Wednesday afternoon at a hotel in Ortigas, Kobe Paras, the basketball prodigy son of PBA legend Benjie Paras, and Kiefer Ravena, a two-time UAAP MVP, sit in front of reporters. There’s optimism — lots of it.
Two of the brightest young prospects the local basketball scene has had in years are teaming up to represent the country in the 2017 FIBA 3X3 World Cup in France next month, and Chooks-To-Go president Ronald Mascariñas, the team’s sponsor, is giddy with his prediction.
“I think many will agree,” Mascariñas starts, “this is a dream na mabuo iyong ganito kalakas na 3X3 team. I strongly believe that this is the strongest team that we have ever formed . . . Ito iyong totoong ‘dream team.’ ”
Overly ambitious perhaps — especially after he makes quips about the possibility of winning the FIBA title — but there’s no denying that the team he and his partners managed to assemble is an exciting one.
With Paras, who played for the Creighton Bluejays in the NCAA, providing what has been missing for quite some time in local squads sent abroad (length and athleticism), and Ravena with his explosive quickness, one would be hard-pressed not to give in to the cheery air and start hoping they could pull off a few upsets in France, given that their other teammates are known competitors as well.
Jeron Teng, a focal point of the Green Archers’ surge to the UAAP basketball summit in 2013 and 2016, has been described by Paras and Ravena as their go-to guy when it comes to drive-and-kick plays. His built, a tad bulkier than them, is perfect for going against bigger and tougher foes, they say.
JR Quiñahan, NLEX’s burly cager, is the team’s anchor with his veteran mind. The guy who was once a part of the duo dubbed “Extra Rice” with Beau Belga, known for bullying opponents down low, will be their massive presence in the post.
“It’s great to have all four of us in one team,” Paras says. “It’s just going to be really exciting just because it’s my first time with these guys — our talents will mix and make amazing things.”
But while everyone revels in the positivity, coach Eric Altamirano is a brick of reality. “Honestly, it’s hard to predict kasi we tried to simulate the competition here, but mahirap,” he explains.
“Kasi we couldn’t find any players that could match up with the type of players that we are going to play. But definitely, it’s going to be very, very tough . . . If you saw the last World Cup that was held here, sobrang physical and I think iyon ang magiging challenge para sa team na ito.”
“We are a young team, except for JR — they’re going to face bigger and stronger opponents so they really have to rely on their skills and teamwork to be able to get the job done,” Altamirano admits.
The team has been practicing together since Paras arrived from the US last May 12, working on, first and foremost, improving their chemistry with one another, Ravena shares.
“With the time that we had, especially with Kobe leaving (Thursday), na-exceed naman namin iyong expectations namin in terms of chemistry. We surprised ourselves na parang, ‘Uy, kaya pala natin maglaro together,’ ” the former Ateneo Blue Eagles star adds.
Asked about their chances, Ravena says that they are aiming for the trophy and that he wants to win the competition for the Philippines, which he describes is in disarray amid fresh terrorist threats.
“For us, it’s a small thing to give back especially with what’s happening in our country ngayon,” he muses. “We have all the inspiration, the reason to win.”
“Hopefully, we can give hope to the people of the Philippines. Timing na rin. Gusto namin maipanalo ito for everybody who is need of hope, those looking for people to look up to.”
The 2017 FIBA 3X3 World Cup will be held in Nantes, France from June 17 to 21. The country finished ninth last year.
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