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Impossible dream

Julius Manicad

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Head coach Yeng Guiao hopes to guide Gilas 5 back to the Olympics.

FOSHAN, China — Making it back to the world’s biggest stage — the Olympics — remains an elusive dream for Filipino basketball players following a sluggish performance in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Basketball World Cup here.

Based on its format, this prestigious 32-nation tournament offers only seven slots in the Olympics that will be held in Tokyo next year.

Out of that seven, four slots will go to the best performing teams from the Americas and Europe and one each to those from Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Japan, of course, is already seeded for being the host country.

With China winning over Ivory Coast in the opening salvo of the World Cup in Beijing, 70-55, it gained a golden opportunity of advancing to the second round and emerging as the best-performing Asian team following the setbacks of Iran to Puerto Rico, 81-83; South Korea to Argentina, 69-95; Jordan to Dominican Republic, 76-80; and Philippines to Italy, 62-108.

Should the Chinese, who were given the privilege to pick its bracket for being the host country, coast all the way to the second round and clinch a spot in the Olympics, the Filipinos have to go through an Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) next year if they want to book a return flight to the Olympics.

The OQT would never be easy as well as Gilas Pilipinas has to compete against three other teams to clinch the remaining four Olympic spots.

In the previous OQT prior to the London Olympics in 2016 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Gilas were stacked against France, Canada, New Zealand, Turkey and Senegal.

They lost to the Frenchmen, 84-93, before absorbing an 89-80 beating from New Zealand to bomb out of contention and kiss their Olympic dream goodbye.

NBA stars Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Nando de Colo eventually led France to the title to punch a ticket to the Olympics.

The last time the Filipinos made it to the Olympics was in 1972 in Munich, where they finished with three wins in nine matches. Prior to that, they also saw action in the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, London in 1948, Helsinki in 1952, Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960 and Mexico City in 1968.

Three years later since the Munich Games, the Philippine Basketball Association was born and hopes of making it back to the Olympics somehow faded as the best basketball players in the country got preoccupied with their respective club teams.

Then in 1992, former FIBA secretary general Borislav Stankovic of Serbia announced that they are opening the floodgates for professional players to compete in the Summer Games, prompting the United States to send the “Dream Team” bannered by NBA stars Michael Jordan, Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird and erect a dynasty in the world stage.

Prior to leaving for this bustling city in southern China, Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao admitted that one of their goals is to claim an outright slot in the Olympics.

We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by one bad game.

“We will be there not just to try and make it to the next round, but also to be the highest-ranking Asian team,” Guiao said during the squad’s final practice last week.

Unfortunately for Guiao and his Gilas side, their embarrassing 46-point loss to Italy and China’s massive win over Ivory Coast doomed that objective and threw them into another OQT.

Although the Filipinos still have a very small chance of making it to the Olympics, it’s going to be a tough journey as their next foe — Serbia — is regarded as the best squad in this tournament for having a high-powered roster built around NBA players Bogdan Bogdanovic, Boban Marjanovic, Nikola Jokic and Nemanja Bjelica.

Gilas Pilipinas and Serbia were still playing at press time.

“We’re trying to be positive,” said Guiao, who is still hopeful of a miracle.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by one bad game. There are still games left. So we just have to allow ourselves to pick up the pieces and be able to put our game together and be able to play a better game against Serbia.”