SAMAHANG Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny Pangilinan wishes that the country’s winning bid for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic qualifying tournament in July will serve as a unifying force for the country.
In an interview with The Standard/Viva Sports early Wednesday morning as he was about to board a flight for San Francisco with SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas, Pangilinan said: “We need to get together as a nation and use sport to bring together our people.”
He cited the ability of eight-division world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao to unify the country. “This is like what Manny can do for the country (when he fights). We need to unify and heal the country. This event is fortuitous and timely as we have a new beginning, with a new president.”
He conceded they had to do it the hard way, indicating that when “I get back next week, we have to make sure we have players ready.”
Pangilinan revealed he had spoken to coach Tab Baldwin and expressed the hope that dominating San Miguel Beer center and MVP Junemar Fajardo, who was forced to sit out the first two games of the ongoing finals against Alaska, will be ready because he is a key to the chances of Gilas Pilipinas against “five world-class teams” at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Philippines earned a runner-up finish in the FIBA Asia Championships in August 2013 in Manila and earned a berth in the FIBA World Cup in Spain after finishing runner-up to Iran, when naturalized center Marcus Douthit was injured and couldn’t play, allowing the 7’2” MVP Hamed Haddadi to dominate inside.
Pangilinan said in his 8 a.m. call from the airport that he would have to talk to Lakers’ Fil-Am point guard Jordan Clarkson, “who is playing so well” in the NBA.
Clarkson earlier indicated his desire to suit up for the Philippines and even accompanied the Gilas team to the Jones Cup in Taipei last year and said he was “very disappointed,” he couldn’t play for the national team in the FIBA Asia Championships in Wuhan last Sept. 23.
Responding to former PBA Chairman Rene Pardo, who said during Game 2 of the finals, that the hosting of the qualifying tournament would be “good for the country, good for the PBA and good for basketball.”
The Star Hotshots governor’s positive attitude is shared by the others on the PBA board of governors.
“I think they will be criticized if they don’t cooperate. They have to send their players,” said Pangilinan.
Regarding the draw which will be held at the House of Basketball FIBA’s headquarters in Switzerland on Tuesday, Pangilinan said: “I like to get one African team, one Americas team, either Canada or Puerto Rico and one Asian team and since Serbia is a host, we hope we can get a weaker Czech Republic and not Greece, which is a strong team.”
MVP remarked that playing at home is a major plus, citing the incredible support of Filipino fans from all walks of life during the FIBA Asia Championships in 2013.
SBP executive director Sonny Barrios revealed that Pangilinan was “on pins and needles” when FIBA hadn’t called as promised by 10:00 p.m. Manila Time to convey their decision on the hosting but settled down after he received the news a few minutes later.
Barrios was not sure whether MVP ‘got any sleep last night.”
Barrios was confident that hosting the event with six teams would be “much easier than the FIBA Asia Championships of 2013 when there were sixteen teams.”
But he remarked that “it will be completely different in basketball terms because the competition will be much stiffer… five times harder for Gilas.”
Barrios also expressed the hope that Japan will be the Asian representative and not Iran.