PH Under-18 squad kicks off bid vs Saudi ArabiaBy Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Energen Pilipinas under-18 team starts its tough quest for a world berth when it tackles Saudi Arabia tonight in the preliminary round of the 22nd Fiba Asia U18 Championship in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Led by UAAP juniors MVP Jerie Pingoy, the youth team faces a similarly confident Saudi squad in the 6 p.m. Group D battle at Buyant-Ukhaa Arena.
“We’re in a tough group, but if there’s one game that we’re expected to win, it should be Saudi,” said national youth coach Olsen Racela.
Two-time champion Iran and 2008 runner-up Kazakhstan clash in the other Group D pairing at 12 noon at Central Sport Hall.
“Our game against Saudi is very crucial,” said Racela. “If we win, we’re practically qualified to the next round.”
The 16 competing nations were drawn into four groups. Each group will compete in a round-robin format with the top three advancing to the second round.
“We are here to make our presence count,” Saudi Arabia coach Ali Al Sahni told Fiba Asia online.
“We are working hard. In this age group, the only advantage any team can carry is the hard work they have put in. Past reputations count for very little for the simple reason that the players who formed the medal-winning squad for any team cannot be there now.”
Aside from Pingoy, the Philippines also hopes to draw steady games from under-16 holdovers Jay Alejandro, Hubert Cani, Prince Rivero, Jay Javelosa and Gideon Babilonia.
“Since we are a small team, I still believe our strength is our speed,” said Racela. “We plan to take advantage of this especially against bigger opponents.”
The Philippines takes on Kazakhstan at 12 noon tomorrow and Iran at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Completing the 12-man national squad are Rey Nambatac, Mario Bonleon, Kris Porter, Kent Lao, Mark Olayon and Kyle Suarez.
The top three teams at the end of the tournament will represent Asia in the Fiba U19 World Championship in Czech Republic next year.