By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
BELIEVING that it has assembled a competitive team for the FIBA Under-19 World Cup, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) said it expects Gilas Youth to make waves in the tournament which begins next week in Greece.
Bannered by the twin towers of Kai Sotto (7’1”) and AJ Edu (6’10”), Gilas Youth is the tallest team ever assembled by the country for the U19 World Cup, happening from June 29 to July 7, and has the SBP excited for its potential to go places.
“This is the tallest team we have ever had and there is huge potential for the team to do well,” said SBP president Al Panlilio at the send-off for the team held early this week.
“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.
Sotto, who played high school basketball with Ateneo, returned to the country from the United States after a two-month training with top players and strength and conditioning coaches.
He has made his intention to work his way to the National Basketball Association by playing overseas.
Edu, meanwhile, also came back from the United Kingdom. He currently studies at the University of Toledo in the US.
Joining Sotto and Edu in the 14-man pool, coached by Sandy Arespacochaga, are Shaun Chiu, Carl Tamayo, Bismark Lina, Dave Ildefonso, Joshua Ramirez, 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.
Mr. Panlilio said they are going through the U19 World Cup step-by-step, looking to take care of business in group play first before thinking of the deeper rounds.
“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.
In the U19 World Cup, the Philippines will open its bid 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.