Former RP Youth star Kyles Lao shares what PH needs to work on to beat SoKor more often

Kyles Lao recalls the time the RP Youth Team fell into the "Korean Curse" and shared what the Gilas programs need to improve to get past South Korea frequently. PBA Images (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--The so-called "Korean Curse" has been hampering the Philippines for many years now in international basketball play.

Just when a Philippine squad looks to pull away from South Korea, the latter suddenly comes alive in the fourth quarter and steals the win usually on a last second shot or through tough clutch defense.

Current NLEX player Kyles Lao experienced that firsthand.

Lao found himself and the rest of the RP Youth Team at the wrong end of the "curse" in the semifinals of the 2011 FIBA Asia U16 Championship.

Despite leading in the first quarter, the said squad, mainly backed then by Energen, could not finish South Korea off as the latter's defense down the stretch foiled the former's comeback bid after getting whipped in the second period.

Energen Pilipinas lost, 58-67, and the result denied the team outright qualification to the 2012 FIBA U17 Championship.

"I guess yung Korean Curse, hindi lang pala para sa [seniors team]," Lao, who was held to just four points in that game following a sizzling start to his individual campaign, said in the Sports on Air podcast.

He would see some vindication two years later when Gilas Pilipinas Men finally found their way out of the Korean Curse with a semifinal win in the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup that gave them a spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Lao's interview was aired right on the seventh anniversary of the monumental Gilas Men win.

The victory, however, turned out to be a one night only thing as South Korea would still get the better of the Gilas programs in their following meetings.

So what is keeping the Filipinos from consistently taking down the Koreans in FIBA Asia play? Lao believes it boils down to one word: discipline.

"For me, yun yung biggest factor kasi the way we play the game is very much different from how the Koreans play the game," he continued.

Lao then stressed the shift in both teams' gameplay in the fourth quarter.

"Kaya nating sumabay in the first three quarters through the skills. Yung palitan ng mukha, kaya eh. Pero when it comes to the fourth quarter, it's all about the execution, not only in the offensive end but also in the defensive end," he explained.

Lao also observes that Gilas players tend to go solo in the endgame, and the Koreans take advantage of it by sticking to the system.

"Parang minsan didiskarte ka nang sarili mo. Yun yung hindi ginagawa ng Korea," he further said. "When it comes to the fourth quarter, yung calculated risk lang yung ginagawa ng Koreans or other teams na nagsa-succeed compared to us na talagang 'swing for the fences'."

Lao even said that the Gilas Men win over South Korea in 2013 was due to the bold moves the Philippine team made in the endgame.

"We swung for the fences, and it paid off," he relayed his analysis of the clutch moments of the game. "Ang daming big shots ni Kuya Jimmy [Alapag] and Jayson [Castro]."

Alapag scored on a pick and pop three that upped Gilas Men's lead to five with 54.4 seconds left, while Castro's isolation play set up Marc Pingris' dagger putback with 20.7 seconds to go that sealed Gilas Men's 86-79 win exactly seven years ago.

But for Lao, the outcome would have been different if those plays did not happen.

"Yung Koreans, they were there all throughout kahit na ang swerte natin noong araw na yun at kahit na sobrang big shot after big shot," he quipped.

Lao, however, clarified, "I'm not saying na may mali sa patterns natin."

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