By Waylon Galvez

Members of the original Gilas Pilipinas looked back at their stint in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China — a city that eventually became known throughout the world as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gilas 1 - Pioneer Gilas players look back with fondness at Wuhan

Ranidel de Ocampo, fourth from left, Jvee Casio and Mark Barroca of the original Smart Gilas Pilipinas in Wuhan, China during the 2011 for the FIBA-Asia Championship. (Waylon Galvez)

“Sino ang mag-aakala na dun sa Wuhan mag-uumpisa ang ganitong kalaking problema ng mundo,” said Ranidel de Ocampo, one of four PBA players who reinforced the national team in the continental tournament.

De Ocampo couldn’t help but ponder if the pandemic happened during the time of the competition that served as a qualifier to the 2012 London Olympics.

“Naiisip ko nga… paano kung noong 2011 nangyari itong nangyayari, tapos naglalaro nandoon kami naglalaro biglang pumutok ang mapaminsala na virus tapos hindi kami makauwi,” said De Ocampo, who at that time was playing for Talk ’N Text.

“Hindi lang naman Pilipinas ang naglalaro… madaming teams at iba pang tao maaapektuhan. Mas nakakatakot kung iisipin kasi andun ka sa lugar e, andun ka mismo kung saan nagumpisa,” he added.

The first version of Gilas had a mixture of top amateur players who had been with the program of Serbian coach Rajko Toroman since 2009 coupled with De Ocampo, Asi Taulava, Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams with naturalized player Marcus Douthit.

Gllas advanced to the semifinal round by beating Taiwan in the quarterfinals, only to lose to a Jordan team handled by current PH team program director Tab Baldwin.

The national team failed to salvage a podium finish when it lost to South Korea in the battle for bronze.

“I enjoyed our experience in Wuhan,” said Alapag. “I thought the crowd support from the city was really good for the most part. I remember Wuhan itself being a quiet city.

Gilas 2 640x428 - Pioneer Gilas players look back with fondness at Wuhan

Chris Tiu, second from left, with Philippine Star’s Nelson Beltran, Spin.PH’s Gerry Ramos, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas special assistant to the president Ryan Gregorio (then a member of the Smart Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff), the writer, Inquirer’s June Navarro and team official Jim Saret in Wuhan, China during the 2011 for the FIBA-Asia Championship. (Waylon Galvez)

“This virus is something I didn’t expect to see in our lifetime. It’s something that has affected the entire world. But it’s encouraging to see the world come together to try to fight this. We all just have to do our part to help, and have faith that something great will come from this.”

One of the amateur players on that squad was Chris Tiu, who remembered Wuhan as a busy industrial city as well as big sports stadiums like the one where they played, the 13,000-seater Wuhan Gymnasium.

“I remember it was an industrial town with a world class gymnasium where we competed. We hardly went out because of our tight schedule. I remember the battles we went through,” said Tiu, who played seven years for Rain or Shine in the PBA before retiring in 2018.

Tiu said that the fight against the deadly COVID-19 is something he didn’t expect, although this is something that the Filipinos, and the rest of the world should face together.

“I thought this would only happen in the movies and never in our lifetime,” Tiu said.

“But after praying a lot, I realized that God probably is calling out to us, reminding us to slow down with our busy lives and to come back to Him. God is reminding us to realty appreciate the simple joys and blessings around us,” added Tiu.

Mark Barroca, another amateur player at that time but now plays for Magnolia, remembers Wuhan as a beautiful city, and his experience there as a member of the national team is unforgettable.

With the health crisis now, he said Filipinos should learn from how they battled during that 10-day tournament.

“Nakakalungkot lang na ganito ang nangyari, kasama ang buong mundo. Lahat naman tayo ay apektado sa nangyayari,” said Barroca. “Ang magagawa natin sa ngayon e magtulung-tulong hanggang sa mawala ito. Ito ang tamang oras para magkaisa tayong lahat.”

With the pandemic now affecting the Philippines as evident with the government’s implementation of an “enhanced community quarantine,” De Ocampo said Filipinos should make the sacrifice in order to stop the spread of the virus.

“Tayong mga Pilipino ay makinig, sumunod makiisa at magtulungan. Huwag na maging mas marunong pa sa gobyerno. Kapag matigas ang ulo ng mga kababayan natin ay babagsak ang mahal nating bayang Pilipinas. Sakripisyo ang kailangan para mabilis tayo makabangon,” said De Ocampo.

 

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