MANILA, Philippines – After 4 years, the Philippines is back in the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters, the top 3x3 circuit in the world.
And the country is sending two teams to the first stop of the Masters from April 18 to 19 at the Katara Amphitheatre in Doha, Qatar.
Pasig Chooks (Pasig Kings) qualified for the tournament after winning the Quest-level Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup last April 7.
A week later, Balanga Chooks (Bataan Risers) punched their ticket to Doha after placing second in the Chooks-to-Go 3x3 Asia Pacific Super Quest.
According to league commissioner Eric Altamirano, the two Philippine-based club teams are more than ready to test their mettle against the world's best and finest in 3x3 basketball.
"Given the short time of preparation, I was surprised with how intense and how focused the players are. They were so intense that there was a lot of frustrations shown and some flare-ups," shared Altamirano after the team's final practice Tuesday afternoon, April 16. "We expected that because they want to win and they really want to have a good representation for the country in the World Tour."
Top two Filipino players Joshua Munzon and Taylor Statham headline Pasig Chooks and will be joined by Serbian import Nikola Pavlovic and 2015 top French player Angelo Tsagarakis.
Pasig will figure in a tough group as it will face home squad Katara on Thursday, April 18 at 10:50 pm (Manila time) before taking on top club team in the world Liman at 12:25 am.
"Compared to the ones who played during the 2017 3x3 World Cup, these guys understand that this is a different sport," disclosed Tsagarakis, who was part of the French national team that took on the Philippines in Nantes, France. "This is not five-on-five. It's not the same thing. It's like the MMA of basketball. You are allowed to push, grab, and hit. "
Little is known about Katara while Liman, despite not having world No. 2 Stefan Stojacic, still have 3 top 10 players.
"We know that Liman is one of the top teams in the world but we don't know anything about Katara. They're the host country. That is the one thing they will have going for them, the support of the home crowd," said Altamirano. "But we are also hoping that we get the support of the local Pinoys there."
"It will be a big difference and a big loss to them because he's the player that makes the team better," added Pavlovic, who previously played for Liman's cross-town rival Novi Sad, about Stojacic. "He can score a lot of points, especially the two-points. It will be a big problem for them."
On the other hand, Balanga still stuck to its Super Quest core of Alvin Pasaol (No. 4 Philippine player), Leonard Santillan (No. 5), Karl Dehesa (No. 10), and American guest player Travis Franklin.
Balanga is slotted in Pool C together with 2019 Wuxi Challenger champion Riga Ghetto and Moscow.
"That's big. Though we haven't been together for that long, we have that shared experience which was the Super Quest," said Franklin.
"The game has evolved a lot. Watching our film right now and seeing the different sets the European teams have been doing, the style of play has become more physical. It's really evolved. But it's not to say that our game hasn't evolved as well for the better," added Dehesa, who was part of Manila North back in the 2015 FIBA 3x3 World Tour Finals that finished in 6th place.
Pool B will have world No. 2 Novi Sad, Asia Pacific Super Quest champ Tokyo Dime, and wildcard team Doha while Pool D features Slovenia's Piran and Ljubjana, together with Canada's University of McGill.
Only the top two teams from each of the 4 groups will advance to the knockout playoffs on Friday, April 19.
The winner of the two-day tourney will take home US $30,000 while the second place banks $20,000. The top 3 to 5 net $12,000, $8,000, and $5,000, respectively.
A representative from each team will also compete in the shootout contest that has a top prize of $5,000 while Filipino dunk artist David Carlos will be the country's representative in the Dunk Contest on Friday.
Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 owner Ronald Mascariñas is confident that the two squads have what it takes to shock the world come Thursday.
"Having been with these guys since February, I honestly believe that our players have superior skills. However, we need to play disciplined and smart basketball with no individualism at all," said the sports patron. "If they do this, I am confident that we can come out on top in Doha." – Rappler.com