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Gilas enters ‘Calambubble’ once again to resume preparations for two Fiba qualifying windows, counting one for the Olympics, in Serbia
/ 04:04 AM April 26, 2021
Angelo Kouame

Ange Kouame is nearing naturalization. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.net

The Philippine national team reenters its Calamba bubble in Laguna province on Monday, rebooting its preparations for the three Fiba events lined up in the coming months with the biggest—albeit really tough—target being an Olympic slot Gilas will aim to hit in a qualifying tournament in Serbia.

“We’ll enter Inspire [Sports]Academy and go through [the] health protocols before training,” program director Tab Baldwin told the Inquirer on Sunday.

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Baldwin is set to reunite with his young cast led by Gilas draftees Isaac Go, Rey Suerte, brothers Matt and Mike Nieto, Jordan Heading, Will Navarro, Jaydee Tungcab, Tzaddy Rangel and Ange Kouame.

The bunch, which is backstopped by young and handpicked talents from across several collegiate programs, was neck-deep in their buildup last March only for the bubble to be shut down after the national government placed the capital and four nearby provinces, including Laguna, under another cycle of community quarantines due to a surge in new coronavirus cases.

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“The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) heeded the instructions of the Philippine Sports Commission when they asked all national athletes to halt training during the enhanced community 1uarantine. When the (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) announced that they will be lifting those limitations, we immediately worked on getting the team back together,” SBP president Al Panlilio said in a statement.

Gilas is set to host the third and final window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers in Pampanga in June as the Nationals face Indonesia once and Korea twice, needing just one victory to make it to the continental meet, which is scheduled in Jakarta in August.

Long absence

Baldwin said the Nationals “are planning a break” before the Fiba window, “but no dates are confirmed.”

The Philippines will also try to make the most out of the surprise slot in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will be played in Serbia this coming June.

Playing in the Olympics has been an objective for the past two decades, with the country failing to qualify since the 1972 edition in Munich. Team Philippines has appeared in the Games a total of seven times, with its best finish being fifth in 1936.

The national federation intends to send an all-cadet squad to both qualifying meets with 7-foot-3 teen prospect Kai Sotto and Kouame forming a fearsome frontcourt pairing for Gilas.

Kai available

Sotto, already free from the shackles of his botched NBA G-League stint, is set to join the Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League in Australia where he reportedly struck a deal that would enable him to join the PH Five in important international meets.

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The SBP, Sotto’s camp, and the 36ers’ brass are all working toward the same goal of turning the youngster’s “passion” for Gilas a reality, Baldwin said in a recent media briefing.

Kouame’s bid to become a naturalized Filipino successfully hurdled the Senate on March 15 and is just awaiting President Duterte’s signature. However, the Constitution also states that any proposed piece of legislation “will lapse into law after 30 days of receipt.”“[We] are waiting for final documentation,” coach Ryan Gregorio, who serves as special assistant to Panlilio, told the Inquirer regarding the final hurdle of Kouame’s naturalization. “We are expecting it to be signed into law.”

Gregorio also said that the SBP is also working to kick off the preparation of the national 3×3 squad that will compete in the Olympic qualifiers in Austria next month. INQ

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TAGS: Ange Kouame, Basketball, Gilas
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