After four years, the Philippines is back in the FIBA 3X3 World Tour Masters, the top 3x3 circuit in the world.
The country is sending two teams to the first stop of the Masters from April 18 to 19 at the Katara Amphitheatre in Doha, Qatar.
Pasig Chooks (Pasig Kings) qualified for the tournament after winning the Quest-level Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup last April 7. A week later, Balanga Chooks (1Bataan Risers) punched their ticket to Doha after placing second in the Chooks-to-Go 3x3 Asia Pacific Super Quest.
According to league commissioner Eric Altamirano, the two Philippine-based club teams are more than ready to test their mettle against the world's best and finest in 3x3 basketball.
"Given the short time of preparation, I was surprised with how intense and how focused the players are. They were so intense that there was a lot of frustrations shown and some flare-ups," shared Altamirano after the team's final practice Tuesday afternoon. "We expected that because they want to win and they really want to have a good representation for the country in the World Tour."
Top two Filipino players Joshua Munzon and Taylor Statham headline Pasig Chooks and will be joined by Serbian import Nikola Pavlovic and 2015 top French player Angelo Tsagarakis.
Pasig will figure in a tough group as it will face home squad Katara on Thursday, April 18 at 10:50 PM (Manila time) before taking on top club team Liman at 12:25 am.
Little is known about Katara while Liman, despite not having world no. 2 Stefan Stojacic, still have three top 10 players.
"We know that Liman is one of the top teams in the world but we don't know anything about Katara. They're the host country. That is the one thing they will have going for them, the support of the home crowd," opined Altamirano. "But we are also hoping that we get the support of the local Pinoys there."
On the other hand, Balanga still stuck to its Super Quest core of Alvin Pasaol (Philippine's no. 4 player), Leonard Santillan (no. 5), Karl Dehesa (no. 10), and American guest player Travis Franklin.
Balanga is slotted in Pool C together with 2019 Wuxi Challenger champion Riga Ghetto and Moscow.
"Those are two tough assignments. But what I like about Bataan is their heart. They never back down. They seem to be the underdog but they don't show it. They never give up," opined Altamirano.
Pool B will have world no. 2 Novi Sad, Asia Pacific Super Quest champ Tokyo Dime, and wildcard team Doha while Pool D features Slovenia's Piran and Ljubjana, together with Canada's University of McGill.
Only the top two teams from each of the four groups will advance to the knockout playoffs on Friday, April 19.
The winner of the two-day tourney will take home USD 30,000 while second place banks USD 20,000. Top three to five net USD 12,000, 8,000, and 5,000, respectively.
A representative from each team will also compete in the shootout contest that has a top prize of USD 5,000 while Filipino dunk artist David Carlos will be the country's representative in the Dunk Contest on Friday.
Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 owner Ronald Mascariñas is confident that these two squads have what it takes to shock the world come Thursday.
"Having been with these guys since February, I honestly believe that our players have superior skills. However, we need to play disciplined and smart basketball with no individualism at all," said the sports patron. "If they do this, I am confident that we can come out on top in Doha."
The FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters will be streamed live on ESPN5.com and on Sports5's Facebook page.