Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas headed by President and Chairman Manny Pangilinan together with Gilas Pilipinas encouraged the entire nation to support the national team when it competes in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament starting on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Foreign basketball nations, headed by National Basketball Association (NBA)-laden France and Canada, Turkey, New Zealand and African nation Senegal, have already arrived for the Olympic qualifiers.
Only the champion team will earn a slot in the Rio Olympic scheduled on August 5 to 21 in Brazil.
Despite the mounting pressure, Pangilinan and several national players expressed determination and faith.
“We have to keep our faith in ourselves and with Gilas [Pilipinas national team], yes we can [qualify in Rio Olympics],” Pangilinan told The Manila Times over the weekend during interview. “Anxious and praying for the team. I always encourage them, so to my fellow Filipinos let’s support the team.”
Pangilinan added the SBP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the country’s successful hosting of one of the three Olympic qualifiers to be simultaneously hosted by Serbia and Italy.
Overall, there are 18 countries in the three qualifying tournaments and only the champions of those three qualifiers will make it to Rio.
“We are doing our best to host the qualifiers in order to have a good track record in FIBA for future hosting of any basketball competitions,” he added.
Considered by all basketball fans and analysts as the most competitive team in the Philippine bracket, the French national team unleashed its roster headed by NBA players Tony Parker and Boris Diaw of San Antonio, Nicolas Batum of Charlotte and Joffrey Lauvergne of Denver.
EuroBasket Mythical Team awardee Nando De Colo, Antoine Diot, Mickael Gelabale, Thomas Heurtel, Charles Kahudi, Adrien Moerman, Florent Pietrus and Kim Tillie are the other members of world no. 5 France.
Canada will be parading NBA Toronto Raptors Corey Joseph, Milwaukee Bucks’ Tyler Ennis, Joel Anthony of Detroit Pistons and Tristan Thompson of NBA champion Cleveland along with Anthony Bennett, 7’5 center Sim Bhullar of Raptors, 6’10 forward-center Levon Kendall, Dillon Brooks, and 6’10 shot-blocking specialist Chris Boucher, among others.
Veteran national campaigner Jean Marc Pingris and 6’10 center June Mar Fajardo said they are not intimidated and bothered, as they believe anything can happen.
“Bilog ang bola [anything can happen]and we all believe we can reach the Olympics this August,” Pingris said in separate interview. “Everybody is working hard and I’m very sure our fellow Filipinos will always be there to support us.”
“I believe we can do it [winning the title in the qualifier and reaching the Olympics],” said Fajardo of San Miguel Beer. “We’re doing a lot of drills so far and we’re focusing on our defense. I’m excited to play. We are not intimidated by any team.”