PLAY the game!” yelled Smart Gilas assistant coach Allan Gregorio as SK Knights forward Beek In-son charged Mark Barroca for what the Korean thought was a hard foul.
“This is not a taekwondo tournament!” again yelled Gregorio.
The friendly game between Gilas and the visiting Korean pro club—which the nationals won, 77-76—was anything but friendly. The Filipinos had been used to playing the rough and tumble Koreans since the 2009 Fiba Champions Challenge Cup in Jakarta when they tangled with Army team Sangmoo twice during the tournament. Those duels had all the makings of a mixed martial arts match both of which Gilas won.
And it didn’t take long for the Filipino and Korean teams to get reacquainted with the rough play when they played each other at the San Juan Arena on Tuesday.
After the half which Gilas took, 40-34, courtesy of an 8-2 spurt led by gunner Chris Lutz and power forward Japeth Aguilar, the Korean coaching staff asked the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas referees to switch basketballs to the ones they used back home.
Gilas coach Rajko Toroman vehemently protested, insisting that there was no prior agreement to change the balls. After an additional 10-minute lull where both parties eventually agreed to use the Koreans’ basketballs, the hostilities literally continued when Gilas forward Mac Baracael fouled Beek on a rebound play.
The two tumbled to the floor where the Korean kicked the Filipino, an incident that sent both teams rushing to the floor. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed before things could get out of hand.
Upon resumption of play, it was the Filipinos who played better basketball (despite the change in basketballs) while the Koreans lost focus. Gilas threatened to blow the game wide open in the third quarter as Lutz hit two triples, while Baracael contributed one as the Nationals raced to a 58-44 lead with 2:52 left in the third.
But the visitors regained their composure and their touch from the outside as Bang Sung-yoon, Byun Ki-hun, Kim Hyo-bun and American import Michael Haynes waxed hot from three-point country with six trifectas to take the lead, 76-75, time down to 34 seconds.
In Gilas’s next offensive, Lutz drove the right lane, pumped faked three Knights out of the way before letting loose a bank shot that missed. But Gilas import Marcus Douthit was there for the putback and the marginal points as the Koreans bungled their final offensive to give the home side a rollicking win.
Douthit, the former Providence College Friar, and Lutz, last year’s team captain for the Marshall University Thundering Herd, led Gilas with 19 points each. Lutz was a perfect 5-5 from three-point range.
Japeth Aguilar added 11 points and a pair of highlight reel slams, including one off a spectacular bounce pass from Lutz as the former Western Kentucky Hilltopper drove toward the basket.
For the Koreans, Leather scored 19 points while Choi Seong-byun added 16 markers.
The Korean team also had national players in Joo Hee-jung and Kim Min-soo. The Knights will play Philippine Basketball Association clubs Ginebra San Miguel, Air21, Barako Bull and Talk ‘N Text over the next few days as part of their preparation for the Korean Basketball League that will tip off in October.
Rick Olivares, Business Mirror