IT was one close call for Gilas Pilipinas as the nationals squeaked past one big unexpected hurdle, not on the hardwood, but at the airport.
Gilas Pilipinas fortunately escaped the deadly bombing at the Istanbul Ataturk International Airport in Turkey last Tuesday.
Just hours after the boarded their plane bound for Manila, suicide bombers launched a merciless terrorist gun and bomb attack at the Istanbul Airport, leaving 36 people dead and hundreds more hurt.
The team arrived safely home in Manila Wednesday,
Gilas Pilipinas’ last stop in its three-week European trip was supposed to be in Bologna, but its itinerary was penciled to fly out of Italy and go through Istanbul as a connecting flight to Manila.
Immediately upon learning the tragic news, Gilas Pilipinas members expressed their gratitude that they were not affected by the attacks, offering prayers as well through their social media accounts.
“Thank God our Gilas and Turk teams are safe. #Prayers,” said National team coach Tab Baldwin through his @Hob1111 Twitter account.
“We were just there a day before this happened. It’s so surreal. Praying for the victims,” said Jeff Chan (@jeffreichan).
“Me and my teammates was (sic) just there. Wow. Thank you God for watching over us,” said Andray Blatche (@draylive).
“Prayers sent to all those lost and injured in the tragedy at the Istanbul airport,” said Gabe Norwood (@GNorwood5).
“Thank you Lord for the safe flight,” said Troy Rosario (@troyrosario18).
“Grabe dito lang kami kanina pauwi ng Manila. Wala pang five hours bago nangyari ito,” said Marc Pingris (@jeanmarc15)
Gilas assistant coach Josh Reyes was also set to fly out of Istanbul after scouting one of the team’s opponent, France, there his flight was re-routed due to the attacks.
“Glad my flight home was changed. Won’t transit in Istanbul anymore,” said Reyes (@josh_reyes)
The Philippine team will play in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament hosted by the Philippines next week, with the top team earning a berth in the Rio Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, one of the pre-tournament favorites already arrived in Manila a week ahead of the FIBA OQT.
Turkey arrived ahead of all competing countries to accustom itself with the Philippine climate.
The Turkey national basketball team arrived in Manila last Tuesday night to give itself plenty of time to prepare for the FIBA OQT, which will be held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on July 5-10.
As part of Turkey’s preparation, it will play Smart Gilas Pilipinas, which it defeated more than a week ago, 103-68, in an earlier tune-up in Europe, again in an exhibition match tomorrow also at the MOA Arena.
That will serve as the final tune-up for both teams before they plunge to action in the tournament proper next week.
Turkey is led by National Basketball Association veteran big man Omar Asik of the New Orleans Pelicans, Semih Erden and Cedi Osman.
The Turkish squad was welcomed by executives of the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas.
Aside from the Philippines and Turkey, the Manila leg of the OQT will have France, Canada, New Zealand and Senegal as the other competing countries in the six-team battlefield.
Only one of them, the winner of the tournament, will advance a grab a spot in the Rio Olympics in August.