SEA Games: At long last, Chris Ross gets to wear Pilipinas on his chest

Santino Honasan on Oct 01, 2019 03:02 PM
At long last, Chris Ross gets to wear Pilipinas on his chest
"It’s just a different feeling, it’s just a real feeling that I’ve looked forward to my whole career, and now that it’s finally here, I won’t take this thing for granted," - Chris Ross (Photo: Josh Albelda)

For years, San Miguel Beer guard Chris Ross has made it known that he was ready and willing to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas. The 34-year old Fil-American was always vocal about wanting to, at least once, get to represent the Philippines in international competition.

That opportunity finally came for Ross when he was announced as one of the members of a 15-man pool selected to be part of the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team chosen by newly-appointed head coach Tim Cone to represent the country in the upcoming 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

At long last, Ross gets to finally don a Pilipinas jersey.

“I’m so excited, man,” Ross told ABS-CBN Sports following Gilas Pilipinas’ first practice in preparation for the SEA Games, Monday. “Just putting on a practice jersey that they gave to me, that I didn’t borrow from a friend or was gifted from a friend, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

A ten-year veteran in the PBA, Ross has seen and done it all in his professional career, but admits that driving to his first National Team practice gave him butterfiles that not even a high-stakes Finals game has done.

“I said earlier that, driving here to practice, I was nervous, and I don’t even get nervous for Finals games, so it’s just a different feeling, it’s just a real feeling that I’ve looked forward to my whole career, and now that it’s finally here, I won’t take this thing for granted and I’m gonna come out here and learn as much as I can and try to be the best teammate that I can be and just be a star in my own role.”

Ross has done enough throughout his career to be considered as one of the most talented guards in the league today, with eight PBA titles, a pair of Finals MVP awards, and a Best Player of the Conference nod. Until now however, a Gilas call-up has always eluded him, but it was mainly because of bad timing and a significant rule change.

As Ross recounts, he had the chance to suit up for Gilas back in its maiden run, but decided to go a different path.

“I think early on in my career, when Gilas 1 was formed, my agent at the time told me that I could either choose the Gilas route or the PBA route, and then we kind of weighed the pros and cons of it and we felt at the time that it was better for me to join the PBA, and then after that, for some reason my name just didn’t get called.”

“Everyone knows I had a rocky start to my career, and by the time when I started to get going and played the way I should have been playing from the beginning, everyone has a different time frame of the route of their career, by the time that happened, the rule was in place where if you didn’t have your passport by 16 or 17, you’re not eligible to play, so that was the main hurdle for me, because, if I’m not mistaken, I think toward the end of Coach Chot’s time the first time, and then when Coach Tab came in, they inquired about me, but it was too late as far as the passport rule,” he continued.

While his eligibility limited his opportunities with the National Team, Ross continued to express his willingness to help out with the program in any way he can, including being an additional body to help out during practices.

“I just wanted to throw it out there, because like I said, I would always be around here, I live very near and I would always see that the Gilas team would have eight or nine guys, so I threw my name out there to just come and help in practice, because obviously you need ten guys to get in the flow of things and go five-on-five, so I just threw my name out there and told them that I’ll come in and help, and that’s all that it was at the time,” he explained.

It ended up paying off for Ross in the end.

“Luckily, Coach Tim saw something in me, and Coach Yeng before that saw something in me that would actually include me in the pool, my game and my personality could actually help the team, and I’m forever grateful for that. Like I said, I think I said it on Twitter a couple of days ago, it was like “Speak it into existence”, so you put it out there in the universe and something will happen for you.”

With the Asian Games and the Southeast Asian Games, eligibility rules are a bit different, and that has opened the door for Ross to be able to finally suit up for the tricolor.

“I think the last tournament I was eligible to play in was the Asian Games, but we sent Rain or Shine, and then this is the second tournament I’m eligible for. Luckily, I heard Coach Yeng put me in his 30-man pool and I’m forever grateful to him for even mentioning my name, and I’m forever grateful to Coach Tim for putting me in this 15-man pool.”

Ross knows however, that he still needs to fight for his spot to make it to the final 12 that will look to defend the SEA Games men’s basketball crown come late-November to early-December.

“The work just starts now, because I still have to make the 12-man roster, but just being part of the 15-man pool and to be able to practice and put on this jersey is such a blessing.”

Apart from being able to represent the country alongside a collection of some of the best players in the PBA, Ross is also looking forward to playing under Cone, the winningest mentor in the league.

Ross is looking forward to absorbing as much as he can from Cone, who currently coaches Barangay Ginebra in the PBA.

“I’m super excited. I’ve only had one chance to play for Coach Tim, and that was All-Star Week in Cebu, I think it was two years ago, and it was an amazing experience at that point, but to be around Coach Tim for these next two months, and be around him at least once a week for the next two months, it’s something that I’ll cherish in my career.”

“To be coached by the greatest, if not arguably one of the greatest coaches ever to coach in the PBA, so I get to pick his brain for at least ten practices and at least a tournament, so I don’t know how many games we’ll play, but I get to be around him and pick his brain for however many hours we’ll be here in practice and during games. It will only help me, going forward,” Ross continued.

Alongside Ross will be a talented group of experienced PBA and Gilas Pilipinas veterans including the likes of the returning Jayson Castro, LA Tenorio, June Mar Fajardo, RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario and Christian Standhardinger among others, making up a very stacked team to parade into the SEA Games.

Ross believes that this group has what it takes to go all the way and keep the SEA Games men’s basketball title in the country.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, with this talent we have in this room that we can go out there and compete and make everyone proud as long as we play up to our potential, I’m sure the coaching staff will make the right decisions of who needs to be on the court and who needs to be on the team, as long as those guys come together as one, I don’t think there should be any problem with us achieving our goals.”

“From 1 to 15, this is one of the most talented teams that has been part of the Gilas program, so, I’m just glad that I’m able to be a part of it and I’m just wishing for the best going forward,” he added.

As for himself, Ross just wants to be able to help the team in any way that he can by doing what he does best.

“Leadership,” Ross said when asked what he can bring to the table. “I’ve been through so many PBA games, and just my leadership, my unselfishness, and just me being a good teammate is what I really want to bring to this team. Coach said in the meeting before that we are all superstars and on this team, we have to be a superstar in our own role, and that’s one of my big expertise as far as playing in San Miguel, we have so many superstars, and we just preach about being a superstar in our own role and that’s what I’m going to try to do here and try to be the best teammate, try to be a lockdown defender and knock down open shots when I have the opportunity and just share the ball and be a great teammate.”

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