CUETO/

With what has already been a grim Fiba World Cup campaign stacked upon the growing deluge of public vitriol, national coach Chot Reyes chose to be vulnerably honest.

“Obviously, we’re very, very down. There’s nothing else we can say, right? The morale is really low,” he said on the heels of an 87-68 loss to South Sudan on Thursday night that took the Filipinos out of the Paris Olympic picture for the time being.

“We knew that this was the game that we absolutely had to win because (other Asian countries) would get wins—that’s why I’m very, very disappointed,” he went on. “There goes our Olympic dreams, for now, [in] this World Cup.”

Gilas just took its fourth straight loss flush on the kisser and missed out on an outright passage to the Summer Games set next year in the glitzy French capital. Even making things worse is that the Philippines is on the verge of entering the history books through notoriety as the only host nation to wind up without a single victory twice.

The Philippines lost all of its seven matches when the games were staged in Manila back in 1978. That dry spell was shared by Colombia when the meet was held in Cali four years later.

For his part, Reyes also knows he has no time to sulk. He knows that national pride—or whatever’s left of it—is on the line against China on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum in what could also very well serve as an early look at the Team Dragon that will host the Asian Games in a few weeks.

“Our job now is to get everyone ready for the next game and that has to start with our mindset and our emotional heart-set as well,” he said.

A loss to the Chinese could also take the Filipinos out of the Olympic scene for good through the “best next team” rule.

Needing a guarantee

China coach Aleksandar Djordjevic. –

China coach Aleksandar Djordjevic. –MARLO CUETO/

Winning would more or less guarantee that the Philippines will get an invite to the 24-team field that will dispute slots through a tedious Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

China, interestingly, has taken those steps through their breakthrough win over Angola earlier that same night.

“I’m focused on my players, focused on getting them fresh to recover their bodies and that’s what we’re gonna do: Think about our opponent that we respect a lot. We know it’s gonna be a tough game in front of the home crowd. We’ll just have to go for it,” said China coach Aleksandar Djordjevic.

“We played hard and well for 40 minutes and that’s what you have to do to get wins here. This is a high level of competition. I think in the past we played well for a quarter, maybe two, but we have to be able to put it together for four,” said Kyle Anderson, the Minnesota Timberwolves forward who led the way against the Black Antelopes.

“It’s going to be a tough environment. A lot of their fans will be here, it’s going to be kind of a road game, so I’ll love that,” he added.

Outside this World Cup, the Philippines can actually still compete for a berth in the Paris Games and that will be through the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments that will be held in the coming months. But doing so will require Gilas to avoid finishing in the bottom five of this tournament.

But Reyes hasn’t begun looking that far.

“There’s really no bearing except pride, to fight for country, for service—which is exactly why we’re here,” he said. “No matter how difficult this job is, we’re here, we’re doing it and hopefully, we can come in and play our best on Saturday.”

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