Gilas Men bring home Asian Games gold medal after 61 years
Published on October 6, 2023

HANGZHOU — With the son of a member of the last Philippine basketball team to win the Asian Games title watching at ringside, Gilas Pilipinas subdued Jordan in the final on Friday, 70-60, to bring back to the shores the gold medal after 61 years.

Richard Bachmann, chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission, was at courtside when the Nationals kicked off wild celebration before the final buzzer, with the hometown crowd applauding in the awarding ceremony the team that buried a dagger deep in its heart in the Final Four last Wednesday.

The Philippines, with Olympian Kurt Bachmann, along with Alberto Reynoso, Narciso Bernardo, Engracio Arazas, Manny Jocson and Roehl Nadurata, swept all its seven matches during the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, overwhelming Japan in the final 101-67.

“Witnessing our Gilas Pilipinas take back the Asian basketball throne was one of the monumental victories for Team Philippines here in Hangzhou —our fourth gold medal as of date,” said the younger Bachmann.

“My father, who was a part of the team that last won the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, would be very proud of this Gilas squad, who showed resilience and team spirit.”

Having dominated the first three editions of the Asiad, it, however, was the last time the Nationals had a gold medal hanging from their necks, finishing second in 1990 and third in 1986 and 1998.

Until now at Hangzhou, where Gilas forged a fire that kept burning through harrowing one-point victories over Asian powerhouses Iran and China, before consuming Jordan in their rematch.

Probably deciding that six decades was long enough, the 2023 Gilas Pilipinas team — coached by two-time PBA Grand Slam coach Tim Cone, who was seven years old when the 1962 Nationals lorded it over the Games — exacted revenge on the Jordanians, their preliminary round tormentors, in regaining basketball supremacy in the continent.

“Six decades!” Cone shouted amid the bedlam. “We caught them on an off-shooting night.”

Jordan, which beat the Philippines by 25 in the group phase but shot just 26 percent in the final (18 of 69), wouldn’t give up the ghost even with an eight-point deficit with 4.7 seconds to go, fouling Chris Newsome before letting the clock ran out.

Cone, who repeatedly declared his desire to get another shot at Jordan after the lopsided loss on September 30, got his wish, winning the gold and in the process surpassing his own achievement of delivering to the country its last Asian Games basketball medal, a bronze with the Philippine Centennial Team in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad.

Unlike before when it trailed early against Jordan and rallied to pull even before fading, Gilas dictated the pace early this time, as planned, briefly wobbled in the second quarter, but eventually turned steady as everyone rose to the challenge of a championship game.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al S. Panlilio lauded the Gilas team while expressing gratitude to its prime movers and major supporters.

“I am so elated with the performance of our national team, being Asian champs again after 61 years,” Panlilio said.

“I would like to thank MVP [Manny V. Pangilinan, SBP chairman emeritus] and RSA [Ramon S. Ang, SMC president and CEO] for their unwavering support. I would also like to thank the PBA led by its chairman Ricky Vargas and vice chairman Bobby Rosales. I remember Ricky saying we will not back down knowing it will be high risk.”

Panlilio similarly gave a nod to Barangay Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua, who was appointed team manager, and to PBA commissioner Willie Marcial, named deputy team manager.

“They both never left the side of coach Tim Cone,” said.

The president and CEO of PLDT and Smart Communications reserved special accolade for Cone and the Gilas players.

“Of course, I can’t thank Tim enough for accepting a task that was Herculean. His mastery of the game showed in the Asian Games. Thank you too for the 12 brave souls who played for flag and country. I am just so proud of this achievement.”

PBA chairman Ricky Vargas, who persuaded the Board of Governors to throw its support behind the Gilas-Asian Games team, which was hurriedly formed in less than three weeks time, said the Nationals performed beyond expectations.

“It was awesome, unbelievable, unforgettable, which filled me with many precious moments,” Vargas gushed. “We were happy with being No. 4. But when we beat China, it dawned on us that we could be No. 1, and there was no turning back after that.”

Justin Brownlee, the hero of Gilas’ improbable victory over China, had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists and got ample support from Ange Kouame, whose breakout game came at the most opportune time as he contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds. Newsome, who guarded Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, added 13 points and Scottie Thompson 11.

Hollis-Jefferson led Jordan with 24 points but saw his teammates starved for points, especially shooter Sami Bzai, who just had 3 points, and Fadi Ibrahim (13), the hots hands when the two teams first met.

The Nationals built a 28-15 advantage in the second quarter as the Jordanians struggled offensively. But Hollis-Jefferson sparked a surge of 11 straight points with a 3-pointer during a 14-1 run that erased the deficit.

The Jordanians buried four 3-pointers in that roaring comeback that had the Chinese crowd cheering for them, especially Hollis-Jefferson, and booing Justin Brownlee, their tormentor in the semifinals .

Halftime was tied 31-all as a Jordan putback at the buzzer was nullified upon review.

Gilas shot just 5 of 17 in the first quarter as Calvin Oftana, who was scoreless in the teams’ preliminary round meeting, relieved his woes by going 0 for 4. Worse, Brownlee picked up his second foul halfway through the opener although he managed to stay away from his third until late in the game.

Oftana redeemed himself later with key baskets, including a 3-pointer.

Hollis-Jefferson had a nightmarish first 10 minutes, going 1 of 9, while Ibrahim missed three straight shots after hitting his first — a triple — to open the game. But the NBA journeyman roused up his teammates with a stellar second quarter explosion that took the doldrums out of an otherwise staid gold medal game.

Then things got more exciting in the back-and-forth third quarter before Gilas seized control in the fourth with timely clutch hits.

Host China, meanwhile, vented all its frustration from its heartbreaking Final Four loss to the Philippines by routing Chinese Taipei 101-73 for the bronze medal, a finish that denied the Mainlanders a shot at a ninth Asiad basketball gold medal from 1978.

In the matches to determine placings at the Zhejiang University Gymnasium, Iran crushed Saudi Arabia 92-60 to take 5th place, while South Korea settled for 7th place by beating Japan 74-55, a revenge win by the Koreans who lost to the Japanese 83-77 in the preliminaries.

The Nationals left Hangzhou at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for the two hour bus ride to Shanghai, where they have a scheduled flight for Manila at 4 p.m. Cone broke the “bad news,” however, on the way to the airport, that their flight home will be delayed by four hours.