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Hoop Nut: ‘Lumaban pa rin’ – Gilas Boys’ journey at the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup

Sometimes, you can give a sport everything you have, and it still won’t give anything back.

That’s what happened in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey, where the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup unfolded.

The Gilas Youth U17 national basketball team, in the face of insurmountable odds, left everything on the floor.

Despite that, they fly home with nary a win, heralding the end of an arduous journey marked by overwhelming challenges.

Our young athletes and team staff gave the sport, the program, and the country everything they had. In my mind, they showcased a spirit of resilience that deserves, at the very least, a degree of admiration and respect.

Sure, sometimes even resilience doesn’t necessarily lead to a notch on the win column. We know that. We saw that.

Lest we forget, though, this team has come quite a long way.

2018-fiba-u18-asia-gilas-kai-sotto Hoop Nut: 'Lumaban pa rin' - Gilas Boys' journey at the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports news

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They didn’t have the generational size and length of the last Gilas Youth team that qualified for the U17 World Cup (i.e., the team that featured Kai Sotto and Carl Tamayo, among others).

2022-FIBA-Under-16-Asian-Championship-Gilas-Caelum-Harris Hoop Nut: 'Lumaban pa rin' - Gilas Boys' journey at the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports news


They also didn’t have the sheer athleticism of the previous Gilas Youth U16 team from 2022 (i.e., the team that featured Caelum Harris and Jacob Bayla, among others).

And yet, this team still managed to plant our flag back on the world stage.

Remember that just a year ago, this same team celebrated an exhilarating triumph in the 2023 SEABA U16 Qualifiers in Surabaya, Indonesia.

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They swept all their games and clinched the SEABA title (our first since 2017) with a dazzling display of talent and teamwork. Riding on this wave of success, they advanced to the 2023 FIBA U16 Asia Cup, where their journey to the World Cup began in earnest.

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In that tournament, Gilas Youth achieved momentous victories, including defeating Korea at the U16 level for the first time and overcoming erstwhile undefeated Japan to secure their berth in the World Cup.

For only the second time since Australia and New Zealand joined FIBA Asia, Gilas Youth finished among the top four teams and advanced to the biennial global youth basketball tournament.

Eventually, however, after landing in Istanbul and in the middle of a tune-up game against Canada, the excitement and euphoria of qualification were soon tempered by unforeseen adversity.

Just two days before the World Cup tipped off, Gilas Youth stalwart Kieffer Alas, the linchpin of the team’s offense, was ruled out due to a sprained left ACL.

This setback was an extremely heavy blow, exacerbating the uncertainty of what lay ahead and further compounding the already very significant odds stacked against us. And yet our young athletes pressed on.

They knew full well that their group featured two top 10 boys teams based on the FIBA World Ranking for Boys Presented by Nike (Spain and Lithuania) and a top 15 team (Puerto Rico).

Still, Gilas Youth marched towards a virtually guaranteed and nearly absolute abyss.

They knew the path ahead was fraught with practically impassable perils, yet they chose to face this head-on. In this, I am reminded of Brave Horatius, Captain of the Gate.

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Despite losing all seven games, with an average margin of over 37 points, our players never wavered in their commitment. Each game was a testament to their valor, their refusal to back down, and their steadfast dedication to representing the Philippines on the global stage.

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In a very real way, they embodied this quote as delivered by Atticus Finch from the classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” — “I wanted you to see what real courage is… It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

In the world of sport, it’s always easy to measure success in wins and losses. Many may disagree, but we choose to believe that the true spirit of sport actually lies in the battles fought, the perseverance shown, and the heart displayed, even in the face of defeat. This is especially palpable at the youth level, where values and character remain malleable.

2024-FIBA-U17-World-Cup-Argentina-def-Gilas-Kurt-Velasquez Hoop Nut: 'Lumaban pa rin' - Gilas Boys' journey at the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports news

(C) FIBA.Basketball

As such, the U17 team’s journey is not just about the scores on the board but about the indomitable spirit that carried them through every challenge.

They played not just for personal glory but for the pride of wearing their nation’s colors, for the honor of raising our flag and standing among the world’s best.

It’s not easy to see that, we get it. Frustration is understandable.

However, we should not let that frustration fester into bitterness, resentment, and hate, especially not towards people who sacrificed time, effort, and expense to represent our country. We must resist the urge to rest our heads in a dark place, where we choose not to believe in silver linings or happy endings (yes, that’s from another classic novel).

In the midst of adversity, it’s crucial to anchor our spirit on the victories that paved the way to this stage and the moments of brilliance that defined this team’s journey. After all, these young athletes have laid a foundation of hope and inspiration for future generations.

2024-FIBA-U17-World-Cup-Gilas-def-USA-Cayden-Boozer-x-Edryn-Morales Hoop Nut: 'Lumaban pa rin' - Gilas Boys' journey at the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports news


As one of the player’s fathers recently posted, “Whatever the struggle may be, you can decide that no matter how tough it gets, you will stay true to your goals — even if life knocks you down, you will get back up again and never stop fighting.”

Again, it’s understandable that there are calls for introspection after such a challenging tournament. Yes, the outcomes were not what we wanted.

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That said, these moments of struggle have forged the team’s character, which will be crucial as some of them will join the build-up to the 2024 SEABA U18 Qualifiers next week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

And so as we continue to reflect on the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup, let’s not lose sight of the courage and determination of our young athletes and staff.

2024-FIBA-Under-17-World-Cup-Gilas-vs-Lithuania-Flag-Ceremony Hoop Nut: 'Lumaban pa rin' - Gilas Boys' journey at the 2024 FIBA U17 World Cup Bandwagon Wire Basketball Gilas Pilipinas  - philippine sports news


The truth is that in every dribble, every pass, and every shot, our U17 team represented the hopes and dreams of our nation. On the flip side, the reality is that the scores just did not reflect their hard work, their courage, and resilience. That’s just how sport is.

Amidst the ordeal in Istanbul, nobody suffered more greatly and more desperately than those who put on our country’s colors and fought on the floor. This is to honor them because they gave everything they had without really getting anything back.

Because they knew they were licked, to begin with, but they began anyway and saw it through till the end no matter what.

Baon at bugbog na, lumaban pa rin… para sa bayan.

Written By

Enzo Flojo is a columnist for FIBA and an assistant coach for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets. His motto in life is to never be afraid to lose.

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