Inside the post-SEA Games party of Gilas Men, Women

Levi Joshua Verora Jr.

Posted at May 26 2023 11:31 PM | Updated as of May 27 2023 12:29 AM

via Ariya Kurniawan
Members of Gilas Pilipinas-Women. Photo courtesy Ariya Kurniawan

When members of Gilas Pilipinas Women were asked what their best 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games moment was, they answered in unison.

It had to be the celebratory dinner with Gilas Pilipinas Men on the contingent’s final night together in Cambodia – shortly after the men’s squad had reclaimed the 5-on-5 gold medal against the host country.

“That was one of the best things that happened in Cambodia. Celebrating with the men’s team winning the gold again, and us, siyempre naging silver, but you know, it was one of the happiest moments,” coach Patrick Aquino shared.

Owing to different schedules in a busy calendar year, as well as the men’s side’s pro league responsibilities, it was nearly impossible for both the men’s and women’s teams to share a common time together.

But as if the basketball gods found a way, the once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence came into fruition, and Aquino and the ladies made it count.

“I think that was the first time it ever happened after a SEA Games. Sa amin, wow, they appreciate us. They see us,” Jack Animam said.

The Gilas Women center said it was Chris Ross’ initiative to have the entire women’s team join them for dinner. Even from the start of the SEA Games, Animam had already felt the support extended by their male counterparts.

“Noong first game namin, nakita namin sa stands lahat ng coaching staff. Si Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Newsome,” she recalled.

“I could see them dancing and mimicking every move that we were doing. And we were like, wow, these are the big stars of the PBA, they already have their names in Philippine basketball, yet here they are supporting us.”

After scrumptious meals have been consumed, the players sung, danced, and drank all night. The atmosphere was festive. When OPM classics “Manila” and “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” blasted from the restaurant’s speakers, everyone sang along.

Jerom Lastimosa, Ben and Michael Phillips danced to Vengaboys’ “Shalala Lala,” getting as low to the ground as they could.

Later, the brothers engaged in a showdown with Animam, Camille Clarin, and Chack Cabinbin to see which side pulled off “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” better.

Justin Brownlee was not be spared either, as he and Animam waltzed and cha-chaed while the rest laughed.

In the end, everyone took part of the virtual dance floor. Men’s head coach Chot Reyes’ real-time Instagram stories captured how several players formed a circle, each placing their hands on the shoulders or hips of whoever's in front.

The circle got bigger as players kept inserting themselves to be part of it. They marched and waved hands to Rema’s “Calm Down.” Reyes captioned his story, “This train keeps moving.”

Words of encouragement then came after the dancing had died down. To be in the same room as his coaching contemporaries like Reyes and Tim Cone was already a surreal experience for Aquino.

But when two of the PBA’s winningest coaches gave the Gilas Women their flowers, the night’s essence was elevated even more.

“Coach Tim was really telling us na idol nila ‘yung girls because of what they’re doing. So nakakataba ng puso for us coaching staff and makarinig from one of the best coaches, lalo na si Coach Chot rin, saying we’ve been watching you every game,” Aquino said.

“It inspires us to play this way. Hindi lang kami basta-basta kumain with the men’s. Parang soiree talaga. It was fun. Dancing, drinking, eating good food, sobrang saya."

As anti-climactic as the campaign had been for Gilas Women with their silver medal finish, having the Gilas Men celebrate with them gave them the assurance that both squads were on the same pedestal. The gesture made the ladies feel even more special.

“I’m just so happy to be in that group, with Coach Tim Cone, na ina-idolize lang namin pero ngayon, katabi namin, kausap namin, that we’re no different,” Animam said.

“Sobrang two weeks na pagod, to have that kind of fun time, I think we deserve that and we’re just so happy to bond with them. To have that, we’re so thankful. It's an honor and privilege to bond with them. Wala akong masabi sa gabi na ‘yun. Isang gabi lang ‘yun, so might as well seize the moment.”

Newsome, who won his second overall SEA Games gold medal, said the extra efforts the Gilas Men did for their counterparts were worth doing to make sure they have an equal share of the spotlight.

“I think it’s really important to embrace the women’s program as well. They’re after the same goals as we are. They’re aspiring to be up there in the world rankings as we are,” Newsome said.

“Their program has improved so much. Sometimes, the media might be all about the guys, and that might overshadow what the women are doing. So we definitely want to give credit to the women so that they’re seen as well and that the Philippines also loves their women’s basketball.”

After that night, the men’s squad flew back to Manila via Bangkok, Thailand. The women’s side stayed for another day in Phnom Penh, before returning to home soil.

In the few hours the two squads spent together, there were plenty of realizations – about the direction Philippine women's basketball is headed, about who had the best dance moves, and about when such a gathering will happen again.

Newsome is confident there will be more. Double gold or not, the visibility they gave the Gilas Women inspired the ladies to do more.

"It was nice to actually be out there and watch some of their games live whenever we could, just to show we actually support them as well. I think that bonding was healthy for everyone. I think everyone enjoyed it. I can’t wait for the next," he said.


Photo: (c/o PSC-POC handouts)