Norwood: Gilas wants to 'stay at the world class level'
MANILA, Philippines - What Gilas Pilipinas accomplished at the 2014 FIBA World Cup will be re-told by Filipino sports historians 10, 20, 30 years from now.
They'll talk about how a miniature point guard like Jimmy Alapag hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer to the dismay of world basketball giants Argentina. They'll talk about how Gabe Norwood co-starred with Argentina's best player, Luis Scola, in a poster that will be plastered on the walls of many Filipino households all over the country. They'll talk about how June Mar Fajardo stepped up to the plate when naturalized player Andray Blatche fouled out and led the team to victory over Senegal as he beasted in the paint with his layups and put-backs.
Gilas provided irreplaceable memories. However, with their impressive performance comes heightened expectations. FIBA ranked the Philippines just no. 31 in their recent rankings after the World Cup, but from a performance standpoint, Gilas Pilipinas was up and away better than any of their Asian rivals in Spain.
So, now, Gilas heads to Incheon, Korea for the 2014 Asian Games. Blatche is out; a victim of the IAGOC's residency rules. Douthit's eligibility is now also being questioned, leaving the possibility that Gilas may have to battle against the Hamed Haddadis and Yi Jian Lians of Asia without a naturalized player.
However, with or without a naturalized recruit suiting up, the expectations will still be there. Nothing less than a top-three finish will be acceptable for the team that took Argentina, Croatia, and Puerto Rico down to the wire, fought tooth and nail with Greece and defeated Senegal. Some think a gold medal finish is possible, and it's right for them to believe so after the potential Team Philippines displayed against the rest of the world; so why not take care of Asia?
Make no mistake about it: the national players know this as well.
“The biggest thing is staying at the level you're at. We want to stay at the world class level and it's another test for us," Gilas Pilipinas small forward Gabe Norwood said.
"You’ve got to compete every day. Iran is there with us, Korea is there with us, and we're at the same level so we don't want to drop down."
The entire Gilas roster was awarded a send-off party for the Asian Games on Wednesday evening, September 17, in Cubao, Quezon City. They leave for Incheon on Saturday, September 20, with the matter of their naturalized player still unresolved. Regardless of the answer to that question, they'll board their flight to Korea with a world full of confidence by their side.
"Well, it definitely gives us confidence," Norwood shares about his team's showing in the World Cup to a couple of mediamen. “It's easy to say we went out and played well, we matched well, we wanted to win. We were in situations to win games and I think that's enough reason to be excited.
"We came out there, competed, and I think the biggest thing is confidence right now."
Their fellow countrymen will expect a high-place finish, but regardless of where they finish, Gilas will come home to a shower of love and praise from Filipinos. And after their short break to remedy fatigue from international competition ends, Norwood and the rest of the team will have to deal with their next challenge on board.
"It's all discipline and it's all mental. Even off of the performance in the FIBA Asia Cup, I feel like I defended probably the best I did my whole career in the PBA. So, hopefully, that will continue to start next season in the PBA."
Norwood's PBA franchise, Rain or Shine, made the PBA Finals in two of the last three conferences but came up short on both occasions. With Paul Lee reportedly agreeing to a new contract with the team, the Elasto Painters will remain title contenders, all the more with promising rookie Kevin Alas on board and the core intact.
But before worrying about local championships, South Korea - and the rest of Asia - is awaiting Philippines' presence.
"You’ve got to make things and the way you approach things a habit. This will be a big test for us next week in Korea."
Is posterizing people a new habit Norwood will continue to accomplish in Korea? Will an Iranian or Korean rival be his next victim after Scola?
"He kind of got out of the way, but I'll take it. I'll take the poster," Norwood said about the slam that was ranked third by FIBA in the World Cup's best plays highlight reel.
After all, he enjoyed the other dunk much more.
"For me, personally, yeah, the left hand," Norwood said about his slam in the third quarter against Argentina's front line that went under the radar. "I haven't dunked left hand in a game… off one foot ever. Off two feet I did it in my sophomore year in college."
"I surprised myself on that." - Rappler.com