Ex-PBA player Eugene Tejada is among the Pinoy fans cheering Gilas Pilipinas in Seville. Photo by Dennis Gasgonia, ABS-CBNNews.com
SEVILLE, Spain -- Former PBA player Eugene Tejada can't help but beam with pride after seeing his fellow Filipinos giving much higher ranked teams a hard time in court at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
The former Purefoods player, whose basketball career was cut short due after dislocating his spine during a game, is among the proud Filipino spectators rooting for Gilas here in Seville.
"It was a great experience. Those guys are doing what no other Filipino team has ever done," Tejada said after witnessing the Filipinos near victory against Argentina.
"We're actually making a mark in the world stage, we're nearly beating teams that are in the top 15 in the world, we're just losing by a couple of points," he noted.
For Tejada, Gilas Pilipinas announced its presence at the world basketball stage by giving Croatia and Argentina a run for their money during their respective clashes.
"It's opening a lot of eyes, because now they put a stamp in the world. They know there's basketball in the Philippines," said Tejada.
Before this year's FIBA World Cup, the last time the Philippines competed in the world championship was back in 1978 during the era of local basketball legends like Robert Jaworski.
But the next years saw the country struggle to make its way back until Gilas Pilipinas gained a qualification via a second-place finish in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship.
Tejada is no stranger to battles. The severe injury he sustained in 2006 ended his basketball career and rendered him bedridden. He went through severe depression and even contemplated suicide.
But after years of therapy and intense prayers, Tejada survived the ordeal and is now back on his feet
In 2012, he made his "homecoming" to the PBA when he was given a tribute by his former team. He was handed a playing jacket by his team as a simple tribute.
Tejada said Pinoys take pride in their fighting spirit and this, he said, will help propel Gilas to greater heights.
"Being Filipino means something to us. I wasn't surprised we have heart and it was just time to get noticed here, we are a country to be reckoned with in the future," said Tejada.