By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

A NEW chapter for the Philippine youth basketball team commences this weekend as the country’s Under-19 team begins its campaign in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Greece.

Boasting of a taller and bigger team, Gilas Pilipinas Youth hopes to do well in the tournament happening from June 29 (June 30, Manila time) to July 7 and go as deep into the competition as possible.

Headlining the team is the twin towers of 7’1” Kai Sotto and 6’10” AJ Edu. Both players came back to the country from their training and commitments abroad to help the squad coached by Ateneo de Manila’s Sandy Arespacochaga.

Joining Sotto and Edu in the pool are Shaun Chiu (6’9”), Carl Tamayo (6’7”), Bismark Lina (6’5”), Dave Ildefonso (6’4”) and Joshua Ramirez (6’4”).

Also part of the team are Xyrus Torres, Gerry Abadiano, Rhyyan Amsali, Miguel Oczon, Dalph Panopio, Terrence Fortea and James Daniel Spencer.

Save for Edu and Panopio who play abroad, the rest of the team played or are still playing in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Back to represent the Philippines anew in an international competition, Edu said he is very thankful and proud of the opportunity given to him and vows to do everything he can to help the team achieve success.

“The big thing I learned from previously representing the country, especially in the 3×3 two years ago, was the great feeling of just playing for the Philippines. It was a surreal feeling, and I’m not gonna lie, I felt a bit of pressure in that tournament. But that helped me get more experience and build my confidence while feeling so good playing for my country,” Filipino-Nigerian Edu was quoted as saying by the official FIBA Website.

Edu plays for the University of Toledo in the United States.

Seeing the potential of the team, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio said they are excited to see how things would go for Gilas Youth in the U19 World Cup and are rallying behind the team.

“This is the tallest team we have ever had and there is huge potential for the team to do well,” said Mr. Panlilio at the send-off for the team.

“The challenge is always if we could create that chemistry to perform well on the global stage. Competition will not be easy. But as long as we try our very best and we play with energy and with passion every game the result will be positive,” he added.

He went on to say that the team would take it step-by-step in the competition and not get too ahead of itself.

“Hopefully we make it to the quarterfinals. The first three games will be crucial to make it to the next round. If we can win two games at least it will help our cause as it makes us avoid the top teams in the other group in the next round,” the SBP president said.

The Philippines will open its bid in the U10 World Cup in Group C along with Argentina, host Greece and Russia.

In other groups are Senegal, the US, New Zealand and Lithuania (Group A); Mali, Australia, Canada and Latvia (Group B); and China, Puerto Rico, France and Serbia (Group D).

Tournament format calls for the 16 participating teams playing against all other teams in its own group — a total of three games for each team.

All teams qualify for the Round of 16, where they will cross between Groups A and B and C and D. The winners of the Round of 16 games advance to the quarterfinals, while the losers move on to the Classification Games for Places 9-16.

Gilas Youth plays host Greece first on June 30 at 1 a.m. then Argentina on July 1 at 1 a.m. and Russia on July 3 at 1:30 a.m.