MANILA, Philippines -- FilBasket, an upstart league founded by former Ateneo de Manila University star Jai Reyes, is nearing the start of its inaugural tournament after securing the Splendido Taal Country Club as the location of its "bubble."
Eleven teams will compete in the month-long tournament, including some teams that have previously seen action in the MPBL and the VisMin Super Cup.
"We have been planning for a long time," Reyes said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday morning.
"Right now, we are at the stage of getting approval ng LGU talaga. I think this is the most challenging part, given this new normal set-up," he added. "The priority is the safety of the whole league and the players. So that's where we're at right now."
"The teams are set already, the line-ups are set. So we are just waiting for the restrictions to ease out in our venue."
On social media, FilBasket said the tournament is set to open although an official schedule has yet to be released, as the organizers continue to wait for an official green light from the concerned government agencies.
Reyes guaranteed that health and safety protocols will be strictly implemented in Splendido, with COVID-19 testing to be done before, during, and even upon their exit from the bubble.
Among the teams that have already committed to FilBasket are the Davao Occidental Tigers, the Pasig City-Sta. Lucia Realtors, the San Juan Knights, 7A Primus, EOG Sports Burlington, FSD Makati Army, the Muntilupa Defenders, MJAS Zenith, and MTrans Buracai De Laiya Batangas City.
Originally, Canada Clearport International also committed to playing in the inaugural tournament but had to withdraw given the travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reyes, who last played for the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards in the MPBL, said they founded FilBasket with the goal of giving opportunities for Filipino players who have lost their jobs in the past year due to the global health crisis.
"Given this pandemic, there's been a lot of players, athletes in general, who are out of jobs and are eager to get back on the court," said Reyes. "We really wanted to help the players, and I myself, coming from the industry also, naramdaman ko eh, how quickly our jobs were taken away from us."
"We didn't really have a chance to learn anything new to provide for our careers and means of living. So that's the main advocacy of FilBasket right now for our inaugural tournament. We really want to help the athletes, coaches, and the whole industry of basketball na makapag-simula naman," he added.
The amateur league ultimately hopes to live up to its tagline as the "home of Filipino basketball," and give opportunities to players to fully showcase their abilities and talent. Reyes assured that they have a long-term vision in place and are determined to reach their goal.
"Given all the other leagues that are here right now, lahat ng leagues merong kanya-kanyang purpose, kanya-kanyang goals. It just so happens that for FilBasket, our main goal is to develop the talents of the players, help the players get better at the game, and right now for the inaugural season… it's to help them get their jobs back," he said.
"Pero our main product, this we can promise you, will always be basketball. (It) will always be developing talents, para 'tong talents na 'to, maibigay namin, maihatid namin sa fans, na mapanood nila 'tong top quality basketball, entertainment. And we'll always make decisions for the betterment of the game and our players," he added.