FIBA Asia Cup memories and future expectations with Jimmy Alapag
MANILA (Philippines) - With the world of basketball currently on pause, Philippines legend Jimmy Alapag had the chance to sit down and talk.
"I'm alright, here at home like the rest of the world," Alapag said in an interview session live on the @FIBAAsiaCup Instagram account. "Obviously here in Manila, we've been in lockdown pretty much for the past week and a half. I've just been here at home trying to be as productive as possible and, at the same time, just trying to follow what the government has been expressing through the media and news, trying to get this virus contained sooner than later hopefully."
There is barely any live basketball going on all over the globe. But with the power of the internet archive, fans have access to a boatload of classic games to watch from - including those from past Asia Cups.
Alapag has closely witnessed - and played in - a handful of those classic games himself. The point guard has been in three Asia Cups for a total of 24 games. He has an idea of which game he would most likely revisit first in these times.
"The one game that stands out would be against Korea in 2013," Alapag said. "But there have been a lot of great games through the years, especially towards the last few years of my time with the national team.
"A lot of classic games, so many great teams here throughout Asia. Too many to pick from."
Picking the Asia Cup 2013 Semi-Finals between the Philippines and Korea seems like a no-brainer for Alapag. Over his time in the Asia Cup, he scored 225 points and knocked down 40 three-pointers, but no other points or threes were as crucial as the one he nailed late in that game.
Even over half a decade later, the moment is still fresh in Alapag's memory.
"For those who remember that game years ago, we had led for most of the game. Korea had made a run, and they took the lead with just under two minutes left," Alapag recalled.
"I thought that was a really crucial moment for our team. I remember coach Chot [Reyes] had called a timeout. I remember that timeout, again this was seven years ago. I still remember that timeout pretty vividly because the one thing that stood out was there was no panic."
"I think that credit goes to our coaching staff and the guys on that particular team, a lot of guys with championship experience. That moment I felt like we knew that was our moment as a team, and the guys stepped up, and we were able to get it done."
Philippines basketball fans remember the sequence well, just for how much the shot meant from different perspectives. It was a shot that gave the Philippines a trip to the Final, which was their first-ever since the traditional playoff format was implemented in 1987. It was a shot that sent the Philippines to its first World Cup in 36 years.
More importantly, it was a shot that exorcised Gilas' demons of losing to their arch-rivals.
"Coach Chot had put the ball in my hands, but it wasn't necessarily to score," Alapag said, explaining the moment of the shot. "It was just to create, and Marc Pingris sets a great screen. I'm at the top of the key, and I had some space."
"As soon as I got that space, it was a shot that I had practiced thousands of times. As soon as I got the space, I let it go."
"If you watch the video, I hold my follow-through for as long as I've ever held in my life, just to really be sure the ball would go in, and it fell through."
Did the follow-through help with Alapag's confidence for that shot? Maybe a little, but there was more to it than just snapping the perfect gooseneck.
"The funny thing was when I let that shot go, the one thought that came to my mind was 'don't miss,'" Alapag revealed in a light mood. "It was funny because, with that particular team with guys like Marc and LA Tenorio, Jayson Castro, Larry Fonacier, and Gary David, we used to all stay after practice in that arena the few times that we had practice in there."
"Kind of simulating those shots, and I was the one fortunate enough to be in that position, and it went down."
That moment was just one of many in Alapag's illustrious career with the Philippines national team. During his duties donning the Gilas jersey, he's had the chance to play against the best of Asia multiple times. He's had numerous classic clashes against the top guards of Asia, but there are two that have stood out in his memories.
"There were so many [great players]," Alapag pondered. "But from when I was playing the guys who really stood out for me were Sam Daghles from Jordan, who I always felt was one of the best guards in all of Asia, and same as [Mahdi] Kamrani from Iran."
"I just felt like those two guys; they were so competitive. They've had so much success in the international stage, and getting a chance to play with them [was great]. They were two different kin od guards, too."
"Sam was obviously bigger and was always posting us up down there with him being 6'5"-6'6".
"When we played Jordan in 2011, we played them in a big game right in the Semi-Finals for a spot in the Finals," Alapag recalled of his duels with Daghles. "Again, that was prime Sam Daghles during that tournament, and he just came out and played really well against us. He made all the big plays down the stretch and really gave us a lot of problems with his post-ups, especially in the high post. I'm sure he remembers that, and he ended up leading Jordan to the championship game that year."
"And then Kamrani, he and I being very similar in how we played in terms of pushing the ball and being a scorer at times."
"I think the championship here in Manila in 2013, even with Marcus Douthit being out that game, trying to contain [Kamrani] and Haddadi was just too tough for us."
Despite those moments ending up in defeats for Alapag and the Philippines, they are games that he cherishes as a part of his Asia Cup experience.
"Always love competing with those guys," Alapag added. "Both high character guys. I feel like they played the game the right way and honored the game, so it was always fun getting the chance to play against them."
Sam Daghles comes up again with Alapag when asked to form his All-Time Asia Starting Five. The choice of whether to lead the hypothetical team as a head coach or on-court general was easy to make for Alapag.
"Let me be the head coach so I can get another guy on the team," Alapag joked before listing his dream team.
"I gotta go with June Mar Fajardo, even though we didn't play too long together on the national team. He'd be my center."
"My guards, I'd go with Jayson [Castro] and Sam."
"And then for my wing guys, I'd go…" Alapag said before pausing to go through his options. "You know what? I'll go Fadi El Khatib from Lebanon, and I'll go with my guy Gabe Norwood."
It's certainly a dream team for anyone in Asia, and with Alapag as a coach, he plans to keep his game plans simple.
"With those guys, a lot of ball screens for Jayson and Sam, some post-up opportunities for June Mar, and someone like Fadi, you can put him up anywhere."
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THE MIGHTY CAPTAIN
Alapag's career, both professionally and internationally, has always been at the center of the nation's attention. With that attention comes the nicknames and monikers assigned by the media and made popular by the fans.
"At first I wasn't the biggest fan of ["Mighty Mouse"]," Alapag admitted, referring to a common moniker he goes by. "But through the years, it grew on me."
"During our [PBA] draft in 2003, the number one pick was Mike Cortez, who was a big-time college star [in the Philippines] and went on to have a great pro career. His nickname was "The Cool Cat" and considering that he and I were early rivals in our career, it just made sense for one of the announcers here in Manila to have "The Cool Cat" and now came "The Mighty Mouse," and it just started from there."
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While Alapag has warmed up to being the "Mighty Mouse," there is another moniker that he is a bit fonder of.
"One nickname that I thought was really cool, especially towards the end of my career, was "The Captain." I was a long time captain during my time with Talk ‘N Text and then that carried over to my time with Gilas, so I always thought that was pretty cool just because I always took a lot of pride in having that responsibility of being the captain. That's one I really liked."
Those days as "The Mighty Mouse" and "The Captain" are mostly behind him. Now, Alapag is more suited as "The Coach" after transitioning into the sideline tactician role in recent years.
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Alapag's learned a lot over the years, playing for several great coaches. Now that he's the one calling the shots, he ready to take all of that knowledge and find his own style. One point of emphasis he has is maintaining relationships first.
"The biggest thing for me now being a young coach and not being far removed from the game, I kind of focus on developing the relationship between the guys that we bring in, whether they are guys who I competed with or against in the past or they might be younger players who watched me play when I was younger," said Alapag, who has coached the San Miguel Alab Pilipinas team in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) for the past three seasons.
"I really try to develop that part and that aspect both on and off the court because I think once you establish that, it helps make the transition when you start to talk about the X's and O's and what you want to do as a team. It allows that stuff to kind of come naturally, but I think developing at least a foundation of a relationship first is something that I really try to focus on."
As a point guard when he was a player himself, there are some expectations that Alapag might be a bit stricter with the lead guards on his team. While he doesn't agree with those assumptions, he does shine on the importance of playing that role on his side.
"I don't think that I'm harder on them, but I do try to help them understand that being the point guard carries a lot of responsibility as point guards really have the opportunity to control the game."
"They dictate who gets the ball. They dictate the pace of the game and just carry a lot of responsibility. So I give all of our point guards a lot of freedom but, at the same time, help them understand the magnitude of the responsibility that comes with the position."
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
Alapag is the father of three. Not all of them were able to watch him play at his peak, but he makes sure that they at least have a good idea. More than knowing that he was a sharpshooter or just a flat out baller, Alapag just wants his kids to know that he put in the effort.
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"So my three kids are 7, 5, and 2," Alapag counted. "When they see old videos, my oldest son still remembers. He's always like 'Oh Dadda, you used to be able to dunk.'"
"I try to convince [the other two] as much as I can, but I just try to tell them that Dadda worked really hard, and Dadda really tried to play the game the right way. Dadda could shoot a little bit, and I could jump pretty high when I was younger, but it's still cool that there are videos out there that they can watch and still see me play."
He worked really hard, and he really tried to play the game the right way. That is something that Alapag has always emphasized, not only with his kids or the players on his team but throughout his entire career. His name has nearly become synonymous with those two phrases.
"No substitute for hard work," Alapag responded when asked for a word of advice for the future generation. "I think that's so important nowadays because if you look at the growth of the game of basketball globally, it has grown so much."
"You look at the talent level of the kids coming up from the grade school level all the way through to the high school level to the college level; it's off the charts. It really puts a lot of pressure on the younger athletes nowadays to not short change the hard work and to stay in the gym and work on their craft because the competition, I think, nowadays it's through the roof."
"It's going to be the kids who stay in the gym and work hard and perfect their craft that will come out and have success."
Alapag was then quick to express his excitement for the next wave of ballers for the Philippines.
"I'm excited about the next generation of Philippines basketball," he said. "I think you look at just the talent and athleticism that you see in these younger players nowadays; it's exciting for Philippines basketball.
"But again at the same time, the responsibility that comes with that is that all the other countries are getting better as well, so it'll be up to the next generation to push that bar up a little higher and continue to raise the level of play here in the Philippines."
Alapag named Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez, and Robert Bolick as three players he's looking forward to watching, especially after their World Cup experience. However, he's also just as excited about basketball in Asia as a whole for the future ahead.
"I think you look at Asia as a whole, and the game continues to grow," he said. "Being four years removed from the game, you just see the growth of the game from the grassroots level all the way up to the pros. It kind of blows my mind because you only see so many more kids with the talent and the size and the athleticism and the speed.
"It's exciting for Asia basketball, and I'm excited to see how far this next generation takes the game. You know you have guys like Rui Hachimura from Japan already in the NBA. You have Kai Sotto making waves and being a top prospect to be in the NBA. Those two guys, just to name a few, and I know there's a lot more coming up, so it's an exciting time for sure."
No one can be sure about what is stored in the future of Asia basketball. One thing that Alapag is certain of is that he is excited to see it unfold in front of his very own eyes, especially for the World Cup in 2023.
"With us hosting the World Cup in 2023, I would love for us to get the opportunity to play against one of the top teams here in Manila," Alapag said. "Whether that would be team USA or Spain or getting another game against Argentina here at home, I think for our guys for the 2023 team would be awesome. I know when I look back on those games from the World Cup 2014, we had a lot of great memories that I'll carry on with me forever, so hopefully, our guys in 2023 will get that chance."
As for a nearer future in the Asia Cup 2021? Alapag is also hoping to watch the Philippines … play in the championship game.
"I would love to see the Philippines again be in the Finals," Alapag proudly admitted. "Who they would play, that's up in the air. You talk about China, Korea, Japan, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Australia, New Zealand. It could be any one of those teams, but it'd be great to see the Philippines play in the Finals in 2021."
PRESSING PAUSE FOR NOW
That is all in the future for now. It might not be too far away, but there are more pressing matters on hand that Alapag wants everyone to focus on.
In the meanwhile, the player-turned-coach has some suggestions for youngsters who can't help their basketball urges to improve during these isolated times.
"I think kids can definitely watch a lot of videos, get on TV and watch your favorite player, watch your favorite team, study what they do," Alapag advised. "For those who are fortunate to have a court at home, it's a great opportunity just to get some tons of shooting in. And for those who don't have a court at home, just having a ball and working on ball handling, working on different combinations that they might use in a game. I think those all help right now, considering so many of us are at home hoping that this virus passes sooner than later."
"The Captain" knows these are tough times for everyone. He urges that all of us just be patient and cooperate so that we can all return to the courts soon.
"To all the Asia basketball fans, again, I know we're all missing the game. I know how much we love the game and how much passion we have for the game in this region."
"But, of course, you know right now safety comes first. I just hope that everybody is staying safe at home and listening to the respective government officials so we can get this contained, and we can get back to watching and playing the game that we love."
"My prayers go out to everyone, especially all the doctors and nurses and police and military doing their part to help with all this. Again, my prayers go out to everyone here throughout Asia. Hopefully we'll be seeing each other soon."
See you soon as well, Jimmy.