National team action

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

IF SCHEDULES push through, the Philippine national basketball team will be having a busy next couple of months competing in international competitions.

The national men’s basketball team will be seeing action in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier in June to be held here at Clark City in Angeles, Pampanga; the schedule of which was released by FIBA last week.

The men’s 3×3 team, meanwhile, shoots for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics in the qualifiers in Austria in May.

Gilas Pilipinas looks to formalize its entry into the FIBA Asia Cup by winning at least a game in their scheduled three-match assignment in the qualifiers in Clark.

The Philippines leads Group A with an unblemished record of 3-0 and six points. Second-running is Korea (2-0), followed by Indonesia (1-2) and Thailand (0-4).

In the schedule released by FIBA, Gilas plays Korea on June 16, then Indonesia on June 19, and closes its assignment with a re-engagement with the Koreans on June 20.

All the matches in Clark, which will also host games in Groups B and C, will be played behind closed doors as part of health and safety protocols to guard against the coronavirus.

The window was supposed to take place in February before the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) decided to cancel the proceedings weeks before the event with the spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

Doha, Qatar, stepped in as replacement host but it, too, had to call things off at the last minute because of coronavirus concerns as well.

International Basketball Federation (FIBA) opened the hosting anew to those who were willing and SBP grabbed on the opportunity and is now looking to do well to have the June 16-20 competitions staged successfully.

For the third window, Gilas will go all-cadet so as not to disrupt the calendar of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which is still grappling with how it will go about its delayed Season 46.

The local federation is also using the tournament as an opportunity for Gilas to develop its young players in preparation for future competitions, including the 2023 FIBA World Cup where the country is one of the hosts.

“It’s really developing this young core of players and making them battle-ready… If we can develop that pool of players, we have more options, we have more choices, and we’re also increasing our pool…” said SBP President Al S. Panlilio in his recent appearance on the Power & Play radio program.

As to the hosting, Mr. Panlilio said they have been coordinating with the government to make sure all plans are in line with protocols placed.

He, however, said that all concerned, including FIBA, are aware of how fluid the situation is with the pandemic and are bracing for any possible changes, including another postponement in a worst-case scenario.

Also up for Gilas later this year is the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Serbia at the end of June and the FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia in August.

Meanwhile, the Philippine 3×3 team is angling to be one of the teams seeing action in the Tokyo Olympics, where the sport will make its Games debut.

An all-PBA crew will be representing the country in the qualifiers in Graz, Austria, where three Olympic tickets are at stake.

Two of the top 3×3 players in the Philippines, namely: Joshua Munzon (Terrafirma) and Alvin Pasaol (Meralco) banner the team, along with PBA stalwarts CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa of San Miguel. Also part of the pool are Rain or Shine rookie Santi Santillan and free-agent Karl Dehesa.

The PBA and the SBP have thrown its full support for the team, which is scheduled to enter its training bubble at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, this week.

The Philippines is grouped in the tough Pool C, which also has Slovenia (Europe Cup 2016 winner), France (second at Europe Cup 2019), Qatar (2014 World Champ), and the Dominican Republic.

Team Philippines admits it is going to be a tough road for it, compounded by the limitations presented by the pandemic, but is forging ahead and will try to come up with a competitive showing.

“The last time we played 3×3 was before lockdown and that was last year, so it’s been a while. We are not able to play, that’s the hard thing for us,” Mr. Perez was quoted as saying by the official FIBA website.

“We are doing our best to be in shape. Our coaches never stopped working for the program for us and they keep pushing every day,” he added.

The PBA scoring champion admitted height will be a challenge for them but they will try to compensate for it with quickness and hustle.