Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 team begins OQT bid on May 26 in Austria

CJ PEREZ (#17) and the rest of the Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 team will begin their FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Austria on May 26. — RICHARD ESGUERRA

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Philippine 3×3 national team will begin its bid in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Graz, Austria, on opening day on May 26 in Pool C.

Composed of young Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) veterans CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa of San Miguel and incoming rookies Joshua Munzon (Terrafirma) and Alvin Pasaol (Meralco), Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 will try to notch one of the three tickets up for grabs in the qualifiers for the Tokyo Games, where the sport is making its debut.

The nationals play 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.

OQT format calls for each team playing the other four in their respective pools. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the crossover quarterfinals and then play knockout games all the way to the semifinals.

The semifinals and the third-place games will be known in the FIBA 3×3 OQT as the Olympic Ticket games.

Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 will first play Qatar on May 26 at 8 p.m. (Manila time) to be followed by the game against Slovenia at 9:45 p.m.

It will take a break the following day before resuming its campaign on May 28 against the Dominican Republic at 6 p.m. and France at 8 p.m.

The Philippine team is set to start its “bubble” training at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, in the first week of May. They will stay there before flying to Graz for the OQT.

Messrs. Perez and Tautuaa were members of the gold medal-winning 3×3 team in the 30th Southeast Asian Games held here in 2019.

The duo is looking at building on that success notwithstanding the long break they had in the sport because of the pandemic.

“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 admitted in an interview with the official International Basketball Federation (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.

Messrs. Munzon and Pasaol, meanwhile, are the top 3×3 players in the country and played a big role in the Philippines securing a spot in the OQT, being part of teams which saw action and gained qualifying points in various FIBA tournaments.

They have decided to take their talent to the PBA by applying for the rookie draft early this year where they were selected in the first round, but expressed their commitment for the country’s 3×3 cause in the OQT.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and the PBA have vowed full support for the team, which also includes Rain or Shine rookie Santi Santillan and free-agent Karl Dehesa.

The FIBA 3×3 OQT happens from May 26 to 30.

Meanwhile, if plans push through, the Gilas Pilipinas national team will be featured in the PBA Philippine Cup.

League commissioner Willie Marcial shared the news during the online Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum on Tuesday.

He said it is the PBA’s way of helping Gilas train for its international competitions, namely, the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia in June and FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia in August, in light of the many restrictions currently in place because of the pandemic.

The league chief said they will be coordinating with the SBP in accommodating Gilas, which he sees could play eight to 10 games at least in the Philippine Cup as part of its preparation.

The PBA is looking to begin its delayed Season 46 hopefully in late May or in June.

League officials were to meet government officials on Wednesday to discuss the staging of its new season.