At this time last year, basketball fans from across the globe were stunned about what they had witnessed in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers after the Australian men's basketball team figured in what is now the most infamous fracas in recent memory against host nation Philippines at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
After an investigation, FIBA suspended 10 Gilas players, three Boomers, and two Philippine coaching staff members and issued stiff fines to both countries' basketball federations amounting to a combined P20 million, with the succeeding Philippine home game (against Qatar) played behind closed doors.
Following the closed door victory against the Qataris, the Philippines eventually suffered two home defeats against Iran and Kazakhstan but ultimately booked its slot by triumphing over Qatar and the Kazakhs on the road -- coupled with Korea defeating Jordan to simplify the quotients.
But the Gilas-Boomers brawl was something that everyone would definitely remember.
One year later, Gilas has undergone several changes, and while some of the characters in that carnage are still on the national team, some are no longer part of the program. The same can be said about the Boomers whose national team is now slowly being comprised of NBA campaigners ahead of the competition in August.
Let's check on the key figures from that incident, after one year.
Of the 10 Filipino players suspended by FIBA, only four remain with the national team: Japeth Aguilar (1 game), Troy Rosario (3 games), Andray Blatche (3 games) and RR Pogoy (5 games). It will be recalled that everything erupted after Australian swingman Chris Goulding exchanged rough shots with Pogoy early in the third period.
The other six-Matthew Wright (1 game), Terrence Romeo (3 games), Jayson Castro (3 games), Jio Jalalon (5 games, but was not on the active roster), Carl Bryan Cruz (5 games) and Calvin Abueva (6 games)-have not been selected for the World Cup sortie with Castro declining national team duties due to personal priorities.
Romeo eventually won a championship with his new club San Miguel Beer in the 2019 Philippine Cup, but issues with bone spurs have sidelined him this ongoing Commissioner's Cup. Jalalon also won his first PBA career title with Magnolia in the 2018 Governors' Cup.
Abueva is presently suspended indefinitely by the PBA due to various incidents in the Commissioner's Cup. His case is under appeal.
As for the coaches, head coach Chot Reyes (who had incurred a one-game suspension for allegedly verbally instigating the subsequent melee) had stepped down even prior to the second round of the qualifiers and was succeeded by Yeng Guiao. Then assistant coach Jong Uichico, meted a two-game ban for his actions, has never returned to the program and is now among those spearheading the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) efforts to create coaching seminars nationwide. He is now coaching the Bataan Risers in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
For the three (Fajardo, Norwood, Amer) who stayed on the floor to face the Boomers shorthanded, Fajardo went on to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive PBA MVP award and is still the pillar of the national team while Norwood is still the captain of the nationals. Baser Amer, in his only stint with Gilas, was never re-selected and continues to see action for his PBA team the Meralco Bolts.
Goulding still plays in the National Basketball League (NBL) and is still an integral part of the Boomers, while slot man Thon Maker (3 games) was traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Detroit Pistons in the recently concluded NBA season. However, Maker's name does not appear on the Boomers' roster for the upcoming World Cup as NBA veterans such as Ben Simmons, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Andrew Bogut headline the present lineup.
Daniel Kickert, the seven-foot pivot who was in the middle of the scuffle and irked Gilas the most because of his antics, has also not been reactivated on the team after serving out his five game international ban. He was eventually also sanctioned by the NBL in another occurrence during their season in 2018 and might not have a chance to return for this tournament with Bogut, Aron Baynes and Jonah Boiden available.
With the country being under FIBA's microscope, the SBP has taken stringent measures to ensure the safety of visiting contingents and the viewing public as well as to train its game officials to prevent the escalation of physicality and how to avoid anything even remotely close to what transpired on July 2, 2018.
Recently, the Philippines was tasked with hosting several FIBA-sanctioned 3x3 tourneys and was not stripped of its co-hosting rights of the 2023 World Cup of Basketball.
With many lessons learned, guidelines revised and punishments served, both nations have moved on from the unpleasant event and are now focusing on the mission in China.
But the brawl will always be a stark reminder of how fragile temperaments can get when battling for flag and country and how one thing could definitely lead to another if physicality and emotions go unchecked -- either by the players and coaches themselves, or by the officials who are supposed to keep everything under control.