By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE SAMAHANG BASKETBOL ng Pilipinas (SBP) welcomed the rescheduling of the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament to May next year as it gives the team from the Philippines added time to prepare.

Originally set for March this year, the 3×3 OQT was decided to be postponed to a later date because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

It also came after the postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo to 2021 as the global pandemic rendered it impossible to be staged this year.

In an announcement made last week, FIBA said the 3×3 Olympic qualifiers will now take place from May 26 to 30 in Graz, Australia, from its original site of Bengaluru, India.

The development was welcomed by the SBP, seeing it as an opportunity for the Philippine team to sharpen its game.

“If the tournament took place as scheduled, I don’t think we have enough preparation [time] because it coincided with the schedule of the PBA and with the other schedules of the players,” Ryan Gregorio, special assistant to SBP President Al Panlilio, was quoted as saying by the Philippine Basketball Association website.

“Now because it was moved, the 20 countries and its players are back to zero when it comes to conditioning and in preparation,” he added.

Among the squads competing at the OQT is Team Philippines, led by the country’s top two 3×3 players Joshua Munzon and Alvin Pasaol. They are joined by Southeast Asian Games gold medallists CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa from the PBA.

The team, assembled in February, will try to book a spot in the Olympics, where 3×3 basketball is making its debut.

Currently the team is not practicing as government measures and restrictions to combat COVID-19 prevent it from doing so.

But Mr. Gregorio said that once they get the go-ahead to proceed with their activities from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) they will immediately buckle down to work.

“As soon as we’re given clearance by IATF to resume basketball and return to play, we will take advantage of that and work on the team’s chemistry and camaraderie,” Mr. Gregorio said.

In the Graz qualifiers, 40 teams (20 in each gender) coming from 36 different countries will compete for the six tickets (three per gender) to Tokyo.

As per the draw, the Philippines will open its OQT bid in Group C along with Slovenia, France, Qatar and the Dominican Republic.

The local organizers of the Graz qualifiers said they will build a temporary outdoor venue of a 2,000-seat capacity for the occasion and are already looking forward to the event.