The road to the top of Asian Basketball isn’t easy, and Gilas Pilipinas is well aware of that.
This evening, Chot Reyes and his talented group of players face a familiar South Korea team for the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup Quarterfinals. Now if there’s one thing we know about the country’s road to basketball supremacy, it’s that our South Korean friends are very good at breaking our collective hearts, over and over again.
Here’s a quick timeline of the PH-Korea hoop rivalry:
The 2002 face off was particularly painful, owing in no small part to the final minute. With the score at at 66-65 in our opponents’ favor, a young Asi Taulava backed down against his man before performing an awkward semi-spin move, only to recognize a double team approaching. In response, he made a bullet pass to Olsen Racela, who was locked and loaded to shoot a three. Philippine fans held their breath as Racela received the ball and drained it to give Team Puso a two-point lead. But Racela’s victory run towards his team’s bench would be premature.
With 51 seconds of basketball left in the game, South Korea called their final timeout to draw a play. As the ball went back into play, there was a huge miscommunication on the Korean offense, which translated to a missed shot. Out of nowhere, Olsen Racela was on hand to pick up the rebound.
What happened next would become infamous: Racela ran the floor and tried to swift past three defenders before drawing the foul, leading him to the stripe. The announcer goes, “This guy is playing the game of his life.” With a chance to seal the deal and end the curse, Racela, an exceptional free throw shooter, misses both shots.
From then on, Team Philippines would have to suffer the humiliation as South Korea gained possession and insta-drained a three-pointer at the last second, sending Racela and his peers into tears.
While the Philippines would go on to win the Jones Cup match against Korea in 2007, they would later lose thrice in 2009, another in 2010, and twice in 2011, and multiple skirmishes in-between. Come 2013, it was that historic game on Philippine soil where Chot Reyes and his version of the Redeem Team ended the curse for good.
The fierce basketball rivalry between South Korea and the Philippines is a well-documented source of national pride, as seen in this highlight clip from 2013.
But tonight could very well be a different story. The Gilas squad is coming in hot, having swept their entire group stage in convincing fashion. At the same time, South Korea’s doing fine, winning two out of the last three games.
On the Gilas end, we know that the mixture of veterans and youngsters brings a good balance to the court. Long-time leaders like Gabe Norwood, Jayson Castro, and Japeth Aguilar provide the control. While up-tempo players like Terrence Romeo, RR Pogoy, Calvin Abueva, and Jio Jalalon contribute the firepower. And it’s working quite well.
For South Korea, there’s Sekun Oh leading his team in points, rebounds, and efficiency rating. Oh gets his backup from Sunhyung Kim at the wing position and Chan Hee Park at the point. Add the fact that South Korea, has most probably studied and reviewed every Gilas play in the past years.
At this point, it’s hard for fans to tilt the game and see who wins. But the question that remains is whether the ghost of Korea still haunts this edition of Gilas Pilipinas. Overall, the rivalry has taught us to appreciate greatness when it’s present, and to remain persistent when it’s not. To believe in our boys to make us proud, win or lose – it’s the PUSO that counts.