MANILA, Philippines -- Zamboanga City Chooks are the odds-on favorite to win the President's Cup when the first professional season of the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 league opens on October 21.
The team, backed by Family's Brand Sardines, features the top two players in the country -- Joshua Munzon and Alvin Pasaol -- both of whom will represent the Philippines in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Austria in May 2021.
Their other two members -- Santi Santillan and Troy Rike -- are also members of the national team pool.
Munzon, the No. 1 ranked Filipino player, is well aware that they have a target on their backs once they take the court.
"For us, that leaves us with not too much room for error, knowing that we're probably gonna get everybody's best game," he said.
Yet this is exactly how they want it, especially as the tournament also serves as preparation for the national team ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
Pasaol and Munzon will team up with PBA players Moala Tautuaa and CJ Perez in next year's qualifiers, wherein they will try to earn a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. Both Tautuaa and Perez are currently playing in the PBA Philippine Cup in the league's bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
"I see it as motivation for us," said Munzon. "It's gonna be a big goal for us to qualify and reach the Olympics. To prepare us for that, it would be a good thing for us to see everybody's best game, and for us not to have a chance to go out there and take anybody for granted."
"(We) have in the back of our minds that we're preparing for the qualifiers," he added. "But at the same time, (we'll) focus on these teams and be ready for what these guys are gonna show."
Eleven other teams will try to knock off Zamboanga City Chooks: Uling Roasters-Butuan City, Bacolod Master Sardines, Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards, Palayan City Capitals, Big Boss Cement-Porac MSC Green Gorillas, Pasig-Sta. Lucia Realtors, Zamboanga Peninsula Valientes MLV, Pagadian City-Rocky Sports, Petra Cement-Roxas City Rockies, Sarangani Marlins, and Bicol Pro 3x3.
All 12 teams are already at the Inspire Academy in Calamba, Laguna, where the league will hold its first conference in a bubble. The tournament will run from October 21 to 30. Ahead of the competition proper, Chooks 3x3 will hold scrimmages and a brief preseason to further prepare the teams.
Regardless of what happens inside the Chooks 3x3 bubble, Munzon knows that they need further preparation and more competition ahead of the Olympic qualifiers. His hope is that he and Pasaol can team up with Tautuaa and Perez to play in FIBA 3x3 World Tours, which are already running in Europe.
"I've already talked to Coach E (Chooks 3x3 Commissioner Eric Altamirano) once we saw the other teams playing abroad, about how we can go out there and compete with those guys," said Munzon.
"We definitely wanna go abroad and play the World Tour tournaments because that would help us even more," he added. "But for now, we can just focus on (what's) in front of us, and focus on this conference, getting better, building chemistry and putting up a show for our country."