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Munzon, Tautuaa to play in 3×3 Olympic qualifier in major break

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

RECOGNIZING that not many are given the chance to participate in the Olympic Games, Joshua Munzon and Mo Tautuaa feel privileged and are basking in the opportunity given to them through 3×3 basketball.

Part of Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 which will banner the country’s campaign in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Austria later this month, Messrs. Munzon and Tautuaa shared what on their plate is something big and that they are working hard in training to have the best representation possibly come the competition.

“This is very big,” said Mr. Munzon. “I can say that this is the biggest opportunity I have had in my career. Truly, a huge honor and the possibility of being in the Olympics is something that I never thought I would be in.”

Mr. Munzon, the country’s number one-ranked 3×3 player and an incoming Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) rookie, played a big part in the Philippines securing a spot in the OQT, being part of numerous teams which earned qualifying points in FIBA tournaments.

It is the same success he wants to have with Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 as they go for one of the three Olympic tickets up for grabs in the qualifiers in Graz.

Former PBA most improved player of the year Tautuaa, for his part, is high as well in representing the country, which is why when he was asked anew to don the national colors he did not have second thoughts.

“I received a two-part text message to invite me to the team. But even before I received the second part of the invitation, I already replied that I wanted to come,” he said.

Mr. Tautuaa, who plays for San Miguel in the PBA, represented the country in 3×3 basketball at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games and helped his team win a gold medal.

To gear up for the expected competition at the OQT, Gilas Pilipinas 3×3, which also includes CJ Perez (San Miguel), Alvin Pasaol (Meralco), Leonard Santillan (Rain or Shine) and Karl Dehesa, went into “bubble” training at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.

The team temporarily broke camp last weekend to work on the necessary documents for the qualifiers, but is set to reenter the bubble for the last stretch of its preparation before flying to Austria.

While training amid the prevailing conditions with the pandemic has been challenging, Mr. Munzon said the team is satisfied with the progress it has made and is optimistic of what lies ahead.

“I definitely can say that it felt natural. Just going out there was like riding a bike. I can’t say it was easy, but we were able to shake off some rust,” said Mr. Munzon, underscoring the camaraderie within the team.

“It was very productive and we were able to accomplish a lot. Good to be around a lot of people after being locked out for so long… [We have] an idea [now] on what our offense and defense will be.”

He went on to laud the efforts of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) for making things happen for the team and its Olympic push.

“I’m very grateful to SBP and our coaches for keeping this OQT dream alive. We all know how hard it is to train in this pandemic, but they were able to do it.”

Zeroing in on their OQT campaign, Mr. Tautuaa said a difficult road awaits them, but they are coming in looking to represent the Philippines well and go for that Olympic spot.

“This is going to be the first time we played against this caliber, this level [as a group]. But we want to win and we got that Filipino brand. We’re not going to back down to anybody. We’re going to go there and see where we go.”

In the OQT, which happens from May 26 to 30, the Ronnie Magsanoc-coached nationals play in the tough Pool C, which also has Slovenia (Europe Cup 2016 winner), France (second at Europe Cup 2019), Qatar (2014 World Champ), and the Dominican Republic.

Tournament format calls for each team playing the other four in their respective pools. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the crossover quarterfinals and then play knockout games all the way to the semifinals.

The semifinals and the third-place games will be known in the FIBA 3×3 OQT as the Olympic Ticket games.

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