Mendoza: Pining for a tall Olympic cage team

All Write

Surely, the news is heartwarming.

I refer to our stunning inclusion in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) for a basketball slot in the Tokyo Olympiad in July.

It was totally unexpected. Like suddenly seeing—next to impossible from happening—United States president Joe Biden donating one-million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the Filipino people to double the doled out Sinovac vaccine of 500K that Chinese leader Xi Jin Peng had handed President Rodrigo Duterte during the weekend.

We got the FIBA “gift” after New Zealand begged off due to Covid-19 issues.

In its decision to pick us as NZ’s replacement in the OQT, the FIBA (World Basketball Federation) took cognizance of how passionate we are in our love affair with the game.

“We will do our best to put up a team worthy of international competitiveness,” said an exceedingly elated Al Panlilio, the hardworking president of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.

My tocayo Al might yet form a dream team, given that we now have an array of tall players—height being our perennial Waterloo in overseas battles—to choose from.

We begin with Kai Sotto, easily the most promising Filipino center currently at 7-foot-3. Only 18, Kai has improved a lot, thanks to his exposure in the US topped by his stints at NBA farm leagues.

Strong bets to join Kai in Gilas Pilipinas include near-seven footers like Jun Mar Fajardo (6’10”), Japeth Aguilar (6’9”), Boy Erram (6’9”), Troy Rosario (6’8”) and, possibly, Greg Slaughter (7’1”).

And what about African Angelo Kouame, nearly seven feet, whose naturalization papers are good as done?

With this blue-chip crew to lean on, we might yet do well in the Belgrade OQT in Serbia this June as we aim for an Olympic return in basketball.

In our last Olympic stint in 1972 in Munich, Germany, our players were team captain Ed Ocampo(+), Narciso Bernado(+), Joy Cleofas, Danny Florencio(+), Jaime Mariano, Rosalio Martirez, Rogelio Melencio(+), Manuel Paner, Jun Papa(+), Marte Samson and Freddie Webb. Coached by Ning Ramos, we won three (against Japan, Egypt and Senegal) of nine games.

Our best Olympic basketball finish is fifth in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Always, it’s not bad to dream big.


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