The Philippines’ three-decade reign in Southeast Asian basketball competition came to a bitter end on Sunday as a more prepared Indonesia side outplayed the star-studded, but outsmarted Gilas Pilipinas, 85-81.
Head coach Chot Reyes and his handpicked of crack professional players plus a promising collegiate player in LeBron Lopez couldn’t keep up with the hot-shooting Indonesians, as the Filipinos failed to win the gold medal.
The Philippines had been champions in the region since 1991 with the recent as a mixture of disappointment and anger was felt all over social media among basketball-loving Filipinos.
The national quintet’s most embarrassing loss in years brought back memories of the the time the squad lost the gold medal in the SEA Games against host Malaysia, which eventually won the gold in 1989.
Yeng Guiao, then serving as deputy coach to head mentor Derrick Pumaren, recalled how the host manipulated the tournament which led to Malaysia winning the gold medal.
“Grabe dayaan doon,” Guiao told ABS-CBN News. “ ’Yun ’yung mag-eensayo ka, pspatayan ka bigla ng ilaw since brownout daw.”
“Tapos paparatingin kami sa venue huddle na hindi kami makakapag warm up.”
Unlike the team composed of PBA stars led by six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo and some stalwarts from the Japan B.League – brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena – and remnants of the young Gilas team, the 1989 squad that settled for a silver medal finish was an all-amateur team.
In those days, only amateur players were being sent by the Philippines to international competitions, without the benefit of having naturalized players, which was enjoyed by the national team as part of the Northern Consolidated program from early to mid-1980s
“ ’Yung team na ’yun was led by Apet Jao, Jun Limpot and Larry Villanil. Sila yung mga naalala ko,” added Guiao.
Pumaren said that Malaysia ended up with the gold even when there was no finals game played.
“There was no finals, would you believe that?” said Pumaren. “We played our very first game, Malaysia agad. After that, wala ng finals. Bigla nilang binago ’yung rules and the BAP (Basketball Association of the Philippines), sina Lito Puyat, was furious.
“You can also see the gym from where we’re staying, it would take us two hours. Pagdating namin sa gym, brownout. It was sabotaged. Kita mo talaga sina Lito Puyat nakikipag-away, sina Caloy Manzanillo.”
But Buddy Encarnado, who served as team manager of the Philippine team in the 1989 SEA Games, gave credit to Malaysia’s long-term program at that time.
“Five years in the making ’yung team na ’yun, samantalang kami, two months lang preparation namin. Talo talaga kami,” said Encarnado in a telephone interview.
According to Encarnado, that same Malaysian team even beat a Korean squad led by Hur Jae, a notable scoring machine in Asian competitions.
The latest national team sent to the SEA Games offered no excuses as it was beaten fair and square by Indonesia, which came out more prepared against its long-time tormentors.
Playing a big role for Indonesia’s remarkable improvement was Rajko Toroman, former coach of Gilas Pilipinas, who now serves as project director on Indonesia’s basketball program.