GILAS PILIPINAS 3x3, bannered by Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa, is looking to nab one of three Olympic spots up for grabs in the five-day FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Austria which begins on May 26. — SBP

THE day of reckoning has arrived for the Philippine national men’s 3×3 team as it begins its International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) campaign in Graz, Austria, on Wednesday, May 26.

Gilas Pilipinas 3×3, bannered by Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa, is looking to nab one of three Olympic spots up for grabs in the five-day qualifiers and become the first basketball team from the Philippines to take part in the Summer Games in nearly five decades.

The last time the country was represented in basketball in the Olympics was in 1972 in Munich, Germany, with a five-a-side team that boasted the likes of Bogs Adornado, Jimmy Mariano, Danny Florencio and Freddie Webb. The team finished with a 1-6 record, the lone victory coming at the expense of Senegal.

In the OQT, the nationals play in the tough Pool C, which also has Slovenia (Europe Cup 2016 winner), France (second at Europe Cup 2019), Qatar (2014 World Champ), and the Dominican Republic.

Tournament format calls for each team playing the other four in their respective pools. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the crossover quarterfinals and then play knockout games all the way to the semifinals.

The semifinals and the third-place games will be known in the FIBA 3×3 OQT as the Olympic Ticket games.

Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 will first play Qatar on May 26 at 8 p.m. (Manila time) to be followed by the game against Slovenia at 9:45 p.m.

It will take a break the following day before resuming its campaign on May 28 against the Dominican Republic at 6 p.m. and France at 8 p.m.

Notwithstanding the challenges presented by the pandemic to training, Gilas Pilipinas still managed to put in time and work under a “bubble” setup.

For nearly a month in the lead-up to the OQT, the Ronnie Magsanoc-coached 3×3 team practiced twice a day at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Laguna, working on its collective game to have the best representation possible in the tournament.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) made sure that the team got the needed workout and training with the time and conditions it had on its lap.

The federation made the arrangements for the training and coordinated with pertinent authorities and sent in practice players Tonino Gonzaga, Greg Flor, Malik Diouf and Jason Brickman for the scrimmages of the team.

“We thank the SBP for giving us a safe training environment so we can devote all our focus on our preparation for the qualifiers,” said Mr. Magsanoc of the support they got from the SBP.

“There have been challenges along the way, but we’re happy that the team got to train.”

Zeroing in on their OQT bid, Mr. Perez admitted that they have their work cut out for them, especially overcoming their deficit in size, but they know what is at stake and is expected of them. He said that they are going to do everything they can in the tournament.

“It means a lot for my career if we make it to the Olympics, that’s a huge success for me,” he said. “It’s always an honor to represent my country.”

Gilas Pilipinas 3×3’s FIBA OQT matches can be seen live over the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ Facebook page. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo