The shower of red and yellow confetti inside SMART-Araneta Coliseum Thursday night signified Gilas Pilipinas’ continuing reign in Southeast Asia as the undisputed basketball kings in the region.
But in every reign, there will always be those who will try all they can to overthrow the rulers. Such is the case for the ever-competitive Indonesia, who stood in the Filipinos’ way that night, with hopes of wielding the upset axe to take down the region’s giants.
Prior to the virtual gold medal bout, the Indonesians, a team composed of Indonesian Basketball League veterans, were steamrolling over their counterparts, racking up five wins in a row to collect an unblemished 5-0 win-loss card.
Making their run more remarkable was the fact that they played in their first four games with a depleted unit. Naturalized Indonesian Jamarr Johnson and Indonesian-American Arki Wisnu had issues regarding their papers, trimming Indonesia to a nine-man team then.
With their display of their own brand of basketball, and with the way they posted victories, having an average margin of 31.8 points, it was heavily expected that the veteran-laden Indonesian side will serve as the most legitimate contender for the Philippines.
But then again, Gilas made it known that the Philippines will always be an untouchable force in the region, and sent that message clearly at the expense of the Indonesians, 97-64. The title-clinching victory also grew the country’s SEABA gold medal collection to eight.
Simply put, the week-long tourney was a showcase of how lethal the Philippines is, and was a stamp of class to seal that the region’s basketball landscape will always revolve around the Filipinos, despite the major improvements other countries have undergone.
And for the 28-year-old Johnson, a New Jersey native who was naturalized last year to be able to suit up in the Indonesian pro league, the Indonesians simply just could not provide any answer to respond to Gilas.
“We obviously are undersized and undermanned against a team like the Philippines. There’s no way we can defeat them,” lamented the athletic 6-foot-5 forward, who averaged 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in two games. “It’s gonna be hard for any nation to beat the Philippines at this time.
“Hats off to them, and they’re just superior at this time.”
With Gilas head coach Chot Reyes fielding in a line-up composed of PBA stars that will still be a force in the FIBA Asia Cup, the team was strongly a cut above the competition. And that composition is what made it challenging for all teams, says Johnson.
“In basketball you need a couple of things. You need athleticism and you need size. And the Philippines have both of that,” Johnson remarked. “They have three six-foot-10 guys and like a really solid core. It’s almost impossible with out roster right now to even compete.
“It’s impossible. They’re just too big.”
But despite the stinging defeat, the Indonesians held their heads high, as there was totally nothing to be ashamed of. They will fly back to their motherland with their fourth SEABA silver medal overall in bag, and that alone is already an achievement.
“I knew coming in that it was going to be a challenging experience for us. They’re bigger than us in so many ways but our management is satisfied with how we performed,” shared the 2016 IBL Rookie MVP with CLS Knights Surabaya.
Now that the SEABA tournament has concluded, Indonesia and all the teams’ focus are now set to the next contest, the 2017 SEA Games, set to be held this August in Malaysia. And, Johnson and the team aims to finish the biennial sporting event standing at the podium.
“I just feel like for SEA Games, Indonesia’s goal is to get second. For us to get second is satisfying for our team, for our management,” said Johnson.
“If that’s what they are happy with then I will do my best to be okay with that as well.’