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Gilas vs NBA vets? Bring it on, says MVP

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Now that the final line-up has been bared, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Manny V. Pangilinan is encouraging the players to give their all in the upcoming Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament next week.

Sunday night, Gilas 4.0 coaching staff led by American coach Tab Baldwin released the names of the players that will form part of a group tasked to bring a Philippine basketball team back in the Olympics.

Pangilinan said there is no reason for any player to feel worried at the thought of banging bodies against some of the best players in the world.

“Bakit tayo matatakot? Play against the best. Then, wake up call for us para malaman natin how good we really are,” said Pangilinan. “I think if we can compare with them, play creditably against them, then we’ll know we’re world class. If it turns out otherwise, then we’ll know if we have to improve.”

The Philippines is bracketed in Group B of the OQT event and will be ranged against France that will be bannered by NBA veterans Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw.

New Zealand meanwhile is the third team in that group and has no NBA player in their line-up but has an average height of 6’5”.

In Group A are Turkey, Canada and Senegal.

Those named to the Gilas squad are Tropang TNT stalwarts Ranidel De Ocampo, Ryan Reyes, Jayson Castro and rookie Troy Rosario; Jeff Chan and Gabe Norwood of Rain or Shine; Terrence Romeo of Globalport, Japeth Aguilar of Brgy. Ginebra, Junemar Fajardo of San Miguel Beer, Marc Pingris of Star, college standout Ray Parks, Jr. and naturalized center Andray Blatche.

Cut from the pool were Ginebra’s LA Tenorio and Calvin Abueva of Alaska who are both part of the 14-man training pool currently ensconced in their European camp.

While Pangilinan feels positive about Gilas’ chances, he still cautions fans to temper their expectations as the upcoming tournament will be way tougher than the FIBA Asia 2013 which the country successfully hosted.

“You have to balance it but on the one hand, you have to be realistic. These are tough, world class teams. You have to tell the fans ‘look guys, this is a much tougher tournament. Shorter one but much tougher,” said Pangilinan. “But that doesn’t give you the reason not to try. Focus, give all-out effort. You owe it to yourselves. You owe in to your country.”

It was euphoric for Philippine basketball three years ago as the country made a historic return to the world basketball scene by claiming one of the three spots at stake in that FIBA event held at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Gilas’ runner-up finish in 2013 gave them a return trip to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, it’s first stint since the 1974 World Basketball Championship.

Meantime the top two teams from each group of the OQT event will advance to the crossover semifinals.

The winners of the crossover semis will meet in the finals where only the winner will get that precious ticket to the Olympic this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The last time the Philippines earned a spot in the basketball competition of the Summer Games was during the 1972 Munich Olympics, a team that finished 13th overall with a 2-6 record. (DENNIS PRINCIPE)