Alas, Gilas Pilipinas' Road to Rio comes to a screeching halt, after the visiting New Zealand Tall Blacks defeated the Philippine national team, 89-80, in the Manila leg of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT).
The loss was extra painful as many believed that this year—and this particular Gilas team—was our best chance to return to the Olympic stage. Reports of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas seriously looking into reverting to its original cadet program, which will consist of the country's top amateur and collegiate players, also mean that we will be starting from scratch.
Although if you think about it, Gilas shouldn't be solely defined by this doomed campaign. Everything it had established and accomplished since its conception in 2010, will pave the way for the success of future national teams.
In light of this honorable exit, FHM takes a trip down memory lane and reminisce Philippine basketball's biggest moments in recent memory.
Breaking the Curse of Korea
Since FIBA allowed professionals to take part in its tournaments in 1989, the Philippines had developed a bitter rivalry with Korea. The Koreans had handed us one heart-crushing loss after another in the past, as humiliating as 20 points and as heartbreaking as a one-point, buzzer-beater. Gilas finally got us over the hump in the semifinal game of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in front of the home crowd. Despite falling to Iran in the gold medal match, it felt good to exorcise our Korean demons after such a long time.
Putting Filipino basketball back on the map
That silver-medal finish qualified the national team to participate at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Bannered by the newly naturalized Andray Blatche, Gilas turned heads with gutsy performances and close losses to groupmates Croatia (81-78), Puerto Rico (77-74) and even third-ranked Argentina (85-81). The Philippine contingent however, wouldn't allow themselves to come home empty-handed...
First World Cup victory in 40 years
Down to their final (non-bearing) game on the global stage, Gilas mustered enough puso to offset the lanky Senegalese and outclassed them in overtime, 81-79, giving the country its first win at the tournament since July 12, 1974. With Blatche fouling out with under two minutes left, long-serving captain Jimmy Alapag lead the way for the locals with 18 points (three triples) and sealed the historic victory with three crucial free throws.
A silver medal for a ragtag crew
Things were expected to look brighter after a couple of fruitful years for Philippine basketball, but an internal conflict prevented the national team to be in full force for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, including the warm-up tilt. Still, Gilas 3.0 held its own and the 2015 William Jones Cup turned out to be Castro's coming-out party as the best point guard in Asia, having been named member of the Mythical Five.
Notwithstanding the seemingly lack of personnel, Gilas' statement lineup almost brought the country to the Olympics (if not for a few questionable calls during the gold medal game against host China). Gilas' "Manong Brigade" and newcomers Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva proved doubters wrong and epitomized our very own brand of basketball. In the end, the stint served as a wake-up call to PBA teams, which eventually committed (almost) all of their players for the recently concluded FIBA OQT.