A pair of former national team members are excited to sit at courtside and be part of the country’s hosting of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Steve Watson and Mon Cruz, who both saw action for the national team the last time the country hosted the World Cup in 1978, said they are starting to reach out to their teammates and spearhead a mini-reunion at the sidelines of Gilas Pilipinas’ opening game against Dominican Republic at the Philippine Arena on 25 August.
‘It gave me goosebumps, playing for your country.’
Watson said being part of the World Cup will be truly special as it would relive the moment when they bravely played against the world’s best players in front of their countrymen 45 years ago.
“I would like to relive that moment of playing in front of the Philippine crowd,” said Watson during his guesting at the Down to the Wire podcast, the weekly sports show of Daily Tribune, last Monday.
“Once they see you’re giving effort, even though you were being outgunned by your opponents, we’re confident.”
As host country, the Philippines was given a guaranteed spot in the World Cup, which was then known as World Championship. The Filipinos were also given an automatic seat to the single-round semifinals.
Aside from Watson and Cruz, who both played in the Philippine Basketball Association, also part of the national squad were Padim Israel, Joy Carpio, Bokyo Lauchengco, Pol Herrera and Alex Clarino.
Also in the team were Cesar Yabut, Ed Merced, Cesar Teodoro, Nat Castillo and Gregorio Gozum with Nicanor Jorge as head coach.
Although the Filipinos didn’t win a game in their eight outings, the local crowd showered them with support, especially when they faced eventual champion Yugoslavia then led by Drazen Dalipagic and Dragan Kicanovic.
Dalipagic was a 6-foot-5 small forward who was also part of that victorious squad that won the gold medal in the Moscow Olympics.
Kicanovic, on the other hand, was a 6-foot-3 guard who was considered as one of Europe’s best scorers of all time.
Facing Yugoslavia proved to be a defining moment in Cruz’s career as he dazzled the crowd with his scoring prowess, especially in the first half where the Philippines was able to push its more superior rival to the limit before losing steam, 101-117.
“It gave me goosebumps, playing for your country. But I must admit, I felt star-struck seeing the stars playing in the World Cup, Dalipagic, Vladimir Tkachenko of Soviet Union and Oscar Schmidt of Brazil. I already knew how good these players were,” Cruz said.
“Then we were facing them. But we knew for the fact that our chances of winning were so slim, but we had to push ourselves to the limit.”