The Philippine national basketball team overcame all odds to defeat Kazakhstan and secure their place to play at the world’s biggest stage

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo from FIBA

With less than a few minutes in the game, only Scottie Thompson and Raymond Almazan knew South Korea had defeated Lebanon. They didn’t tell any of the 12 Gilas players who were up by double digits against the sneaky Kazakhstan team.

It was only when the buzzer rang in their final game in Doha when the players found out they had finally made it. After a year full of numerous roster shuffles, controversies, coaching changes, and agonizing losses, the Filipinos are returning to the International Basketball Association (FIBA) World Cup—where they have always belonged.

The Philippines’ latest campaign was different compared with any of their previous outings. They didn’t just rely on themselves to win but also on countries like Korea, Qatar, and Australia to come out victorious in their respective games to earn a spot to play in China. Everyone on the Philippine roster knew how much this game meant most especially Andray Blatche who scored a career-high 41 points, 17 of which came from the first quarter alone.

Blatche, who also tallied 13 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks was the main reason why the Philippines started out aggressive early in the game. But Kazakhstan, the same team that defeated Gilas at the Mall of Asia Arena, weren’t just going to give the game away as they found ways to keep crawling into the match, even getting Blatche into foul trouble early.

“It was a very emotional game for us, we knew what was at stake,” Blatche said. I feel like we competed from the jump. We had some minor speed bumps but we’re happy and thankful for the win.”

Despite Blatche being on foul trouble and having to sit out time during the third quarter, it was then five-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo and Jayson Castro who picked up the slack in the second half. Castro hit three huge three-point shots while Fajardo added nine points in 12 quality minutes that helped the Philippines build a comfortable lead throughout the second half.

The Philippine’s game against Kazakhstan was all happening while Korea, Qatar, and Australia’s respective matches were on going. However, the focus of the Pinoys was that they had to finish their own business first before they could root for the respective countries to win their corresponding games. With over seven minutes into the fourth quarter of the Philippines and Kazakhstan match, everyone knew that South Korea had already defeated Lebanon (84-72). Everyone except the Philippine players.

The determined Gilas managed to stretch their lead in the fourth thanks to their aggressive plays. The Philippines saw themselves shooting 43.3 percent from behind the arc led by Castro who converted one of his big threes in the fourth quarter and also went on a personal 8-0 run. Blatche, who was one foul away from fouling out then took over and dominated the post as well as the free throw line where he converted 12 out of 14 shots.

Kazakhstan’s Anthony Clemmons was doing all he can to stop the Philippine run led by but Clemmons’ 27 points were not enough. And as the final buzzer rang in the Saryarka Velodrome Arena in Kazakhstan, the Philippine team knew not only the fact that Korea’s national team had taken care of their business but also that Gilas secured their ticket to the FIBA World Cup in China.

After a 40-year drought, the Philippines have finally qualified in three straight Men’s World Cups in 2014, 2019, and 2023. This time, they did it against all odds and through the magic of destiny as everything seemed to be going their way this time. Gilas ended the qualifiers in fourth with a 7-5 record in the Group F category and will be part of the 2019 World Championship in China later this year.