FIBA World Cup: Brief Gilas stint makes Arwind wish he could’ve done more

Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines—Arwind Santos said he hopes he can suit up for Gilas Pilipinas once again after his comeback to the national team was spoiled in a loss to Iran on Monday night.

Santos last wore the national team colors in the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship, before making his return in the fifth window of the current FIBA World Cup qualifiers. He was held out of the 12-man line-up for the game against Kazakhstan on Friday, but made it to the roster for Monday night’s game against Iran.

The San Miguel Beer forward received an ovation from the crowd at Mall of Asia Arena when he checked in the second quarter, and was wildly cheered when he knocked down a free throw line jumper late in the period to help Gilas take a 39-35 lead at the half.

“Ginanahan ako noon,” Santos would later say. “‘Di ba, lahat naman ng players, pag nakaka-shoot, ginaganahan.”

But it turned out to be the lone highlight of the game for Santos, as he was not fielded in the second half. He finished with two points and a rebound in 4:10 of action.

“Nag-expect ako na makakabalik ako kahit saglit nung third, saka fourth quarter. Pero hindi ako nakabalik,” he said.

Santos stopped short of saying that he was disappointed not to have been sent back in, but the veteran forward said he could have helped the team in the fourth quarter.

“Kanina akala ko nga mababalik ako kahit papaano nung mga huling minuto, pero wala sayang,” he said.

Gilas found itself in a nip-and-tuck ball game after wasting an 8-point lead, and wound up surrendering a 9-0 run to Iran in the final minutes. The visiting team pulled away for a 78-70 win, handing Gilas its second straight loss of the qualifiers.

“‘Yung mga ganoong crucial na pukpukan, parang alam mo ‘yun, sanay ako sa ganun eh,” said Santos. “Hindi ko sinasabi na hindi tayo makakatulong, pero kahit papaano, defense saka sa offense ‘yung mga crucial shots. Isa ‘yun sa gusto ko rin ‘yun.”

But Santos was also quick to clarify that he respected the calls made by head coach Yeng Guia.

“Hindi natin masabi pero coach Yeng ‘yun, mataas ang respeto natin du’n,” he said.

Asked to sum up his return to the national team, Santos could only say one thing: “Bitin, bitin, bitin. Sobrang bitin ako.”

“Bitin tapos nakakapanghinayang. Lamang tayo, dikdikan ‘yung laro, nag-collapse tayo bigla nung huli. ‘Yun lang. Sana magkaroon pa tayo ng pag-asa para mag-qualify kahit papaano,” he added.

Santos knows that the Philippines’ chances of playing in the2019 FIBA World Cup became slimmer after the loss, as Gilas dropped to 5-5 in Group F, good for just fourth place. However, he stressed that all the players are ready to keep fighting for flag and country, including himself.

“Kaming mga players nandito. Lalo na ako, isa sa pinaka-natutuwa dahil nakabalik ako at gustong makatulong talaga sa team natin,” he said.

Thus, when asked if he would be willing to return for the sixth window in February 2019, Santos’ reply was swift.

“Oo naman, oo naman. Ako talagang bukas ang pintuan ko du’n. Ibang level kasi ‘yan,” he said. “Gusto kong gumanti, gusto kong bumawi, gusto ko maiwan ko naman yung team natin, Team Pilipinas, ng panalo, hindi yung talo.”

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