THE message by the bigwigs of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was loud and clear: Win the Southeast Asian Games competition by a mile.
“I don’t want to win by single digits,” SBP vice-president Ricky Vargas was quoted as saying during a gathering with the team before leaving for Naypyitaw.
The Philippine men’s basketball team is taking SBP’s message to heart.
After arriving in Naypyitaw on Wednesday night following a long journey from Manila, the team immediately buckled down to work in practice on Thursday morning in preparation for their first game next week.
Even the debacle in the 1989 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games where the Philippines shockingly lost the gold medal to host Malaysia is in their minds.
This year, Malaysia is also aiming high in the SEA Games. According to a report by local paper The Star, the Malaysian Basketball Association (Maba) is targeting no less than a sweep of the men’s and women’s basketball in the SEA Games.
But while it is already a class of its own in the region and being a star-studded team with naturalized player Marcus Douthit also in the roster, Gilas Pilipinas isn’t taking any chances.
“You’ll never know,” said Gilas assistant coach Josh Reyes before leaving for Naypyitaw. “Malaysia had beaten us before. You can’t look past teams in the SEA Games.”
The men’s basketball competitions, a round-robin format tournament, begins on December 8 but Gilas Pilipinas will debut the next day when they play Singapore. On December 10, the Philippines takes on Cambodia before taking a break for the formal opening ceremonies.
Next up for the Nationals are host Myanmar (December 12), Thailand (December 13), and Indonesia (December 14), before wrapping up against Malaysia (December 15).
“We are expecting a gold medal,” said Kevin Alas, the skipper of the squad.