MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines may have gone winless in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but they earned plenty of praise for how they performed against two of the top teams in the world.
A youthful Gilas Pilipinas team that featured no pro player gave host nation Serbia a huge scare in its first game, briefly leading in the fourth quarter before absorbing a slim 83-76 defeat. Against the Dominican Republic the next day, they led at the break then ran out of steam in the second half, taking a 94-67 loss.
Thirdy Ravena, who played for the national team in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in February of last year, insisted that the Gilas players have nothing to be ashamed of despite their 0-2 record in the OQT.
"I think I'm speaking for a lot of people as well when I say this, but the Gilas team definitely exceeded a lot of expectations," Ravena said on "The Game" over the weekend.
Ravena praised how the team fought despite their young age and inexperience at the world level. Moreover, he was impressed at the quality of basketball that they displayed, even against a top team like Serbia.
"It's just so beautiful to watch. I mean, who would expect them to lose by five to Serbia? And I know from the last time that we played them, it wasn't as close," said Ravena, referring to Gilas Pilipinas' blowout loss in the FIBA World Cup in 2019.
"It was definitely nice to watch these young players excel, play their hearts out and really represent the Philippines in all of their games," he added.
"It really made everyone feel na talagang masarap maging Pinoy, at the moment that they were watching. I'm sure of that, because when I was watching their games, that's what I was experiencing the whole time."
"It was very beautiful to watch as well. Hats off to the team, the coaching staff. It was a great run."
The performance of the national team not just in the OQT but also in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers is a testament to their preparation, Ravena also noted.
The team held several training camps at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna leading up to the third and final window of the Asia Cup qualifiers, and the results were impressive. Gilas Pilipinas twice defeated South Korea and also clobbered Indonesia to go 3-0 in the window.
"Coach Tab (Baldwin) does a lot of preparation, and he likes to prepare very early," said Ravena.
"Coach Tab is a perfectionist, that's what he strives for every single practice, and he mentions that," he added.
Ravena further admitted that it's an environment he hopes to be part of once again. While he was unable to join the team in time for the qualifiers, Baldwin has previously said that the door remains open for Ravena to join Gilas.
"I would love to be in that experience once again, just because you learn so much, both on and off the court. Whenever Coach Tab speaks, everyone listens and everyone just learns," said Ravena.
"I'm really happy for those guys and hopefully you know, I get to be part."