Freeman Cebu Sports

The Olympic Hoops Dream


This is it Pinoy basketball fans. It’s now or never for our very own Gilas Pilipinas as they seek that elusive ticket to play in the Rio Olympics next month. It’s time for the OQT, the FIBA’s Olympic Qualifier Tournament that will send a team to the Olympics. Will they make it? Will they top pre-tournament favorites France, Canada and Turkey? Can they even beat New Zealand, a team that is unfairly not given a chance to make it to the semifinals? Well there’s only one way to find out.

First things first. The country’s hosting of the OQT is another sign that basketball is very much alive and well in the Philippines. After a successful staging of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships where the Philippines placed second, we are now given another chance to host a big international event. How big? I see this as bigger than the FIBA Asia tournament since the OQT brings in world-caliber teams in France, Canada and Turkey along with Senegal, New Zealand and us as hosts. After losing in our bid to host the 2019 FIBA World Cup to China, it was only logical that FIBA award us the rights to host this OQT. They know how mad we are as a nation for basketball. They all know how “puso” projected Gilas Pilipinas to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain where the team scored a historic win in a World Cup game, something we haven’t done in a very long time. And so here we are. What are our chances? Or do we even have a chance?

The short tournament which starts on Tuesday and ends on July 10, has the six teams split into two groups. In one group are France, New Zealand and the Philippines. In the other group are Canada, Turkey and Senegal. Each groups plays a single round robin of games with the top two teams of each moving on the cross-over semifinals. This early, people are projecting France to top its group with the Philippines a slight favorite to edge New Zealand for the second semis berth. This is where Gilas can’t rest. New Zealand loves the idea of being the underdog, and would love nothing else than to spoil the host team’s dreams early in the tournament. If you think puso will be enough for Gilas, New Zeland is just as proud of its heritage and culture. They too, have their own version of puso. I must admit that France is already a given to top the group hands-down. I just can’t imagine Gilas beating France on Tuesday, but would love to see a huge upset. Can you just imagine Terrence Romeo or Jayson Castro work on their cross-over against Tony Parker? My prayer is that Gilas overcome New Zealand and make it to the semifinals as the group’s second-ranked team.

Canada and Turkey are predicted to take the top two spots in the other group. So if Gilas finishes second, they have to face either of the two. Gilas has lost twice to Turkey in friendly games, a blowout and a close one Friday night. Canada is souped up with NBA-level players. End of case. Reaching the semifinals of this OQT will thus become an over-achievement of sorts and making it to the finals possibly against France would be heaven-sent! To choose between Canada and Turkey doesn’t make any sense since we don’t have any control over that, and we need to worry about France and New Zealand first. Two losses will mean an early exit on Wednesday. We need to realize that the level of competition here is higher than that of the FIBA Asia where we placed second in 2013 and 2015. France, Canada and Turkey can beat any of Asia’s top teams anytime, and that includes us.

Let’s face it. Puso and the heart-over-height approach can get us only so far. While our chances of catching that ticket to Rio is slim, we definitely have an excellent opportunity to show the world audience that we love our basketball and play our hearts out despite our lack of size. Everyone loves an underdog and always cheers for the Davids of the world against the big boys. The non-NBA players against the NBA stars. We should also prove that we can be excellent hosts of international events like this one, the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, and should also host more in the future. We can also prove to the world that we have the best fans on the planet who can out-cheer any other crowd on any given day. The unique part here is that the Pinoy fans will also fall star-struck and cheer for stars like Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Corey Joseph. Pinoy fans will be dying to get autographs, have pictures taken with the NBA stars or just simply watch them play up front and personal. It doesn’t get any closer than this folks.

The other curious thing I’d like to see is how many people from outside Manila will watch the games of the OQT. Are there Cebuanos making the trip to Manila to watch Tony Parker play? I remember when the USA team made a stopover in Macau to play in a friendly game before proceeding to the Beijing Olympics. Pinoys went to Macau and had a grand time watching the superstars. For most Pinoys though, watching the games on TV and knowing that we’re hosting the games will be more than enough to be proud of the moment.

So stand tall and be proud. Win or lose, this is another shining moment in Philippine sports history. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Puso!



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