<
>

Through their eyes: Chot Reyes, Jimmy Alapag, Gabe Norwood recall the time Gilas ended the Korean curse

Editor's note: To mark 10 years of the Gilas Pilipinas program, ESPN5.com will be publishing a "Gilas series" with one article a day for the next 11 days. The following is a mini oral history on Gilas' historic win against Korea on August 10, 2013.

Seven years ago, Gilas Pilipinas beat Korea in the semifinals of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and qualified for the FIBA World Cup for the first time in four decades. Here's the story behind that historic game, as told by three members from that Gilas squad: former coach Chot Reyes and former national team players Jimmy Alapag and Gabe Norwood.


What do you remember about the day of the game?

Gabe Norwood: I just remember the time and the intensity. I think everybody was pretty anxious with the opportunity. Coach Chot had, in the past, not even just during the tournament but always in our training camps and things like that, he always kinda mentioned and kinda thought that we'd have to go through Korea, you know for whatever reason. And also basically instilled in us the history of our battles with them. So I think seeing it all align kind of what we envisioned, we were pretty locked in. I think from in the morning from shootaround all the way up to game time.

Jimmy Alapag: I remember the day of the game and thinking, "This is just how i thought things would play out." With all of the bad history we had against Korea, this was our opportunity. I remember the bus ride to the arena and seeing everyone in the streets cheering for us. It was amazing! The bus was completely quiet, but I remember Gabe and I playing Words with Friends. It was a gameday routine for us on the bus. For me it was just a way to relax my mind because I knew once we got to the arena, it was time to lock in for the game.

Chot Reyes: It was a day like any other during the tournament. I got up early, did my breathwork, then went for my morning run around Glorietta, stopping at the chapel in Greenbelt. I had breakfast at one of the coffee shops close to the hotel because I wanted to be myself just to gather my thoughts and not be bothered by anyone until it was time to leave for our morning shootaround. I remember during the shootaround the atmosphere was pretty relaxed, though quieter than usual. The guys knew the magnitude of the game at hand. We went through our regular routine, viewed film of Korea, then went back to the hotel for lunch. I took my usual pre-game nap after lunch, and pretty soon it was time to leave for the game. Again, it was quieter than usual in the team bus. I liked the energy. The guys were ready.

What was said in the locker room before the game?

Gabe: (Coach Chot) always puts us in a really good mental space. You know I'm not sure if other guys have said it, but he likes to have us all lock in and meditate and kinda, you know, lock out distractions and really focus in on what the task is at hand. I think we were just ready to play basketball. To be honest, I think we were so excited playing at home, knowing how the crowds were the whole tournament. You know every single game was packed, whether we were playing Jordan or we were playing Taipei or Kazakhstan. You know every game was filled to the rafters. So we knew what the environment was gonna be like. And you know having leaders like Coach Chot and having Jimmy (Alapag) really just having us focus. Man, we were just ready to throw the ball up and get playing.

Jimmy: Coach just talked about embracing the moment. We had a special opportunity for Philippine basketball, so leave everything we had on the court.

Chot: This is what I told them:

"When I was thinking about what to say to you this morning, I couldn't help but think of my dad, Gilbert, and how I wished he were here now. You see my father was my biggest fan. He never missed a game from when I was playing to the time I was coaching. Until he had to leave for the US to work, at age 65. Yes, at an age when most people retire, my dad migrated with my mom to work. He hated it. But he had to do so to get the papers that will enable them to petition my other siblings to live in America. He didn't even survive two years there. Yes, my father passed away at 66, more than 6 years ago. He had cancer, and when all his vital signs were gone and it was only the respirator keeping him alive, I had to pull the plug. My mom couldn't do it, his sister and my brother couldn't do it. So the doctor asked me, if I'd do it. And knowing what my dad would've wanted, I did it. I pulled the plug on his life. As an act of love and courage. I tell you my story to complete our circle. We have told our individual stories. Now it's time to write our story. The Gilas story."

When Marcus Douthit went down late in the first half, what was the first thing that entered your mind?

Gabe: It was tough. But I think that's also a testament to Marcus and just his professionalism, you know what I mean? Like he went down, naturally he was frustrated. Naturally he was upset. But at the same time, super supportive. And you know, I don't know if he pulled the big guys aside -- Japeth (Aguilar), Ranidel (de Ocampo), June Mar (Fajardo) and Ping (Marc Pingris) -- but if he did, whatever he spoke to them resonated and he continued to support, he continued to lead from that role. And I think that's something that we all just fed off of, you know. To see our guy down but also know that he's still fighting any way he can with us.

Jimmy: When Marcus went down, I think we were all initially concerned because he was our best player. But I remember during the timeout immediately after, and just looking around the huddle for a brief moment. Everybody was locked in and I didn't see any sign of panic from anyone. I felt this was the moment where the chemistry and camaraderie that we had built would show itself because we were all ready. There was absolute trust of each guy in that huddle.

Chot: Next man up. Honestly I wasn't too worried because I knew we had the team to beat Korea, even without Marcus. Plus, the fact that we had practiced playing teams like the NZ Tall Blacks without him, made us comfortable playing All-Filipino. This was not our first time. We were prepared, and I told the players the same thing in the huddle, "We've been here before. Let's see what kind of team we really are."

Gilas had a good third period, but of course Korea came back and grabbed the lead late. Describe the mood of the team when Korea inched ahead.

Gabe: Jimmy was rallying us. I mean Jimmy is usually that kind of stabilizing [presence]. I mean as fiery and as emotional as he is, he's also very good at kinda locking us back in. And I think that's just the relationship he and Coach Chot have. Coach Chot trusting him in those positions, to lead by example, and you know verbal motivation. But I remember distinctly that we made a run, I can't remember if it was midway though the third, but there were a couple moments. I think I might have hit a three in the corner or something happened. We rattled off some points and I remember Coach Chot telling us to calm down. Like we were, you know, the game wasn't over yet and sure enough that was when Korea made their run and took the lead that you're speaking of. So I guess it was Coach Chot kind of pushing and understanding the situation from his vantage point a little bit better than we could on the court.

Jimmy: We knew they would make their run. They're such a dangerous team, especially with their shooting and ball movement. But I think we had an entire team of guys who had been in those moments in their career, so we knew how sharp we had to be in the end game.

Chot: The mood was all business. We were on a very even keel because we expected it. We were so familiar with our history with Korea that we knew too well their ability to come back, so we had talked about this. We actually told ourselves that no matter what lead we get, that's no insurance because Korea always comes back. So when Korea grabbed the lead, we just made the necessary adjustments.

Jimmy's triple. Your reaction.

Gabe: Man, I was on the court and I was running, naturally. Trying to be aggressive and get offensive rebounds and keep possessions for us. But when I saw Jimmy go up for the shot I think I was right along the baseline, so trying to position myself just in case the shot came off. Well, right when it hit - at the top of its peak at the arch, I could tell it was going in and I felt like I was looking through the bottom of the basket and I literally saw the ball just like drop right through. And man, the crowd, everything was just...it's hard to put into words. But visually I could see, I could see the ball in the air, I see the ball coming through the net and going back on defense. But it was crazy.

Jimmy: When I took that last shot, it was something that I'd practiced thousands of times. We all used to stay after practice to shoot -- LA (Tenorio), Jayson (Castro), Gabe, Larry (Fonacier), Gary (David), Del, Jeff (Chan) -- to be ready for a moment like that. As soon as Ping set that screen to free me up, I held my follow as long as I could, and I just remember thinking "Don't miss."

Chot: If you check the video you could see me frantically waving to everyone to sprint back on defense. When I heard the buzzer sound for Korea's timeout, I was thinking, 'How can I take Jimmy out after those two triples?" But that's how we're constructed. In situations when we need to make a stop, our main point defender is LA, so I subbed him in for Jimmy. And Jimmy understood this. That's why you'll see in the video Jimmy was our biggest cheerleader from the bench. In the huddle I reminded everyone of their defensive assignments and said something like, "It all boils down to this. One stop. Let's go to Spain."

When the buzzer sounded, did it sink in right away that you guys were going to Spain?

Gabe: You know the last, like 15 seconds I think we were already [celebrating]... I'm jumping up and down along the sideline. I know Ping is there, and I think it was just the culmination of everything from beating Korea to knowing we're going to Spain to knowing the sacrifice that was made before -- you know being away from family, our kids, wives, and missing so much, but at the same time, understanding the goal and achieving it. You know, I think it was just the culmination of all those.

Jimmy: Oh man when that buzzer sounded, it's hard to put into words the happiness I felt. For our team, our families, and the entire country. Just an incredibly special moment to see everyone with tears of joy, and being able to celebrate with the entire country. It was a moment I'll carry with me forever.

Chot: No. The very first thing I felt was a sense of immense relief. I had kept all the criticism, bashing, pressure, and stress bottled inside me for so long so as not to let it affect the players, that finally, the dam broke. That, combined with the deep joy that comes from a profound sense of accomplishment produced a weird feeling that until today is difficult to describe. Only later did the thought that we were going to Spain enter my mind.