The 1990 team had an all-star cast, but marginal teamwork. The 1994 team had better teamwork, but not enough “big guns”, so to speak. So, the PBA decided to bet it all for the 1998 team: Get an all-star team, and then give it all the support it needs to be able to jell together as a team. That should win us at least a Silver, and make a serious run against China.
The lineup, was the “best of the best” of the PBA. Patrimonio undersized in the last Asian Games? Not this team this time around, oh no. Not with EJ Feihl (7’0?), Andy Seigle (6’8?) and Marlou Aquino (6’9?) alternating at C. Dennis Espino (6’6?) and Zandro Limpot (6’6?) at PF. “The Captain” was relegated at SF, and was there mainly for experience.
The SF line up was formidable: Vergel Meneses, and Kenneth Duremdes. Both are tall, athletic, flashy, with decent jumpers. The best the PBA had to offer at that time. Add in Allan Caidic, arguably the best shooter in PBA history (Adornado, Co and Brown fans will surely protest) at OG. The flashy Johnny A. at PG, with the steady Racela as back up. In terms of star power, this team easily equalled the 1990 team.
This team not only had the star power, but it also formed well ahead of the 1998 Asian Games to give the team time to “jell”, and thus have teamwork. The PBA even bannered how it had to spend P20M to allow the team to compete in overseas tournaments. It lost a close exhibition game against the Chinese, played a couple of games in the US against US NCAA Div. 1 teams, and won the Jones Cup.
This team was formed with the lessons of the past 2 Asian Games in mind, and was arguably the best prepared PBA team that was sent to the Asian Games thus far. If there was a team out there that could get the Gold Medal in the Asian Games, this was supposed to be it.
Coaching the team was Tim Cone, who had lead Alaska to be the next PBA Team after San Miguel to have scored a grandslam. Alaska was very dominant in the 90s under Cone, so I think it was only fitting for him to end up coaching the Centennial team.
The team did well in its first couple of games, until it banged into a wall named “SOUTH KOREAN NATIONAL BASKETBALL TEAM”. What I remember most about this Asian Games, was the arrogant and smug look on the faces of Kang and Moon while they were blowing us out of the court by 20 pts. Clearly, the hype our PBA pros were generating motivated the Sokors to play their best against our team. The message Kang and Moon wanted to convey in their faces was, “Ha!! This is your ‘Dream Team’? How come is it, that we’re blowing them out of the game right now?”
The “excuse” then, was that we were so, “….. busy preparing for China, that we overlooked South Korea … “. It escapes me, though, how we could’ve overlooked SK since they have always been no. 2 to China for at least the last half dozen Asian Games.
Anyway, even with all that preparation against China, this national team, in a must-win semi-final game against China, still ended up losing to the Chinese by 11 pts. It now had to try to settle for a Bronze medal.
The battle for the Bronze medal was a memorable one, mainly because of the heroics of Jolas. Seldom-used in the tournament, Jolas erupted for at least 16 pts. in that final game, most of it in the 2nd half, and even hitting the game win-sealing fadeaway shot. Since Jolas was seldomly used, the Kazakhs, whom we beat before earlier in the tournament, wasn’t able to scout his strengths and weaknesses, thus paving the way for his explosive last game.
But wait: The SK beat us by 20 pts., but the Chinese beat us by only 11 pts. Shouldn’t it have followed, that the SK to have beaten the Chinese by at least 8 pts.? How come that didn’t happen, with China ending up beating the SKs? What excuse could they and their fans could have come up this time?