MANILA, Philippines - Coach Olsen Racela and his Energen Pilipinas youth team left for Ulan Bator, Mongolia yesterday, aware of the uphill battle they face to make good in the 22nd FIBA Asia Under-18 Championship slated Aug. 17-26.
The Phl youth are expected to go through a wringer from the group matches, having found themselves in the tourney's Group of Death with Iran, Kazakstan and Saudi Arabia.
Fifth placer in this tourney two years ago in Sana A, Yemen, the Philippines starts its campaign to do better against Saudi Arabia Friday, then Kazakhstan Saturday and Iran Sunday.
Racela, who took over from Eric Altamirano, will have at his disposal team captain J-Jay Alejandro, Hubert Cani, Gideon Babilonia, Kristoffer Porter, Marc Olayon, Jerie Pinggoy, Jay Javelosa, Prince Rivero, Mario Bonleon, Kent Lao, Kyle Suarez and Rey Nambatac of Letran.
They aim to make the top three to advance to the FIBA World Under-19 Championship next year.
Also vying for honors in the tourney are nine-time gold medal winner China, host Mongolia, perennial contenders Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei and Lebanon, and qualifiers Bahrain, Syria, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and the Indonesian team handled by Filipino coach Nat Canson.
The Chinese are heavily favored to once again rule the tourney with a formidable lineup led by Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi, considered the future of Chinese basketball.
The two players were among the last cut in the Chinese squad that played in the London Olympics.
The Koreans and the Japanese, meanwhile, are bringing in the core of their teams that placed second and third in the second FIBA Asia U-16 Championship in Nha Tang, Vietnam last year.
Before facing these teams, the PH youth have to survive their group featuring teams that have won a total of 15 medals in the past Asian under-18 tourneys.
Iran is the top seed in the group being the WABA champion that reigned supreme in this tourney in 2004 and 2008.
Kazakhstan, the 2008 second placer, is a traditional power with its length and European style of play.