JAKARTA—The Philippines’ basketball campaign in the 2018 Asian Games ended in triumphant fashion on Friday, with a 109-55 victory over an overmatched Syrian squad at the GBK Istora.
Technically, it was mission accomplished for the Philippine team. They wound up fifth in the tournament, improving on its seventh place finish four years ago in Incheon, South Korea. That was the marching order given to the team by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) before it left for this city.
Yet it was in many ways a bittersweet finish. It was true that coach Yeng Guiao and his team were put together hastily. The team managed less than two weeks of practice in Manila before the Asian Games. But the squad was composed of the core of Rain Or Shine, and joined by several former Elasto Painters.
With former Rain Or Shine coach Guiao calling the shots, the team was quick to develop chemistry. Veteran Gabe Norwood said the squad's first practice was like a reunion, just like old times at Rain Or Shine practice.
Interview with coach Yeng Guiao. Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News
Expectations for the team shot through the roof when Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson got clearance to join the squad, just in time for their highly anticipated game against China. Unfortunately, even Clarkson’s presence was not enough to propel the Philippines to victories over China and South Korea, and they would wind up playing in the classification phase instead for a medal.
“We came up a little short,” Guiao told reporters on Friday night, after their last game. “But I’m still happy with the effort. For JC, Jordan Clarkson, we hope that he can come back and play for us again.”
“I’m happy that we were able to improve our finish from the last Asian Games — from seventh place to fifth place now,” he also said. “I’m also happy with the way we played our last game.”
Guiao insisted that the team did not expect to beat Syria by such a large margin; indeed, they were expecting “a hard game.”
“But I guess,” he said, “The guys wanted to prove something.”
Interview with Christian Standhardinger. Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News
Guiao had been emotional ahead of the game against Syria, and expressed his gratitude to the players and coaches that he worked with in Jakarta.
It was his first time to handle the national team in almost a decade, and the circumstances could not have been more difficult. Afterward, when asked if the experience was worth the drama, the multi-titled mentor gave a typically thoughtful and honest answer.
“You know, before I came here and they offered me this opportunity, I was having second thoughts,” said Guiao. “I thought that it was a no-win situation, ano?”
“Maghahanda ka for one week, then you pick players from different teams. I thought it was a no-win situation. I thought we were setting ourselves up to fail,” he admitted.
“But I was wrong. I was dead wrong. These guys made a commitment, they played their hearts out,” Guiao said. “I have no regrets.”
“I will do this again in a heartbeat,” he added emphatically.
Interview with James Yap. Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News
It was clear that Guiao’s players shared his sentiments. Several of them posted emotional messages on social media, with Norwood saying that it was an “absolute honor" to have played in the Asian Games.
“Though we came short of bringing home a medal, I’m extremely proud of the effort we put out on the court. At the end of the day, it was all for the country,” said the national team mainstay.
Another Rain Or Shine veteran, Chris Tiu, said he will “always cherish this experience.”
“Although we are disappointed that we didn't bring home a medal, what we realized from this tournament is that the Philippines is just a few days/weeks of practice away from becoming the best basketball team in Asia,” said Tiu.
“There's a lot to be learned from this tournament and we remain hopeful.”
The work is far from over for Guiao and the national team players, however. They returned to the Philippines on Saturday, and on Monday night, they will go back to practice — this time to prepare for the second round of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
A bulk of the Asian Games team will still be called up, but Guiao has also tapped players such as Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, Greg Slaughter, Scottie Thompson, Ian Sangalang, and Matthew Wright to reinforce the squad.
“There is very little time for rest,” admitted Guiao, who managed to arrive in time to watch his NLEX Road Warriors take on San Miguel Beer at the Araneta Coliseum on Saturday night. “But we feel energized by the support of our countrymen.”
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)