National team veteran LA Tenorio thinks Smart Gilas Pilipinas' thrilling gold-medal finish in the 2012 William Jones Cup proved to be a turning point of sorts for his career and for Philippine basketball in the recent decade.
In a recent guesting on the 2OT podcast, Tenorio described that game against Team USA in the final day of the tournament as his most unforgettable one to date.
"'Yun 'yung one of the most memorable, or the one na talagang memorable game sa aking career," Tenorio fondly recalled.
Tenorio was awarded the Most Valuable Player award after that tournament, but he said the recognition overshadowed what had mostly been a quiet individual struggle until the team's final games.
"The funny thing about that is wala, as in wala akong larong maganda. Hinahanapan na nga ako ng laro nina coach Chot (Reyes), sinasabi, 'Anong nangyayari sa'yo?'" he laughed. "Sabi ko, 'Paano ako naging MVP dito eh dalawang beses ako naglaro nang maayos?'"
It was only in Gilas' last two games where Tenorio found his groove. Against Chinese-Taipei in the penultimate game, the playmaker fired all of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to push the Philippines to a 76-72 win against the hosts.
Gilas had an opportunity to clinch the title in the final day against the Americans, and Tenorio promptly delivered. He scored 11 again of his 20 points in the payoff period, hit the eventual game-winner with 19.9 seconds to go, and secured a huge defensive rebound with eight ticks left to help give the Philippines only its fourth Jones Cup title at that point.
Tenorio and Gilas, at the time, were experiencing growing pains under coach Chot Reyes' dribble drive offense, and when the team needed production the most, the guard and his teammates willingly resorted to a lethal pick-and-roll game that their foes could not figure out in the end.
"'Yung pick and roll na 'yun, kumbaga sobrang frustrated na ako sa sarili ko tapos parang wala akong nabibigay, wala akong nalalaro. Nakuha ko 'yung momentum the night before nung sa Chinese Taipei, and then na-carry over ko the next game. Nagkaroon na rin ng kumpiyansa tapos tiwala na rin si coach Chot sa'kin," he shared.
Proof of how that pick-and-roll game worked wonders was Gilas' final offensive possession itself, as two of the team's go-to plays off the timeout in the final 36 seconds were snuffed by the Americans. With their foes repeatedly going underneath screens, Tenorio took advantage and set up a two-man game with Marcus Douthit, who effectively screened on the guard's mid-range clincher.
"Hindi naman play 'yun eh. Naging effective lang, so tuloy-tuloy na lang," Tenorio explained. "Naging default na kasi effective. 'Di niyo ma-stop, so sige tuloy pa rin. Tapos ang maganda rito 'yung mga teammates ko, sina Marcus, si Ranidel (de Ocampo), sina Jeff (Chan), sina Larry (Fonacier), sinasabi, 'Tol, kunin mo na 'yung bola. Ikaw na. Sa'yo na 'yan. Ready lang kami mag-spot up. Diskartehan mo lang, ikaw na 'yan.' Nawala 'yung dribble-drive."
Tenorio credited his clutch play to the trust given by teammates, many of whom would eventually be his allies in the trenches for years to come.
"Malaking bagay talaga 'yung tiwala ng mga kasama mo sa'yo," he said. "Ang maganda rin sa team na 'yun, lahat kami nags-start pa lang doon. Lahat kami nangangapa. 'Yung tiwala namin sa isa't-isa... may game na si Gary (David), may game na si Jeff, may game na si Larry tapos si Ranidel. Of course si kuya Marcus, laging andun every day, present siya every day. And syempre, hindi naman binibigay sa'yo 'yun. You have to earn that talaga."
Tenorio, who later played important roles for the national team in a silver finish in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships and in a landmark appearance in the 2014 World Cup, also believes that win eventually set the stage for Gilas' future successes.
"No one expected na ganun ang kalalabasan ng Jones Cup. Kaya siguro naging smooth 'yung transition and preparation going into the FIBA Asia Championship," he said.
"Thankful din ako na until the end, kung ano 'yung nasimulan namin is somehow natapos ko -- me personally, nakapag-World Cup ako, which is the end goal ng program na 'yun eh," Tenorio added. "'Yun 'yung naging kamulatan ng Philippine basketball sa international stage."