Growing up with Gilas: Gabe Norwood talks about his storied National Team career
Santino Honasan on Aug 30, 2019 03:11 PM
“It was just a wild experience, being a role player all through college and then not knowing where your career’s going to go and then fast forward to now, 12 years later, I’m still playing, I’m still blessed to represent the country and my family, and it’s just awesome.” - Gabe Norwood (Photos: Arvin Lim / ABS-CBN Sports)
Gabe Norwood can still remember - quite clearly - his first call-up as a member of the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team.
Back in 2007, Norwood - then just a Fil-American prospect fresh out of George Mason University - cracked the squad that competed in the FIBA Asia Championship. A squad that featured the likes of Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, Jayjay Helterbrand, Renren Ritualo, and Erik Menk.
“It was a wild experience, my senior year in college at George Mason University. I had been here [in the Philippines] the year before, the summer before, with Athletes in Action, the sports ministry group, and made some contacts and, honestly, it was like hours after my last game in college my senior year, I got a call that the RP Team was training in LA, and they flew me in for a tryout, and I was basically told to be ready because there’s a good chance that I’ll be on the team,” Norwood shared with ABS-CBN Sports.
Twelve Years Later
Now, 12 years later, Norwood has been on just about every succeeding iteration of the National Team, and once again, he’ll be suiting up for the tri-colors as they head to the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China beginning August 31st.
His maiden stint on the National Team would lead to Norwood turning pro in the Philippines and would essentially become the beginning of what would be a storied career in club and international play.
“It was just a wild experience, being a role player all through college and then not knowing where your career’s going to go and then fast forward to now, 12 years later, I’m still playing, I’m still blessed to represent the country and my family, and it’s just awesome.”
The most-tenured member of this 2019 roster, Norwood remains extremely grateful for the trust that the program has shown him. While he may be one of the program’s elder statesmen, so to speak, Norwood continues to prove himself as a leader and a steady contributor, and that is what has consistently earned him a spot on the team.
“It’s just humbling, especially in a basketball-loving country like the Philippines, to be thought of as someone who can still contribute all these times. I never played before Coach Rajko [Toroman], that was the only window I missed, but outside of that, just being here, seeing faces, watching the program grow, and watching the level of respect for Philippine basketball grow along the way, it’s been awesome.”
Fair Share of Ups and Downs
Since making his debut in 2007, Norwood has seen the Gilas program go through its fair share of ups and downs, but he believes that through it all, the program has done their part of putting in the work and the effort to achieve success.
“It’s really just getting it done. I can’t speak for what happened before me, but since 2007, I think the work was always put in, the effort and, not just by players, but by whether it was MVP, or it was Boss JB (Baylon) and Powerade at one time, or the San Miguel group, or the PBA, or anybody, I think the thought process and the want to succeed was always there.”
“It just happened with a great group, a special group that was able to get it done and get us to Spain, and luckily, we’ve been able to kinda keep that rolling,” he added.
Ultimately, all that hard work and dedication culminated into one of the program’s most memorable highlights to date: once again qualifying for the FIBA World Cup back in 2014.
“Man, it was awesome,” Norwood said with a smile. “To this day, being in MoA for the qualifier against Korea to get us into the World Cup, it’s hard to put into words, especially for those people who weren’t in the arena, it’s really hard to describe how special that moment was, and to be there, knowing that we were going to be in Spain, back in the World Cup for the first time in almost 40 years, even just talking about it now, it’s just wild think about that, to be part of it, to be a part of something that special that has so much more to do than yourself, it’s a country, so, it was awesome.”
Different Set of Teammates
Five years removed from that magical run, Norwood once again finds himself headed for another World Cup appearance, this time with a largely different set of teammates.
Apart from Norwoord, only Andray Blatche, June Mar Fajardo, Paul Lee, and Japeth Aguilar were also part of the 2014 team. Still, he believes that there are a number of similarities between the two rosters.
“Similarities, just in terms of our structure, the size, and what we put out there on the court is pretty similar. I think the 2013 group, as a whole, as a pool, was pretty healthy. We’ve had some unfortunate things happen with Matthew [Wright] and Poy [Erram] going down, myself getting hurt in Spain, just kind of bumps and bruises along the way, but overall, I think the visual of the team looks a lot similar.”
Norwood will now also be serving as the team captain, and he says that he’s taken cues from a Philippine basketball icon in his team captain back in 2014, Jimmy Alapag.
“That’s something I like to take with a lot of responsibility,” Norwood said about being the team’s leader. “Being passed down from Jimmy and LA [Tenorio], Asi [Taulava], Marcus Douthit, from all those guys just trying to lead by example.
“I’m not the most vocal person, even myself and Jayson [Castro] battled with that, through the transition. We’re not the most vocal people, but we just tried to lead by example and do things the right way, and help us win,” he continued.
Biggest Role of a Leader
One of the biggest roles of a leader is being able to serve as a mentor to the younger players, and with an uber-talented next generation of Gilas stars in guys like Kiefer Ravena, RR Pogoy, Robert Bolick, and CJ Perez, Norwood says that his biggest piece of advice is for them to keep doing what they did to get to this stage in the first place.
“I think it’s just remaining confident,” he stated. “These guys have represented the country in their own right in certain stages of their career, but to be in this environment, they just must not lose confidence. It’s what’s gotten them on the team, it’s what they’re here for, and I think everybody on the team has a lot of faith in their abilities.”
“As long as I keep guys confident and understanding roles, I think that’s going to help us a lot,” he added.
One common denominator between all those past leaders that Norwood mentioned is that all of them have more or less retired from international competition. Alapag has retired from competition completely. Now at 34 years of age, Norwood knows that his time representing the National Team could be drawing to a close soon as well. For now however, he’s just enjoying the moment.
“Time is undefeated. I know my opportunities are coming fewer and fewer, but, having given it a whole lot of thought, outside of articles I read by myself, I’m just trying to enjoy this experience, and go from there.”
With all the experiences that Norwood has been able to go through as a member of the National Team, he says that the most important thing he has come to learn is that the Philippines has so much to offer, even beyond the basketball court.
“Really, we’re world class, and it’s not even basketball, it’s the longer I’ve been here and the relationships I’ve built whether it’s in the arts or it’s music, or dance, really just anything. We’re a talented country and as long as we support that and embrace that and support one another, not just financially, but with prayers and overall backing, I believe we can achieve a lot as a country.”
Growing Up with Gilas
Norwood has, in a sense, grown up with Gilas, and each time that he put on the Blue and White, family was always the motivation.
“It changes in a small sense, as you know, when I first got on, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, I was playing for my extended family, for my mom, for my grandmother, and everybody before, and now, having my own family, I have my wife, my three sons that are gonna remember these experiences, it’s still family, it’s just kind of a central focus of it all.”
As for the future of the program, Norwood believes that Gilas Pilipinas is in pretty good hands.
“I could rattle off a list of names who I am just excited about,” he said when asked about who he sees as potential future Gilas stars. “Everybody knows Kai [Sotto] and AJ Edu, you have Thirdy [Ravena], Ricci [Rivero], Kobe [Paras], Juan [Gomez De Liaño], Carl Tamayo is probably one of my favorite players, and those are just the guys here that we see. There’s a lot of people who’s eager to play and are working hard, the Ildefonso brothers, so it’s an exciting time for Philippine basketball, and I’m excited to watch ‘em all.”
Gabe Norwood and the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team begin their 2019 FIBA World Cup campaign on Saturday, August 31st. Their first matchup will be against Italy at 7:30 PM.
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