Midway through 2018, Philippine basketball was on a high.
The country had just hosted the 2018 FIBA 3X3 World Cup for the first time.
Over at the five-on-five side, Gilas Pilipinas entered their final home game in the first round of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers with a 4-1 record.
But then July 2, 2018 happened.
Technically, it began a day before as the visiting Australian Boomers ripped the decals of Gilas’ sponsors during their practice session. It drew the ire of some of the team’s backers.
“Aussie team ripping our and FIBA logos on the court of Philippine Arena without asking permission. We will not back down. Those stickers go in. Regardless,” Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan tweeted.
“Nakakalungkot. They not only disrespected the world organizing basketball body but also our home soil,” added Chooks-to-Go president Ronald Mascariñas.
What the Australians did only added fuel to an already heated rivalry.
During the game itself, the Boomers overwhelmed the home-side, building a 79-48 lead with 4:01 left in the third canto.
Roger Pogoy went for a drive against Chris Goulding, who was torching the Philippines. The Australian did not budge and Pogoy bodied him up.
Seeing his teammate being confronted, Daniel Kickert threw a sharp elbow at Pogoy.
The usually-calm Jayson Castro and Andray Blatche went into it with Kickert, while on the other end of the court, Goulding was mugged by Gilas’ bench led by Carl Cruz and Calvin Abueva.
Terrence Romeo threw a quick hammer fist on Thon Maker. Feeling the hit, Maker tried to throw a flying knee at Romeo but missed.
On the other end off the court, Cruz and Castro chased Kickert, while Jiovani Jalalon — together with Allein Maliksi — and Nathan Sobey also figured in a fist fight.
It took almost 10 minutes for security to control the situation. Upon multiple reviews, officials threw out four Australian players and nine Filipino players — leaving Gilas with three players, June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, and Baser Amer.
The International Basketball Federation made swift action, handing out numerous fines and suspensions stemming from the free-for-all.
Abueva was slapped with the harshest ban, suspending him for six games.
Australia’s Kickert and Gilas’ Pogoy, Cruz, and Jalalon were dealt five game bans. Maker, Blatche, Castro, Romeo, and Rosario were given three game suspensions while Japeth Aguilar, Matthew Wright, and Goulding were suspended for one game.
Gilas head coach Chot Reyes was also meted a one-game ban and a fine of 10,000 Swiss Francs. Assistant coach Jong Uichico was given a two-game suspension for punching an Australian player during the melee.
For their part, the SBP was given a CHF 250,000 tab while being forced to hold Gilas’ home game behind closed doors — resulting to millions of Pesos lost in revenue for the federation and the economy of the hosting venue. Basketball Australia was handed a CHF 100,000 bill as well.
Referees Ahmed Al Bulushi of Oman, Hatim Alharbi of Saudi Arabia, and Paul Skayem of Lebanon were not spared as well as FIBA slapped them with a one-year officiating ban.
The SBP tried to remedy the situation by ultimately joining the Asian Games with Filipino-American Jordan Clarkson leading the way. Even with Clarkson, the Philippines could not make it to the podium in the continental meet.
Reyes also ‘stepped aside’ as Gilas head coach, paving the way for Yeng Guiao to become the national team’s chief tactician. Guiao tagged along Caloy Garcia and Ryan Gregorio as his lead assistants.
With the help of the PBA, Guiao had the ‘strongest’ national team pool at his disposal. But the strongest did not entail victories.
Wins hardly came by during the second round of the Qualifiers as Gilas closed out the year with a 1-3 slate to fall to fourth place in Group F.
During their last two games, Gilas gave up three career-highs with Kazakh Alexandr Zhugulin dropping 30 points to lead Kazakhstan to a 92-88 road win over Gilas while Mohammad Jamshidi and Behnam Yakhchali combined for 47 points to power Iran’s 78-70 triumph three days later.
Come February 2019, Gilas’ backs are against the wall. But whether the Philippines’ qualifies for the World Cup or not, the country will look back on that one cold night in Bocaue, Bulacan as the day that changed Philippine basketball.
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