MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas' triumph in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship was a result of hard work and teamwork, with no single player serving as the dominant centerpiece of the squad.
The hosts' 97-64 rout of Indonesia in the gold-medal game was a showcase of Gilas Pilipinas' philosophy: while Andray Blatche led the way in scoring with 21 points, two other players finished in double digits, and all but one player had at least three points in the game.
It was thus no surprise that head coach Chot Reyes was hard-pressed to name the player that he believes should be the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
"Mahirap [It's hard]," he said. "It's hard to name a single player, because different players stepped up every ball game."
However, there is one particular Gilas member that truly impressed Reyes throughout the SEABA Championship – rookie point guard Jiovani Jalalon.
"I really like the development and the play of Jio Jalalon," said Reyes. "I think that's a guy who is going to be really special for this program."
Reyes has previously raved about Jalalon's ability to enter the game and immediately make an impact, thanks to his in-your-face defense. Even Indonesia's veteran point guard, Mario Wuysang, looked at times flustered by Jalalon's physicality.
No less than Jayson Castro, a two-time FIBA Asia Mythical Team member, backed up Reyes in his belief that Jalalon had been the team's MVP in the tournament.
"Kita mo naman 'yung performance ni Jio, 'di ba?" said Castro. "Hindi lang scoring. Even sa defense, sa kanya nagi-start, kasi 'yung pressure nga. Ang tawag namin, one man press."
"Kaya niya talagang i-press 'yung ball-handler ng kalaban. At the same time, 'yung awareness, 'yung assists . . . talagang fit siya sa system," he added.
[You saw Jio's performance. He wasn't just scoring. Our defense started with him, because of his pressure defense. He's a one-man press. At the same time, his awareness and his assists make him a great fit to our system.]
The last couple of years has been a whirlwind for Jalalon, who turned from the best point guard prospect in the amateur ranks to a budding floor general for the Star Hotshots and now a vital piece of Gilas Pilipinas' future.
The former Arellano superstar could only utter words of gratitude after being informed of the praise given to him by his coach.
"Sobrang sarap pakinggan," said Jalalon, who averaged 7.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.2 assists for Gilas in the SEABA tilt. "Thank you, coach Chot, na sinabihan mo ako ng ganoon."
[That's music to my ears. I'm grateful to Coach Chot.]
What makes Reyes' praise all the more special for Jalalon is that he was in effect the third-string guard in the Gilas roster, often playing behind Castro or Terrence Romeo.
Jalalon believes that more than anything, it was his hustle and defense that led Reyes to praise him.
"Nagki-create lang ako sa loob," he said. "Hindi ko iniisip 'yung sarili ko. Inuuna ko 'yung mga kasama ko."
[I just create for my teammates whenever I'm inside the court. I don't think about myself.]
The 5-foot-8 guard who committed only five turnovers throughout the entirety of the tournament vows he will work to prove Reyes right.
"Paghahandaan ko 'yan, pagbalik ko ng practice. Babalik pa naman ako ng PBA. Na-miss ko na rin 'yung team ko. Paghahandaan ko na lang pagbalik ko ng practice," he said.
[I will work hard when I return to practice with my PBA team.]
This was Jalalon's third time to compete in the SEABA Championship, but his first as a member of the senior national team.
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