Members of the Gilas Pilipinas 3x3 team set to compete in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Austria this month insist that chemistry will hardly be a problem in their bid to make it to the Tokyo Games later this year.
Although the Philippines will be fielding a team that has not played an official game together in the 3x3 circuit, veterans Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, and Karl Dehesa think the selfless nature of the squad's players will overcome this particular obstacle come game time in Graz from May 26 to 30.
"We have a selfless group of guys, guys who are willing to defer to other guys, whether these guys take shots or not. We've got guys who are willing to do whatever it takes to win," Munzon said on the Power & Play radio show hosted by former PBA commissioner Noli Eala. "It might take a little adjusting at first, but at the same time we all have one goal, and we all know what that goal is. So I think it should be easy for all of us to get on the court and accomplish that goal."
Munzon and Pasaol are joined by PBA stars CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa of San Miguel, while Dehesa and Rain or Shine rookie Leonard Santillan are listed as reserve players for the four-day qualifiers. All six are entering the training bubble at INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna in the coming week.
There is certainly a need to get more cohesive as a unit, but the 3x3 veterans believe figuring out player roles will not be one of the utmost priorities.
"We all have the same mindset of winning and getting to the Tokyo Olympics. That's the main goal. We're not really insecure about our roles," said Pasaol.
"Given the situation that we're all in, it's tough to jell together right away. But we all get along, we all understand the game, we all have fun, we all respect the game, and we respect each other. As long as we're out there, and working together, and working hard together. I think that good things can happen in such a short amount of time," Dehesa added.
Gilas, ranked No. 20 in the men's division, is bracketed with powerhouse countries No. 3 Slovenia and No. 11 France, as well as 26th-ranked Qatar and 33rd-seeded Dominican Republic. Only the top two squads from each of the four groups will advance to the knockout stage, and only three teams in the tournament can claim a spot in the Olympics.
"We've actually had the chance to see Slovenia play on the pro circuit. We played against a number of the Qatar guys and some of the French teams. We've got experience playing against some of those guys. But at the same time, we've been able to watch some film during these Zoom sessions," said Munzon. "We might not have been able to be together physically, but the Zoom sessions have been able to keep us together mentally. We've been able to game plan a little bit for these teams."
The main adjustments in their buildup will really come in the way of dealing with the size and physicality of highly-touted 3x3 teams, but Dehesa believes the addition of Tautuaa and Perez, as well as the experience of the veteran holdovers, are certainly welcome boosts.
"Just having Mo on the court is going to open up the game for Josh, Santi and CJ. And we're not a small team. Josh is 6'4, Alvin is 6'4. We have length and we have size, and adding Mo to the mix is going to make us more deadly," he noted.
"Just the difference, I think, is the European style of play over there. They're very strong, and they're very creative in terms of moving off the ball, and they've adapted this style of play out there where they're attacking from all different angles. So it's just about being ready and getting familiar with the different angles you're going to be hit with," Dehesa explained.
Tautuaa and Pasaol, meanwhile, think Gilas has one key advantage elsewhere.
"We've got the advantage in heart," Pasaol remarked. "And we have speed. We just need to pick up the pace to exhaust them. We also just need to trust each other that we can win together."
Added Tautuaa: "It comes down to heart, like, who really wants it more, you know. I mean, size helps, but in this game, you can win it with small guys. And I really believe in my team here. I feel like we have a strong team. We've got that Filipino spirit, man. We're not going to back down to anybody."
The way to the Olympics is a narrow one, but it's an open window nonetheless for this Gilas 3x3 squad aiming to be the first Philippine basketball team since 1972 to make it to the Games.
"Being present in it and going through it right now, the magnitude of it hasn't really hit yet. But I think once we're going through it and kind of doing some reflection, seeing how the opportunity that we have is large, we want to take advantage of this opportunity," said Dehesa. "How crazy would it be having an 'Olympian' next to your name? I think that is an amazing feat. For us to just be in the same breath with these great players and great countries there, I think that that is an honor in itself."
"It's a huge honor to represent the Philippines and to play alongside these guys. I'm excited," Santillan added. "Teams in Austria are on another level, but nothing is impossible. We'll do the best that we can."