Enjoying some alone time at the driving range of Manila Southwoods early Tuesday, Jeff Chan readily put his 7-iron back in the bag when the topic of the Gilas Pilipinas crew he was part of for the 2014 World Cup in Spain was brought up.
“We were really a tight-knit group, we were already a team months before [the tournament],” Chan told the Inquirer in Filipino when asked why that squad made so many heads turn—and even caused their opponents to squirm in their group play matches—in the quaint Spanish city of Seville.
“There were 16 members of that pool, and all 16 were together for two to three months,” he said. “We had a camp in the United States and then we went to Europe—all of us. And I think that says a lot why that team performed well.”
Chan talked when it was made clear that he wasn’t going to be asked to make comparisons of that team to the one that will begin Group A play on Friday against Karl Anthony-Towns and the Dominican Republic at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
“We were also lucky because there weren’t many injuries on that team,” he said as the back spasms of Kai Sotto and the fracture on the right hand of Scottie Thompson gave this group of Nationals just two full weeks together.
“We were more intact because of that.”
But Chan, who scored 17 points on 4-for-6 shooting from three-point range in an 81-78 loss to Croatia and Bojan Bogdanovic in the Philippines’ first game back on the global stage in 40 years, can’t help but point out to the caliber of naturalized player who will lead the Filipinos this time around.
“He is from another level,” Chan said of Jordan Clarkson, the half-Filipino who can only play as a naturalized citizen because of kinks in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) rules. “But like I said, it’s still a different team when you’ve been together for so long, because you know all your tendencies on the court.”
Andray Blatche, that time already in the US when Gilas started camp there, flew with the team to Europe after.
And though there were many things said about the former Brooklyn Net in the National Basketball Association, the time that Blatche spent with the team enabled them to form a band of brothers that went to war together.“We weren’t together only on the basketball court,” the left-handed Chan explained.
“We dined together, spent nights outside together.
We really knew each other [back then].
“I am not saying that they (this batch of Nationals) don’t have a brotherhood like we did, but compared to other countries—and we are not highly rated as they are—they have been together for months, if not years.”
Rajko Toroman, the Serbian coach who drew up the Gilas Pilipinas blueprint more than a decade back, in a story released by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas a couple of days back said that this Gilas crew is the strongest Philippine team ever assembled.
Unlike Batch 2014 when Chan said: “No one ever expected us to be playing close games.”
While ending up with a 1-4 record in group play that year, it was only Greece, then ranked well inside the top 10 in the world even with a raw Giannis Antetokounmpo in the roster, that Chan felt they didn’t stand a chance.
All the others — Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico — barely escaped the Filipinos.
“Our target [to beat] that year was really Senegal,” Chan said as he recalled team meetings and huddles with coach Chot Reyes. “But after losing [to Croatia] by three in our first game, coach (Chot) asked us to try and take the remaining games all the way. And we almost did and we are very proud of that.”
The Argentines won, 85-81, the Puerto Ricans were bailed out by J.J. Barea, 77-73, in overtime. Only the Greeks won by twin digits, 82-70, before the Filipinos pulled out an 81-79 overtime win over Senegal to hit their target.With just three group games slated this time, Chan sees the road to be tough—almost scary—especially with world No. 10 Italy there. Angola is the fourth team in the group.
And Reyes has publicly declared his charges’ targets this time—Anthony-Towns and the Dominicans and then the Angolans.
“Who knows, we might just shock the world,” Chan said. “It’s time to rally behind the team now.” INQ
(Editor’s note: The writer, Inquirer’s assistant sports editor, covered Gilas Pilipinas in the 2014 World Cup.)
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