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PH sports scribes to honor Gilas for Asian Games feat

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GILAS Pilipinas defied the odds and emerged as one of the most inspiring sports stories of 2023.

A hastily formed unit under last-minute, anointed coach Tim Cone went to Hangzhou, China for the 19th Asian Games with nary an expectation given the circumstances and experiences it went through weeks leading to the biggest sporting conclave of nations in the region.

But the Filipino cagers rose to the occasion, pulling off one of the greatest comebacks ever in Asiad history on their way to regaining the precious gold that has eluded the country for the last 61 years.

The special feat gave this country of more than 100 million people a lot to cheer about and restored pride and faith in Philippine basketball still being one of the best in Asia.

On January 29 at the grand ballroom of the Diamond Hotel, the entire Gilas Pilipinas team will have its well-deserved moment during the San Miguel Corporation (SMC)-PSA Annual Awards Night as recipient of the 2023 President’s Award.

“They made the nation proud with their epic feat and inspiring story that will be told and retold for years to come,” said PSA president Nelson Beltran, sports editor of The Philippine Star.

The gala night is presented by ArenaPlus, the leading sports entertainment gateway in the country, with the Philippine Sports Commission, Philippine Olympic Committee, PLDT/Smart, and MILO as major sponsors. Others backing the event are Philippine Basketball Association, Premier Volleyball League, 1-Pacman Partylist of Rep. Mikee Romero, and Rain or Shine.

Going to the Asiad, Cone, taking over from predecessor Chot Reyes, only had three weeks at the most to prepare a team which only retained four players from the core that saw action in the FIBA World Cup.

It didn’t help any when the country lost to Jordan in the preliminaries, 87-62, that left the team with no other choice but to win its final four games in order to bag the most-cherished gold.

But in a testament to its resiliency, Gilas didn’t blink and went on a roll starting with an 80-41 rout of Qatar in the quarterfinal qualification, before dodging a bullet against hot-shooting Iran, 84-83, in the Final Eight.

Then came the Miracle in Hangzhou which saw the national team battling back from a 20-point second half deficit to humble host and defending champion China in the semifinals, 77-76, as Justin Browlee nailed two incredible three-pointers in the waning moments that silenced the capacity crowd at the Hangzhou Olympic Centre.

Buoyed by the huge win, a highly-motivated Gilas side showed up against Jordan in the championship round and scored an 80-70 payback to win the country’s first Asiad basketball gold in more than six decades or since the late Hall of Famer Caloy Loyzaga and the rest of the Philippine squad conquered the 1962 edition of the meet in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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