Give Gabe His Due

When coach Chot Reyes reassumed coaching duties for Gilas, he bared his plan to tap into Philippine basketball’s young talent, with an eye on the 2019 World Cup and beyond. This meant that one Gabriel Daniel V. Norwood would likely be out of the national team pool.

But for one reason or another, Coach Chot found a need to tap Mr. President (a moniker Norwood received due to his striking resemblance to former US president Barack Obama) for another go-round with Gilas. Norwood, like the true soldier that he is, heeded this basketball call of duty, and in his usual understated way validated his inclusion to the national team yet again. In the various tournaments ever since he rejoined the team, the 6-5 Fil-American has been doing Gabe Norwood things—making excellent reads of offense; playing smart, airtight defense; and doing all those so-called little things, especially on the defensive end, like tapping a loose ball to a teammate, hedging just enough on ball screen actions, closing out hard on shooters, helping and recovering, and boxing out even the biggest of guys.

Norwood, fresh from a four-year stint at George Mason University in the US NCAA, first donned the country’s colors in the 2007 William Jones Cup, with Coach Chot helping bring the then 22-year-old to the country. Since then, the do-it-all swingman has been a fixture for the national team, proving each and every time that he deserves to play for the Philippines with his consistently heady and steady play, particularly on the defensive end where he has earned a reputation as one of Asia’s premier defenders.

However, Norwood’s evolution from wide-eyed utility man to Swiss Army Knife was anything but smooth, with the George Mason University alum at times seemingly weighed down by enormous expectations. He was, after all, an all-world athlete who played meaningful minutes for a legitimate Division 1 university in the US NCAA, and many pegged him to be the next big thing in Philippine basketball, a dominant two-way player unlike no other.

Mr. President, indeed, was a player like no other, but not in the way people expected him to be. Norwood’s defense has always been special, and he showed right away that he could dominate that end by locking down the other team’s best players with his length, athleticism, and high basketball IQ. He was an enigma on offense, though. He was this gifted player who preferred to play within a system rather than be the system. He was a willing passer, never forcing the issue even if he could given his athletic gifts. Some even misconstrued this willingness to share the ball as a reluctance to shoot, a refusal to take charge, a sign of shrinking in the moment. Here was this enormously talented player who routinely passed up open shots to get the ball moving to less heralded but more open teammates. In other words, many wanted Norwood to do more. They wanted him to shoot more, to be aggressive, to take over games.

But Norwood, clearly, is not wired that way. He is neither a Mark Caguioa or a Terrence Romeo, always locked, loaded, and willing to take matters into his own hands, double teams be damned. He is not a James Yap, a man of a million moves who looks to score first, score second, score more. It took critics a while to realize that Norwood was wired differently, and that he was an outlier, an ultra talented role player who excels not by scoring but by doing all the nitty-gritty required to win basketball games.

Despite his contributions to the national team, Norwood likely won’t get the recognition (and adulation) he richly deserves, especially among casual Pinoy basketball fans who are oftentimes smitten only by the breathtaking brilliance of a Jayson Castro, the flash and flair of a Terrence Romeo, the inside-outside versatility of an Andray Blatche, the sweet shooting of a Matthew Wright, the brute dominance of a June Mar Fajardo, and the volatile ferocity of a Calvin Abueva. Nevertheless Mr. President consistently makes winning plays on both offense and defense, yet his contributions—often noticed only by coaches and those who know the intricacies of the game—don’t often appear in the box score.

So naturally Norwood would gift fans a highlight or two, like a nasty throw down (look up in YouTube “2 poster dunk of Gabe Norwood vs Argentina – HQ”) or a big rejection, just to remind them that he, too, can do breathtaking things on a basketball court. Then again, most of Mr. President’s best work are low-key, and in a team already full of stars, his efforts surely make a whale of difference.

It’s time to give Gabe Norwood his due. He deserves it.

martin-bolimaWritten by Martin Dale D. Bolima.

Martin is a copy editor for the University Press of First Asia. He is an avid sports fan. He used to keep a sports blog at http://pinoysportsnet.blogspot.com/.

Photos above from fiba.basketball





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.