An UNDERSIZED hard-fighting Philippine team leaves on Wednesday for the Fiba U17 World Championship that starts Friday at the Al Ahli Arena in the bustling city of Dubai in United Arab Emirates.
Led by Ateneo star Jolo Mendoza, the Batang Gilas are confident of putting up a good fight against the biggest, brightest young cagers in the world, especially the Angolans, Americans and Greeks who are all bunched with Philippines in Group A.
Group B features Japan, France, Canada and Australia while Group C has Puerto Rico, Italy, Spain and the host country. Rounding up the list of qualifiers are Argentina, Serbia, China, and Egypt, who will all compete in Group D.
Mendoza, the MVP in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (Seaba) U16 tournament, serves as the cornerstone of the squad, which punched a ticket to the world stage after carving out a masterful 77-72 semifinal conquest of Chinese Taipei in the Fiba Asia U16 in Tehran, Iran last year.
“We have a tough task ahead, but we are already here. We want to show the world the class of the Filipinos in basketball, we will not back down,” said Jarin, looking forward to an exciting battle with African champion Angola in their opening game before clashing with Greece on Saturday and United States next week.
The Philippines was actually close to reaching both the inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship in Germany in 2010 and the second edition in Lithuania two years later. Unfortunately, it finished fourth in the Fiba Asia U16 Championship in 2009 and 2011 as it surrendered to Iran and Japan, respectively.
The feat of Batang Gilas matched that of their senior counterparts, who are making an appearance in the Fiba World Cup for the first time since 1978.
"Making the U17 World is an achievement for all basketball-loving Filipinos. We made history," Jarin said.
Aside from Mendoza, also expected to carry the cudgels for Batang Gilas are Matt and Mike Nieto of Ateneo as well as Arnie Padilla and Richard Escoto of Far Eeastern University, Paul Desiderio and Diego Dario of University of the Philippines, Carlo Abadeza and Mike Dela Cruz of La Salle Greenhills, Mikel Panlilio of International School and Renzo Navarro of San Sebastian.
"The biggest weakness is our height. We are always the smallest team in all tournaments we competed in," Jarin added. "But we will show how competitive Filipinos are. We will be fighting for every rebound, every loose ball, every possession."
Joining the team are MVP Sports Foundation president Al Panlilio, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) vice-chairman Ricky Vargas and SBP deputy executive director for international affairs Butch Antonio.