As the lights inside the Mall of Asia Arena started to dim, Gilas Pilipinas mainstay Marc Pingris walked his way up to the stands and granted selfies with some of their ardent fans clad in the Nationals-inspired royal blue shirts.
For a brief moment, the 6-foot-4 Pingris, long regarded as the heart and soul of Gilas’ defensive wall, gave himself one more chance to soak it all in.
But when the bitter reality struck him, he could barely express his feelings.
“Ahhmmm…Masakit di ba? Talo eh,” Pingris said, his voice cracking, as he tried to fight back tears following a sorry 80-89 setback dealt by an efficient New Zealand side on Wednesday night that put a stunning—and quick—end to Gilas Pilipinas’ ambitious drive to this year’s Rio Olympics.
The Tall Blacks, displaying fluid offense and solid defense throughout, gave the Nationals a stern reality check that the road back to the Olympics stage won’t be any easier than they expected, eliminating them in just the second day of a week-long Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
“Ginawa naman namin ang lahat pero nagkataon na maganda ‘yung mga jump shots nila,” added Pingris, trying his best to convince sports scribes in what he felt spelled the difference in their second straight loss that came on the heels of a 84-93 decision in favor of powerhouse France last Tuesday night.
“Ang daming ano…Kumbaga, nakuhanan kami ng marami rebounds tapos parang hindi kami lumabas na 100 percent ngayon,” he continued, attributing their sluggish start to their overconfidence.
“Siguro inisip namin na kayang-kaya namin sila so kami parang kinaya nila. Parang mas gutom sila nu’ng lumabas (sa dugout) kaysa sa amin. Sila nga duma-dive sa bola.”
Now 34 and one of the Gilas veterans who could have played his final game with the national team, Pingris is convinced this Manila debacle will only spur his younger teammates who might suit up the country’s tricolors in the near future. “Malaking aral ‘to sa team,” he said.
Pingris added, if the could only have his way, he wants the Gilas program to be sustained and developed further.
“Alam naman natin na kaya nating lumaban. Basta ilabas lang ‘yung puso sa paglalaro. Hindi lang ‘yung talent sa talent. Hindi tayo mananalo doon. Sana samahan natin ng puso talaga. ‘Yun naman ang puhunan sa basketball—hard work at puso. Hindi lang talento,” he pointed out.
Asked if he’s still keeping his doors open for another tour of duty with Gilas, Pingris said: “Basta ‘pag kinuha ako, willing pa rin naman ako maglaro o tumulong sa kanila.” — By Jerome Lagunzad