THE Philippine youth team’s sponsors came in a little late for the Southeast Asian Basketball Association tournament, but it could be an early boost for the Fiba Asia joust.
The Under-18 cagers trained for the Seaba Under-18 championships without a sponsor but received a boost on Tuesday when TAO Corporation announced that it is resuming its support of the team ahead of the Nationals' opening game in Singapore.
“We should have not been here by now after being involved with the team for the last four years,” said TAO Corporation’s Joel Lopa, who along with his wife Ito had supported the youth program from the onset.
“But after learning that the coaches were not really receiving any salaries, and the players were not getting their allowances, my wife told me to give the team some financial help,” said Lopa.
He stressed that their commitment is only for the Seaba tournament, for now.
“Our commitment will be for the Seaba, and if ever, the Fiba-Asia,” said Lopa.
The company’s four-year commitment with the national youth team ended last year after a fourth-place finish in the Fiba-Asia Under-16 championship in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and no other company had come in to fill the gap.
“It’s really a sacrifice especially sa mga bata,” said national head coach Olsen Racela. “Pumupunta sila sa practice using their own allowance. First time ng iba sa national team kaya excited sila maglaro at mag-travel. Pero alam nila na sakripisyo talaga ang maglaro sa bayan.”
The Nationals begin their bid to detain the title as well as a slot in the Fiba-Asia Under-18 Championship in Mongolia this July when they play Laos on Wednesday night at the Singapore Sports Center.
The squad will next face host country Singapore on Thursday and Malaysia on Friday.
But the real test will come on Saturday when they play Indonesia, which is coached by Filipino Nat Canson.
“I still think we have a very good chance of bagging the gold but we have to be wary of Indonesia. From what we have heard, they’ve been preparing hard for this tournament, even training in the United States,” said Lopa.