(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - They came, they saw and they’re going home with an unfulfilled dream.

It was a Beijing Olympic aspiration, nurtured for five months with all-out support, gone with the Tokushima wind just in three games here.

To coach Chot Reyes, it was gone in 32 minutes.

“You can put everything that happened in 32 minutes. I don’t know how long the FIBA draw went but maybe it’s a 10-minute exercise. Then count the first 20 minutes and the last two minutes of the Iran game. It all boiled down to that,” said Reyes.

“We had the bad luck in the draw. We started very sluggishly and very tight against Iran then we caught some bad breaks in the last two minutes. I think we can summarize into that the whole experience,” Reyes added.

Reyes, however, said it was a humbling experience that they should accept and reflect on.

He stressed he’s taking full responsibility for the loss. But asked to analyze what had happened, Reyes thought they faced tremendous pressure playing their first major international competition.

“When we started the program, we planned to play the 2005 FIBA-Asia, hopefully qualify for the 2006 World Championship and then play in the 2007 FIBA-Asia. In the original plan, this should have been our third big international competition. The first two didn’t materialize and we’re thrust in a situation where this is our first major international competition and we’re not ready,” said Reyes.

“I’m not only referring to the players but even me personally as a coach. I think the fact that we’re thrust into our first big international competition really told heavily. We saw that in the first 20 minutes of the Iran game, how tight we were. I think pressure is the word to use that we’re not able to execute,” Reyes added.

“Still we came within a call or two of turning it around. After that it was too hard. The loss to Iran, the tough win over China, injuries to Asi (Taulava), Kelly (Williams) and Kerby (Raymundo). It was just too hard to ask for a win against Jordan. I guess that what explained the loss.”

With full support from San Miguel Corp., the Nationals got the best preparation for the Tokushima joust. But the breaks just didn’t go their way.

And it all started in the draw. Even the foreign coaches of Jordan and Iran never stopped questioning the result of the draw that had them bracketed with the Philippines and China in the Group of Death.

The Nationals went on to beat the Chinese for top placing in the consolation round. Iran was to play Lebanon for the crown while Jordan had a crack at fifth place.

“That’s why all the more nakakapanghinayang. But looking back at what happened to Jordan. Who knows we can pass the group pero hindi rin aabot sa semis, dahil sa hirap talaga ng pinagdaanan sa group plays pa lang,” said Reyes.

“Noong kami ni coach Tim (Cone in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad), may Malaysia in the elims and Uzbekistan in the quarters. Then si Jong (Uichico in 2002 Busan Asiad) naman, may UAE. We had ‘gimme’ games. There were situations that you can afford to play a bad game and still make it through. Here, we couldn’t afford that bad start against Iran,” Reyes added.

Reyes, however, is hopeful dreams of a return to the Olympic Games one day should continue to be nurtured.

“It’s been a hell of experience, very painful. But if have to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’ll do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance. Except huwag sana ma-suspend uli ang Pilipinas. It’s beyond my control,” he said.

Reyes is not against suggestions that we follow the program of most of the Middle Eastern teams – hire naturalized player and a foreign coach.

“Can we benefit from foreign coaches? Yes. I think it’s not a coincidence that the two teams fighting for the championship here are under foreign coaches,” said Reyes.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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