The PBA announced recently that it would support Gilas’ participation in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament by adjusting its Third Conference calendar and making available 17 of its finest players for the National Pool. Now this is certainly a welcome development in the country’s bid to return to basketball Olympics. Gilas’ bridesmaid finish in the 2015 Asian Championship qualified the Philippines in the OQT in July next year, where three Olympic slots are at stake.
But entering the Olympics via the OQT is a gargantuan task as Gilas will have to lock horns with powerhouse teams from all over the world that are likewise seeking an Olympic berth. There are 17 other qualified national teams – France, Serbia, Greece, Italy and Czech Republic from Europe; Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico from the Americas; Angola, Tunisia and Senegal from Africa; New Zealand from Oceania; and Iran and Japan from Asia. The 18 countries will be split into three groups of six teams, where each group will go through a single round tournament. The top team in each of the three tournaments will gain a ticket to Rio.
Just by looking at the competition, it’s difficult to be optimistic about our chances in the OQT. This was why the SBP had earlier reservations in participating. But skipping the tournament could result to FIBA sanctions on the Philippines.
And so, the PBA’s decision to lend a hand is indeed a much-needed shot in the arm that gives the country a fighting chance in the OQT. It seems also that the 17 players are the ones National coach Tab Baldwin wanted from the start. The list includes Junemar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Greg Slaughter, LA Tenorio, Ian Sanggalang and Japeth Aguilar, all of whom are from the SMC group, a known basketball rival of the MVP group that runs the Gilas program. Also in the list are Paul Lee, Jeff Chan, Ryan Reyes, Troy Rosario, and Gilas 3.0 members Gabe Norwood, Calvin Abueva, Matt Rosser, Marc Pingris, Ranidel De Ocampo, Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo. Add to this list naturalized player Andray Blatche, and even possibly LA Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson. From this list, a Dream Team can be formed. But more importantly, the PBA also declared that it would allow these players to join the Gilas training every Monday starting next month. This should give the Nationals more time to prepare for the OQT next year.
We commend the PBA’s move. It’s about time our basketball leaders set aside personal interests and work hand in hand for the sake of Philippine basketball.
Meanwhile, the NCAA Final Four starts tomorrow at the Mall of Asia Arena. Top seed San Beda battles Jose Rizal U, while Letran collides with Intramuros neighbor Mapua. The Red Lions and Knights enjoy twice-to-beat advantage. Both matches are expected to go down the wire as these four squads survived a grueling double round elims that many believe to be the most competitive in years.
Five-time defending champion San Beda hopes to barge into the finals for the tenth straight year in an attempt to set a new league record of six straight titles. But although the Lions defeated JRU twice already this season, the Heavy Bombers are hungry for the crown they last held in 1982.
This is a classic offense versus defense match-up. SBC is the best offensive team in the league with 86.9 points per game, while JRU is 6th with 77.7 ppg. But defensively, the Bombers are second best in the NCAA, allowing only 72.6 ppg to their opponents, while the Lions (7th) give up 79.9 ppg.
But even more interesting is the CSJL – MIT tussle as both teams split their games this season. The Cardinals actually lost just one game – to SBC – since the start of the second round, making them the most dangerous contender this season. Top MVP candidate Allwell Oraeme has been at the forefront of Mapua’s surge after posting phenomenal norms of 20.2 boards, 16.3 markers and 2.9 blocks per game. But the Knights have a dreaded weapon – the full court press – that makes them the league-leader in steals and turnover points.
The NCAA is headed for an exciting finish in Season 91.