Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Manny V. Pangilinan said that he is entrusting to God Gilas Pilipinas’ campaign in the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Olympic Qualifying tournament slated on July 4 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
As one of the three countries selected to host the Olympic men’s basketball qualifiers, Pangilinan admitted that the Philippines is facing a gargantuan challenge of reaching this year’s Rio Olympics in August because it will be pitted against powerhouse nations among them France, Canada and Turkey.
“I would hope so, think positively. We should try our best to form and organize the best team we can,” Pangilinan told The Manila Times. “Other than that, we leave everything to God.”
The Philippines, Italy and Serbia are the three Olympic qualifiers host countries chosen by FIBA. The Philippines is bracketed with Canada, France, Turkey, Senegal and New Zealand.
“But of course our goal is to become a champion, not only reach the semifinals. We should go for it and nothing less. We can only do our best. We should prepare as early as we can,” Pangilinan added.
Pangilinan is set to step down as SBP president in May to give way to other competent individuals to ascend to position of leadership. He also expressed his desire to devote more time in supporting other sports that Filipinos can excel.
“I don’t want to be the first one who will violate the law that we crafted 10 years ago,” said Pangilinan, referring to the 2006 constitution created when the SBP was formed to replace the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) as the official national sport association for basketball.
“It is time to give way for a new leader who is fresh and energetic – time for a change. But my support to basketball will always be there, we will be behind. I can focus on my PBA [Philippine Basketball Association] teams Talk ‘N Text, NLEX [Northern Luzon Expressway] and Meralco.”
Under his term, Pangilinan successfully restored order in Philippine basketball and convinced FIBA to lift the two-year suspension it imposed on the country because of government’s meddling in basketball issues and BAP’s conflict with the Philippine Olympic Committee.
He also revived the national team program that resulted in two first runner-up finishes in the last two FIBA Asia tournaments and a return trip to the FIBA World Cup in 2014.
Pangilinan is hoping to send the Philippines back to the Olympics this year.
The last time the Philippines competed in the Olympics was in 1972 in Munich, Germany.
“I can also devote more time on other sports that we can excel like in boxing. I will still support them of course,” he added. “FIBA wants us to develop and expand our basketball grassroots program. They also want us to participate in World Cup, 3-on-3 competitions and other FIBA sanctioned tournaments.”
Pangilinan explained that under his term, the FIBA ranking of the Philippines has improved a lot. “When we took over in 2006, we are at No. 63 and now we’re at below 30 because we participated and won in different overseas competitions since then,” he said.
Besides boxing and basketball, Pangilinan’s Smart Sports program also supports badminton, cycling, volleyball and football.