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Faces Kuwait in AG elims: Full-bodied Gilas leaves for China

Sol Mercado

MANILA, Philippines - Smart Gilas Team Pilipinas leaves for Guangzhou, China today, hopeful of its chances in the Asian Games after Fil-Ams Sol Mercado and Chris Lutz were granted accreditation by the Asiad organizing committee yesterday.

Barring changes in the format and the schedule of games, Smart Gilas Phl plays lowly Kuwait in a knockout match Saturday.

Should they hurdle the Kuwaitis, the Filipinos advance to the main draw where they tangle with Iran on Nov. 16, Qatar on No. 17, Japan on Nov. 19, either Afghanistan or India on Nov. 21 and Chinese Taipei on Nov. 22.

The top four in this group will advance to the knockout quarterfinals, clashing with qualifiers from the other group led by China, Jordan and Korea.

Meanwhile, the Senate has finally approved the bill granting Filipino citizenship to American Marcus Douthit, the top prospect by Smart Gilas national basketball team as its naturalized player.

With 13 votes, House Bill No. 2307, which was adopted by the Senate, was passed on third and final reading without any negative votes or abstentions.

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But Douthit’s chances to reinforce the national team in the Asian Games are nil since the deadline for Asiad accreditation ended yesterday. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the national sports association of basketball, also has to convince President Aquino to sign the bill into law.

Malacañang has earlier said Douthit’s case is not in the priority bills set for approval by the President.

The Nationals are out to end the country’s long medal drought in the Asiad since the Philippine Centennial Team of coach Tim Cone placed third in 1998 in Bangkok, Thailand.

“The team is going to Guangzhou upbeat they can fare well. The addition of three PBA players helped boost the morale of the team,” said Smart Gilas operation chief Butch Antonio.

“Maybe, what they lack is time to jell. That is what coach Rajko Toroman wants to work on that’s why the team is going to Guangzhou early to play two tune-up games before the tourney,” Antonio said.

Smart Gilas flies to Guangzhou at 11:15 a.m. today via China Southern Airline. At press time, the team was still trying to look for a venue where it can hold practice upon arrival.

The Nationals tangle with the Guandong Tigers tomorrow then with the Dongguan Leopards Thursday. The two Chinese teams will be reinforced by two imports each.

The team is likely to decide on its Final 12 before the managers’ meeting. Toroman is bringing in 14 players in Mercado, Lutz, Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams, Peter Aguilar, Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Mac Baracael, Jason Ballesteros, Chris Tiu, JV Casio, Mark Barroca, Dylan Ababou and Marcius Lassiter.

“The three PBA players have started practicing regularly with the team only in November but they were quick to adapt,” said Antonio.

“Asi, Sol and I have adjusted well in practice though we also practice with our mother teams,” said Williams.

“It’s good to be back . To be able to represent the country is a great honor for me. We are all confident we can win,” Williams said.

Williams was a part of the Philippine team that placed ninth in the 2007 Tokushima Fiba championship. He missed the 2009 Tianjin Asian meet due to a blood disorder problem. 

– With report from Marvin Sy

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