Outstanding guard play has always been the difference-maker in many of our most indelible performances in international basketball meets over the years. In 1973, local hoops icons Robert Jaworski and Bogs Adornado led an All-Pinoy national squad in capturing the Asian Basketball Championship, relying heavily on their smarts, speed, and prolific outside shooting.
Fast forward to today and we have the likes of Terrence Romeo, Jayson Castro, and Matthew Wright carrying the offensive cudgels for a national team so beloved for its passion, resilience, and tenacity. What's exhilirating is, our weapon of choice to torment our more imposing Asian rivals has hardly changed. Give the ball to our small guys and wait for the inevitable—and explosive!—magic to happen.
Our thrilling Romeo-led 96-87 win over perennial tormentors China saw lethal Gilas sticking to a classic go-to script. One that we've refined over the years since the inception of FIBA Asia in 1960 with glowing contributions from these legends...
Terrence Romeo (Beirut, 2017 FIBA Asia Cup)
While Gilas was outstanding all throughout their 2017 FIBA Asia Cup debut, it took Romeo's heroics in endgame to bury the vaunted Chinese team for good. With China clawing back from 17 points down and capturing the lead, 87-84, the streaky Global Port guard scored eight straight points in a phenomenal run that broke the backs of this flopping-happy Chinese squad, raising the decibels of our cheers. He naturally deserved to be one of the most talked about personalities on social media that night.
Jayson Castro (Changsha, 2015 FIBA Asia)
Facing Iran in a rematch of their 2013 finals, the Philippines were aching to exact vengeance against the feared Middle Easterners. Down 47-37 in the third quarter, Castro stepped up, puncturing the interior with nifty curls and drives and, combining efforts with Romeo, scoring from beyond the arc. Castro’s speed was blinding, even for Iran’s topnotch point guard, Mahdi Kamrani, to contain. When the smoke cleared, the Blur scored 26 points, 3 steals, 3 dimes, and 2 boards to lead Gilas to a 87-73 dismantling of the mighty Iranians.
Paul Lee (Wuhan, 2014 FIBA Asia Cup)
It was baptism of sorts for Paul Lee at the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, who was hoping to earn a slot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. In the bronze medal game versus China, steely Lee swished three free throws with no time remaining after being fouled from the three-point line. Despite the heckling and jeers from the hostile crowd, Lee cooly sank all three FT’s to give the Philippines an 80-79 squeaker of a victory.
Jimmy Alapag (Manila, 2013 FIBA Asia)
Chot Reyes seemed to find a security blanket in his former TNT player, Jimmy Alapag, who has bailed him out several times in all their years together. At the 2013 FIBA Asia semifinal game vs arch-rival South Korea, Alapag proved this again, scoring 14 points, 12 of which from beyond the arc. Of his four 3s, none was more important than that dagger the Mighty Mouse threw in the last three minutes that helped Gilas to regain the lead, 76-75, ultimately saving his team from imminent collapse.
LA Tenorio (2012 Jones Cup)
Okay, the Jones Cup isn’t a FIBA-sanctioned tournament, but it's one of those competitive contests valued by Filipino. In 2012, Gilas 2.0 entered its last game in the tournament facing the United States, having lost only once (to Lebanon), and needing a win to nab the title. Tenorio exploded with 20 points, including 11 in the final quarter, to overcome a 14-point deficit and win, 76-75. With 16 seconds left, Tenorio used a Marcus Douthit pick in a two-man game, scoring from the 15-feet elbow to retake the lead. A strong defensive stop prevented the Americans from scoring, giving the Philippines its fourth Jones Cup title.
Jimmy Alapag (Tokushima, 2007 FIBA Asia)
Once more, Alapag proved to everyone why he’s Chot Reyes’ most important player. After losing to Iran, 75-69, in the team’s first game, we faced China next in need of a win. Trailing up to the end of the third quarter, the Philippines uncorked 23 points in the final period while limiting China to only 17, with Alapag leading the searing rally alongside Mark Caguioa to eliminate the Chinese. The Mighty Mouse topscored for the squad with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 3 dimes.
Allan Caidic (Beijing, 1990 Asian Games)
When Allan Caidic’s guns start firing, you tell him to keep shooting. That was what Coach Robert Jaworski did, instructing every member of the Centennial Team to give the 1990 PBA MVP the ball and provide picks to free him up. Down 43-29 at the end of the first half versus the Japanese in the first of their two games at the 1990 Asian Games, Caidic, playing despite a broken hand, suddenly went berserk, leading a 21-0 blast at the start of the second half and scoring 34 of the team’s 57 points in the second half to nail an impressive 86-78 victory.
Samboy Lim (Kuala Lumpur, 1986 Asian Basketball Championship)
In the Philippines’ final game against China in the ’86 ABC, a hostile crowd met the Filipinos as many Mainlanders came out to cheer for our opponents. It was a close game with the Philippines up, 48-42, at the half. And then, Samboy Lim happened! The high-flying ex-King Letran Knight dazzled his taller rivals, attacking the paint with no fear, and scoring from beyond the arc, to lead a 17-4 run that allowed us to pull away, 65-46. Lim’s explosion, coupled with Caidic’s three-point shooting, took the starch out of the Great Wall, as the Skywalker finished the game with 16 markers, just behind Caidic’s pacesetting 22 points.
Chip Engelland (1985 Jones Cup)
The Philippines faced the United States Golden Eagles team made up of future NBA players Joe Wolf, Harold Pressley, Kenny Gattison, Kevin Henderson and NCAA standouts Jay Bilas and Tommy Amaker in the finals of what many Pinoy hoops fans consider as one the most iconic games of the legendary and Ron Jacobs-coached Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC) team. Both teams entered the Finals unbeaten, but the Eagles were touted the solid favorites. The close game went into overtime. It was the NCC's outside sniping that frustrated the American throughout the showdown. Engelland, now shooting coach of the San Antonio Spurs, exploded for 43 points, mostly from beyond the arc. Despite the injury to center Dennis Still, many would remember the frustration etched on the Americans' faces every time Engelland, Samboy Lim, and Allan Caidic scored a trey in this team's unforgettable 108-100 title-clinching victory.
Hector Calma (Manila, 1982 FIBA-Asia Youth)
While many fans attribute the Philippine Youth team’s gold medal victory against China, 74-63, in the 1982 Asian Youth Tournament to chief gunner Alfie Almario’s outside sniping, no one will question who served as the glue to that stunning victory. Solid underdogs against a Chinese team led by Wang Libin and Wang Fei, the Philippines emerged victorious thanks to Hector Calma, who orchestrated our team's precision-oriented offense while solving the Chinese’s man-zone defensive riddle. It was Calma’s breakout game after several years of playing in the shadow of his more esteemed contemporaries like Marte Saldaña, Alex Clariño, and Bokyo Lauchengco.