REFUSING to wave the white flag, the Philippines marches on defiantly despite going 0-3 in the Group Phase, zeroing in instead on two classification games that will ultimately decide its fate in FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.
At stake in those two remaining matches — the first on Thursday, Aug. 31 — could be a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics where the region will be represented by the highest-placed Asian team in the World Cup.
The second game is on Sep. 2.
Final positioning in Group B has yet to be determined although Serbia, with a 2-0 slate as of Tuesday even in the absence of NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the world champion Denver Nuggets, appears secure at No. 1.
That leaves either Asian powerhouse China, Puerto Rico, or South Sudan as Gilas Pilipinas’ potential tickets to Paris, with final placings known Wednesday.
The Filipinos will need all the support they can muster on Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. And for good reason.
The nationals may have dropped all three ===Group A games, but the Olympic dream remains alive and beating in the heart of every Filipino as Gilas Pilipinas takes on the third and fourth placers in Group B in decisive matchups.
Another sellout crowd all decked in blue in a show of solidarity with the brave is expected. Tip-off for the clash is at 8 p.m. with Gilas Piipinas bracing for another tough fight. Its opponent will still be determined late Wednesday,
“We’re super motivated. I think from the beginning we were motivated. Our team is strong. We fight and never give up throughout the game,” said Jordan Clarkson after Gilas Pilipinas’ brave stand against Italy fell short anew, 90-83.
“Basketball is a game of missed shots and ups and downs and we string together runs and we go out there competing ‘til the end of the horn,” Clarkson added.
Clarkson believes it is only a matter of time for the Philippines to find the winning formula and that one last push to finally get over the hump after staying close in its games against Dominican Republic, Angola, and Italy.
“We haven’t really felt like we’ve been out of any games. We fight. We’re strong and we can put it together and try to get these two (games). We know what it means and we know what it means for the country. We are leaving it all out on the floor,” vowed the Gilas Pilipinas main man.
The race for the lone Olympic slot for Asia remains wide open, although the Filipinos and the rest of the Asian teams are chasing down Japan, who gained a headstart after finishing the first round with a 1-2 record.
With Gilas Pilipinas carrying over its 0-3 record to the classification phase, the Nationals are hoping that Japan and other Asian teams lose all of their games while they sweep their assignments to finish the tournament as the best-placed Asian team.
Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes had Paris in his mind even before the Italy game.
”We need to put together 40 minutes of good basketball because we want to go to the Olympics,” Reyes had said. “I’m not thinking of the numbers. Ang iniisip ko, makapunta sa Olympics.”