MANILA, Philippines -- Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 commissioner Eric Altamirano sees a silver lining to the novel coronavirus pandemic that put sports events on hold all around the world.
Among the competitions that had to be rescheduled because of the global health crisis was the Olympic qualifying tournament for 3x3 basketball, originally set for March 2020 in Bangalore, India. It has since been moved to May 26-30, 2021 in the Austrian city of Graz.
"Blessing in disguise 'yung na-postpone, kasi we have more time to prepare," Altamirano said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum on Tuesday.
Before the pandemic forced the country into a lockdown in March, the national team -- composed of Alvin Pasaol, Joshua Munzon, Moala Tautuaa, and CJ Perez -- had already begun preparing. Team management brought Stefan Stojacic, the FIBA 3X3 World Tour MVP in 2018, as well as coach Darko Krsman to help the squad.
For Altamirano, it was clear that the team had the talent and skill to compete at a high level. What they needed to work on was their chemistry.
"It takes time to build chemistry," the coach stressed.
This is why he hopes to sit down with the PBA and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas in the immediate future to map out a plan for the national team, particularly in terms of their practice schedules.
As early as now, Altamirano already anticipates some scheduling issues, given that the players play in different leagues. Both Munzon and Pasaol are in the Chooks 3x3 league, while Tautuaa and Perez play for San Miguel and Columbian Dyip, respectively, in the PBA.
"We have yet to sit down with SBP and map out our plans regarding the training for the OQT," Altamirano admitted. "Again, of course we have to consider also na 'yung dalawang players namin come from the PBA."
"It's a matter of plotting it out, para ma-manage natin ang schedules ng Chooks players and PBA players to be able to practice," he added.
"Hopefully, mag-agree and we can come up with a win-win solution for Chooks and PBA players."
Both the PBA and Chooks -- which was earlier granted professional status by the Games and Amusements Board -- have already gotten the go-signal to resume practices. There was a slight delay after Metro Manila and nearby provinces were placed under modified enhanced community quarantine from August 4 to 18, but the commissioners of both leagues believe that training sessions can start again towards the end of the month.
For Altamirano, it is crucial that the national 3x3 team begin preparing as soon as possible, and not cram. He pointed out that other countries competing in the qualifier have gotten a headstart, as they have already begun playing again.
"Compared to the other teams, other countries na kasama sa OQT, most of them lalo na sa Europe, they already started their practices, their tournaments. If you watch 3x3 tournaments sa Europe, parang normal lang. May mga nanood, walang naka-mask," he said.
"Tayo, we're still in phase 1, individual practices pa lang tayo. Hindi pa nga nasisimulan dahil na-delay," he lamented.
Twenty teams will compete in the Olympic qualifiers, and the Philippines is grouped with Slovenia, France, Qatar, and Dominican Republic in Pool C.
One possibility that Altamirano considers is for Tautuaa and Perez to be allowed to play in the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 league, which will hold its tournaments in a "bubble" at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna this September.
"Kung ako lang sana masusunod, I would love that. Mas gusto ko 'yun. If you combine the four players in a competition setting, mas maganda, kesa 'yung practice lang ng practice," he said. "Noong March, before the lockdown, wala pa rin kaming competition. Puro practice lang kami noon."
"I hope we can… agree on that, na payagan 'yung mga PBA players na kasama sa OQT na maglaro sa liga," he added.
Ultimately, Altamirano said they are willing to do what it takes to help the team prepare for the Olympic qualifiers, especially as only three tickets to the Tokyo Games are at stake in in the event.
"Hindi naman araw-araw ka magka-qualify sa Olympics. Ito na 'yung shot natin, sana huwag na natin 'to pakawalan," he said. "Kung magkakaroon pa tayo ng better opportunity, gawin na natin kesa magkakaroon na naman tayo ng regrets 'pag malapit na."
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