Turkey’s head coach Ergin Ataman was slumped on a center courtside seat with his eyes fixated at the stats sheet. He was a picture of exasperation and frustration. A young reporter courageously attempted to seek an interview but he got rebuffed.
Just 30 minutes ago, Ataman and his 12 Dev Adam (Giant Men) had to endure a big scare from a gallant home team, Gilas Pilipinas, backed by a loud and passionate crowd. Turkey went on to beat Gilas, 84-76, but Ataman looked like he lost the game.
More than a week ago in Istanbul, Turkey, this same Turkish team battered Gilas by 35, 103-68. It was the Philippine national pool’s first game after a 10-day camp in the mountains of Greece.
Gilas and Turkey boarded the same flight heading to Manila a few nights ago. Upon their arrival, Ataman had the bravado to downcast Gilas’ chances in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
“Philippines beating France is impossible for me,” he said in an interview with News5. “Against France I don’t give any chance to the Philippines. Maybe against New Zealand, they will fight for a good result.”
But after playing a different Gilas team on Friday night, Ataman had to eat his words.
FOX Sports tried to get his thoughts but was initially turned down as what he did to the young reporter. Ataman excused himself for being tired. But a little bit of prodding, he eventually gave in and made a different assessment of Gilas’ chances.
“The Philippines played good tonight. In Istanbul, they didn’t find organization there, [They’re] very soft,” Ataman told FOX Sports. “But tonight, they played very ugly, very tough and with this [kind of] basketball, maybe they will have a chance in their group to win one game for the semifinals.”
Ataman’s confidence took a hit after his much taller and more fluid European team, ranked eight in the world, limped to the finish line against a Philippine team that they’ve just bludgeoned 10 days ago.
At one point, Gilas led by 6, 25-19, but a big run by Turkey bridging the second and third quarters gave the visitors the much needed momentum and cushion to win the game. If not for Gilas’ 11 missed free throws, it could have been a much tighter game, something that it was unimaginable after that 35-point beatdown in Turkey.
The Gilas team in Istanbul got intimidated by just the sheer size of the 12 Dev Adam. But in Manila, at the comforts of their homecourt and already settled with their final lineup, a fierce Gilas team went mano-a-mano and even neck-to-face.
In the most tense moment of the game, Marc Pingris did not back down, not even giving an inch in a stare down with Turkey’s big man and NBA player Omer Asik.
Asik, their most prominent player, had played in this arena before when he was still playing for the Houston Rockets. The Turkish big man had good memories of that night in October of 2013. He was warmly welcomed by Pinoy fans. But he got the exact opposite this time.
Pingris was a foot shorter but it didn’t matter. What he got is a 7-foot heart.
“Nagkabigayan lang kanina,” Pingris said. “Pero di naman tayo papasindak sa kanila dahil kailangan lumaban din naman tayo. Kasi hindi naman puwedeng ikaw na nga ang sumiko tapos siya pa ang galit.”
Pingris traded elbows with the much bigger Asik in a rebound battle.
“Kailangan ipakita mo rin na matapang ka sa loob. Wala akong pakialam dun kung sino kaharap ko. Eh kasalanan niya, di gagantihan ko,” he said.
It was the kind of fight that Ataman and his team had to endure for 40 minutes.
Gilas was no longer intimidated. From Pingris down to cat-quick point guard Jayson Castro, the much smaller Filipinos fought back.
Turkey won the game. Gilas won respect.
A picture of Ataman exasperated after 40 minutes of hell against Gilas said it all. – By Alder Almo
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo