Sending the best team possible is something the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas will have to discuss with the PBA in the near future after Gilas Pilipinas was selected to replace New Zealand in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.
Gilas and its fans got a huge surprise Friday after FIBA announced the country’s inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics qualifier following New Zealand’s decision to pull out of the June 29-July 4 tournament due to a “spike in the number of high performance events and the costs of sending teams abroad.”
The Philippines, which initially missed out of the OQT following its last-place finish in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, got the slot by virtue of having the best world ranking among the countries from the Asia-Oceania region.
SBP president Al Panlilio said that chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan “was very pleased with the news” upon being informed by FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis of the decision.
With that, the question is the composition of the roster, which the SBP needs to coordinate with the PBA. The OQT will likely run smack into the PBA schedule since plans are for the 46th season to begin on April 9 provided it gets the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force.
“Whenever we compete in international tournaments, we always aim to send the best team possible to make our Filipino fans proud,” Panlilio said in a statement.
“We will be coordinating with the PBA to plot our plans moving forward and we’re hopeful that Ange Kouame’s naturalization will be signed into law by then to give Gilas Pilipinas Men that added boost it needs to be more competitive,” he added.
Kouame’s naturalization was recently approved by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but the bill seeking to grant Filipino citizenship to the Ivorian center will have to be passed in the plenary on the second and third reading before being sent to Malacanang for President Duterte’s signature.
PBA commissioner Willie Marcial, elated when informed of the FIBA decision, said he will wait for word from the SBP before plans can be laid out for the OQT.
“Pag nagbigay sa amin ang SBP ng notice tungkol sa OQT, siguradong pag-uusapan yun,” said Marcial.
Gilas is slated to face host Serbia and Dominican Republic in Group A of the Belgrade leg of the OQT, needing a top two finish in order to qualify for the semifinals.
National team veteran Kiefer Ravena acknowledged the realistic chances of Gilas to make it past both teams, saying: “It’s really going to take a lot of preparation to win against those teams. Whether kung sino man ang papadala, it’s better to start as soon as possible.”
San Miguel Beer’s Chris Ross, a member of Gilas squad that won the gold in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, suggested that Gilas “should get the guys from the PBA that they want to be in the final 12” and that the team should compete in the PBA as buildup for the OQT.