Gilas 3x3 team en route to Austria to gun for Olympic berth

Gilas Pilipinas 3x3 is already bound for Graz, Austria where it looks to clinch a spot in the Tokyo Olympics via the 2021 FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) from May 26-30.

The national team composed of Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, CJ Perez, and Mo Tautuaa, with Santi Santillan as reserve and PBA legend Ronnie Magsanoc as coach left Manila late Sunday. Karl Dehesa was unable to join the team due to health and safety protocols.

They are expected to arrive in the city located south of Vienna 21 to 24 hours after taking off. Once there, they will continue to gear up for action in Group C against Slovenia (fourth), France (10th), Qatar (25th), and the Dominican Republic (33rd).

The Philippines appeared in seven of the first eight Olympic basketball tournaments, with the last time coming in 1972. Gilas 3x3 aims to do the same thing in the inaugural edition of this basketball variant.

The nationals will face Slovenia and Qatar on May 26, then France and the Dominican Republic on May 28. The top two teams from the four groups will advance to the knockout stage, where the podium finishers will make it to Tokyo.

For Munzon, the Philippines' top-ranked player, Gilas 3x3 did not lack in preparation for the OQT.

"I feel like we did all we can do to prepare for the tournament. We're excited. We're ready as we can be and you know, we want to go out there and make the country proud. So at the end of the day, we're just going to leave everything we have out there," said the 2021 PBA Draft top overall pick in an interview with News5's Lyn Olavario.

After months of online sessions, Munzon and company finally had a week-long training camp inside a 'bubble' in the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna earlier in the month.

"I think we just have to go out there and stay together, just stay the course, and stick to the game plan. Coach Ronnie has a pretty good game plan for us. So as long as we stick to the game plan, we'll give ourselves a chance and we'll see what happens," he added.

For his part, Pasaol vowed that he and his teammates will wear the flag with pride.

"Our strength is that the team fights together for the flag. We will head there with nothing to lose so we will do every effort to win. Of course, our opponents are strong, but the Pinoy's heart will never waver," explained no. 2 Filipino baller in his native tongue.

Perez, meanwhile, added that they are more inspired due to the current situation in the Philippines.

"One way to inspire the Filipinos who are struggling with the pandemic, of course is playing for the country, to make our countrymen proud," mentioned San Miguel's new guard.