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Fans: Gilas’ 6th man

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Now is the time the world’s greatest basketball fans must come together and support Gilas Pilipinas.

Ranged against some of the world’s top-tier squads in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament Manila the Philippine National Team sure can use all the help it could get.

And here’s where the Most Valuable Fans (MVF) Best Country awardee in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain comes in as it is expected to provide the indispensable boost in morale and confidence the home team needs through cheers and prayers.

“Let’s be a great sixth man,” prodded SBP Vice-President Al Panlilio, chief executive officer of the local organizing committee of the Manila OQT set July 5-10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Please, on behalf of our basketball team, keep us in your thoughts, keep us in your prayers, and most importantly, in your hearts,” was how national coach Tab Baldwin expressed his own plea for support from this basketball-crazy nation.

Baldwin is set to announce his final 12-man roster Sunday and his team will have no more than nine days before opening up its Group B campaign against World No. 5 France, which features the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker and Boris Diaw and EuroBasket MVP Nando de Colo.

The next day (July 6) it will be New Zealand, ranked 21st by FIBA, testing the Gilas mettle. Based on the final 12-man roster just released by Kiwi coach Paul Henare, the Tall Blacks are led by eight members of their team that wound up 15th in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

At No. 28 in the FIBA rankings, the Philippines is the fifth lowest-ranked team in the Manila OQT, just up on No. 31 Senegal, which is in Group A along with Canada and Turkey.

The Turks are No. 8 in the world and the Canadians No. 26. They are expected to make it through to the semifinals and either would be the Filipinos’ opponent should the latter advance from the group stages.

Only the tournament winner gets a ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Considering the route, it would be veritably like going through the eye of the needle. But the opening, however slight, is there and everybody knows Gilas sure could use the push.

That is why all the national and local basketball officials know the more than 100 million Filipinos should come together on this one, like they have done so many times before.

“We know you’re the greatest fan base in the world when it comes to international basketball,” Baldwin added. “I can’t reiterate this enough, but please come support your team.”

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