MANILA, Philippines -- The players of Zamboanga City Chooks are embracing a new challenge, after they earned the right to represent the Philippines in the FIBA 3x3 Doha Masters later this month.
A longball by Joshua Munzon gave them a thrilling 22-19 win over a very game Nueva Ecija team in the finals of the 2020 Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup, Friday at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.
It was a fitting end to Zamboanga City's campaign in the pioneering league's first conference since they gained professional status in July. The team, which also featured Alvin Pasaol, Troy Rike, and Santi Santillan, won three of the four legs heading into the Grand Finals.
They are now headed to Doha, where they will play 13 other teams. The Doha Masters are scheduled for November 20-21, coming on the heels of three successful Masters held in Debrecen, Hungary.
"I'm super excited," said Munzon, the top 3x3 player in the Philippines. "Ever since they got the first Masters back, a couple of months ago I wanna say, I wanted us to be on that stage."
"So for us to get a chance to, you know, hopefully make some noise and put what we've learned, what we've been doing, put it to the test there," he added. "It's a big test for us."
"Dagdag din sa tulong sa rankings sa Pilipinas, para hindi tayo bumaba. Lalo pa tayong aangat sa larangan ng 3x3," said Pasaol, for his part.
Other teams that have already qualified to the Doha Masters include top-seeded Liman of Serbia and second-seeded Riga of Latvia. American teams NY Harlem and Princeton will also compete.
Munzon says competing against these top squads can only help them as they prepare for the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament next May in Austria. He and Pasaol will represent the Philippines in the OQT, together with PBA players CJ Perez of TerraFirma Dyip and Moala Tautuaa of San Miguel Beer.
"Heading into the OQT, I think this definitely is gonna give us a better insight of how far along we've come or have not come," he said. "We definitely will be put to the test when we get to the Masters."
While they are looking forward to the new challenge in the Doha Masters, the Zamboanga City players are also grateful for how they were tested in the President's Cup.
The team entered as massive favorites but other squads pushed them to the limit in all legs. In the third leg of the competition, they were dethroned by eventual finalists Pasig, though they rebounded to win the fourth leg and the Grand Finals.
"Teams get better every leg," noted Munzon. "Teams got better, and the competitions got better as the games went on."
They gave special praise to the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards, who played with just three men in the Grand Finals but still gave Zamboanga City Chooks all they can handle.
"They played really hard. You gotta give respect to them, especially having that injury to Juan (Gomez de Liano) early in the tournament," said Rike, referring to Nueva Ecija's ace guard who suffered an ankle sprain in the very first leg.
"For them to come back and make it all the way to Finals, it's a huge accomplishment. So those guys played really hard, especially like you said, playing with only three players. So hats off to them, it was an honor to face off against them," he added.