By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
LUMPED in what many consider to be the “Group of Death” in the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup later this year, Batang Gilas is choosing to be undaunted by it and is taking a mind-set to compete with the best teams in the world.
Hacking out a fourth-place finish at the recently concluded FIBA U16 Asian Championship in Foshan, China, the national youth team, backed by Smart Communications, Inc. and Chooks-to-Go, got to secure a berth in the World Cup to be played from June 30 to July 8 in Argentina.
It marks the second time that the Philippines, currently 30th in the world, is making an appearance in the biennial meet after making it in the tournament in 2014 where it finished at 15th place out of 16 teams.
In this year’s edition of the World Cup, Batang Gilas is bracketed in Group D along with France (third in the world), host Argentina (fifth) and Croatia (eighth).
While they recognize that it is going to be an uphill battle for them right at the onset of the World Cup, the Batang Gilas think tank said it is not going to deter them from their goals of having a better showing in the tournament and furthering the program they have set under the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
“We are not necessarily looking at it as the Group of Death but rather we are approaching it as the Philippines very fortunate to be able to compete with some of the best teams in the world,” said head coach Michael Oliver on the sidelines of the welcome home dinner for the team hosted by Chooks-to-Go on Tuesday at Bar One in Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria in Ortigas.
“It (tournament) would help the players in their development, seeing the level of play of these top teams and maybe take note of those for their own improvement,” he added.
He went to say that they are out to seize the opportunity presented to them and take away as much as they can from it.
“We’re happy for the players for the opportunity because this does not happen very often; that they get to play these teams. You only get to play them when you qualify in big tournaments,” Mr. Oliver said.
For assistant coach Josh Reyes, seeing how Batang Gilas competed in the FIBA Asia, the team is not going to surrender much at the World Cup.
“It’s going to be a good barometer of where we stand. We are not the small team anymore. We can handle them,” Mr. Reyes said.
Asked of their expectations come tournament proper, Mr. Reyes said part of their push is to surprise people.
“We will shoot for a better standing but we know it’s going to be tough. Nonetheless I believe with the proper preparation, at this level, we can compete. We are out to surprise people and let’s see how far we can go,” he said.
“When we go to Argentina we are going to compete. We are not there to have a vacation for why go there in the first place if such is going to be the case,” Mr. Reyes added.
On the part of Batang Gilas stalwart Kai Sotto, while he felt they did well in the FIBA Asia tournament, the work continues for them.
“Personally I’m expecting a tough road at the World Cup, so we really have to prepare hard. In the FIBA Asia we got a feel of the competition and how to play in big tournaments. In the World Cup the challenge will be greater but we will not back down,” said the Ateneo High School star player, who led Batang Gilas in points and rebounds in the FIBA Asia with 16.8 points and 13.5 rebounds.
Other players who saw action in the FIBA Asia and are part of the pool for the World Cup are Terrence Fortea, RC Calimag, Rence Padrigao and Raven Cortez.