FOCUS now shift to the Gilas cadets side headed to the Southeast Asian Games as it tries to lift the spirits of a nation saddened by the abrupt exit of its senior squad from the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup.
Anything less than a gold medal will be an utter disappointment for the team in a tournament that the Philippines has ruled save for the 1989 edition where it lost to host Malaysia in the gold-medal game.
Head coach Jong Uichico knows the pressure on their shoulders as they leave for Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon and he assures that his squad will be at its best from its debut on Sunday against Thailand.
"We know that the pressue is on us. We’re going to the SEA Games knowing that there’s no room for mistakes," said Uichico during the send-off luncheon at the Edsa Shangri-La on Friday.
"We’re not guaranteeing anything (in terms of medals), but we guarantee we will do our best to bring pride to the Philippines. We'll try our very best to bring home the gold," he added.
Kiefer Ravena, the most seasoned player in the squad with three SEA Games gold medals under his belt, will be coming in with redemption in mind.
That stinging loss of their older brothers suffered at the hands of nemesis Korea in Beirut will be his chief motivation in his fourth appearance in the regional basketball meet.
"Yung experience na 'to, kailangan lang namin maisapuso. Kailangan namin ibawi yung mga kuya namin. They swept the first round and got eliminated in the quarterfinals," said Ravena.
Having dominated this tournament in the past, Ravena knows the type of pressure they face considering that the Philippines remains the ultimate barometer in the Southeast Asian region.
"Sabi nga ni coach, the target on our backs got bigger. Isang beses pa lang tayo natalo dito. And we’re eyeing our 18th gold," said the former Ateneo star.