Our nervous nation's prayers were answered Saturday night. That intense semifinals game between Gilas Pilipinas and South Korea not only finally awarded us the rare privilege of qualifying for the FIBA World Championships in Spain next year (Jayson Castro vs. Tony Parker, anyone?), we also put an end to our ages-old drought against our country's basketball contrapelo. It's like hitting two birds with one stone.
Heck, make those two golden eagles.
That win, we believe, was the sweetest victory in the history of Philippine basketball. Iba ang nararating ng puso!
But alas, tonight is another hurdle our national team must face. As Coach Chot Reyes said during a very emotional press conference backstage after the game (click here for the video), "the objective has been reached, but the dream is at hand."
That's right, playahs: The dream is for Gilas Pilipinas is to become the 2013 FIBA Asia Champions. And standing in their way, ladies and gentlemen, is the big, bad, unforgiving Iran.
After everything our homecourt heroes has done for us, the least we can do is brush up on our knowledge about the Iranian basketball squad—who they are, what to do, who to guard, and how to get ahead. We answer all of that below.
Gilas Pilipinas, para sa inyo 'to!
First off, how did we set up a date with Iran?
Well, destiny called for it to happen. For one, we've been trying to dodge this team all-tournament long. Every practical hoops fan pretty much knew that Iran would make it all the way to the finals, having been crowned as champions in the 2007 and 2009 FIBA Asia Championships. But to really, really answer your question, Gilas Pilipinas set up a date with Iran by laying the smackdown on South Korea in the semifinals, a feat we haven't achieved since...forever. Booyah!
Should we be scared of the Iranians?
In general? Yes! Basketball-wise? Still a yes! There's an excellent reason the country is celebrating last night's Gilas victory like we just won an Olympic gold medal: Aside from breaking the curse against South Korea, we're celebrating the fact that we have officially secured ourselves a spot at the FIBA World Championships in Spain next year, regardless of whether Iran beats us or not in the finals. And that's saying a lot about how the Iranians operate.
Which players should we look out for?
For starters, the most feared Iranian player at the moment is Phoenix Suns big man Hammed Hadadi (third from right; looking tired from all those people clinging to him), who averages 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in only 21.1 minutes of action per game. He appeared to have suffered an injury in their quarterfinals game against Jordan, but he quickly got his groove back in the semis, exploding with 17 points and 14 rebounds against Chinese Taipei last night. Perimeter shooters Sammad Nikkhah Bahrami (guy next to #11; fist-pumping) and Hamed Afagh (#10) are also forces to reckon with, with both men averaging 12 points and 3 rebounds per game. There's also Mehdi Kamrani (#7), who is considered right now as the best point guard in Asia (payag ba kayo, Jayson, Jimmy, and L.A?).
Let's just put it this way: Iran will most likely dominate us on the boards, as they have in their previous outings.
Are you saying Iran is unbeatable?
In Asian competition, sort of... And their ridiculous 32-point average winning margin during this tournament can only solidify that claim. The only team to give them a scare was South Korea, whom the Iranians beat by only 11 points. But the Iranians have had their share of slip-ups in the past, most notably in 2011, when they tore up the competition in the first few rounds only to be upset out of nowhere by Jordan during the quarterfinals, 88-84. Iran had to settle for fifth place, with China eventually taking all the glory.
And we just beat effing South Korea, a nation that has given us so much heartbreak in the past. At this point, we reckon ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!
NEXT: Do we even have a chance here?