RP CAGERS FACE TOUGH THAIS IN SOUTH EAST ASIAN OPENER

KUALA LUMPUR, August 20, 2003 (STAR) The Philippines will have its hands full defending its Southeast Asian Basketball crown, going against Thailand in the opening match scheduled late Tuesday here.

Just four teams will be slugging it out in the tournament, which will also be a preview of the Southeast Asian Games action in December, considering that it features the regionís basketball big-shots like the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and host Malaysia.

The tournament will be a single-round robin where the team with the highest standing automatically takes the crown.

"This is a short tournament and every game counts," said national coach Aric del Rosario. "We canít take everybody for granted just because we have always been the favorites."

Assistant coach Dong Vergeire said even every point counts because ties will be resolved through quotient system, and there would be no championship game.

"We might win or lose on paper, the important thing is we win all our games," said Vergeire.

The RP team, which carries the Cebuana Lhuillier brand and is supported by Malaysia Airlines, had a quick practice at the Malaysia Amateur Basketball Association gym early Tuesday to get the feel of the court.

Somehow, the coaching staff feels that it would be the Malaysians, and not the Thais, who will be the countryís toughest opposition in this tourney, which dangles slots for the Asian Basketball Confederation championship for the top two finishers.

Malaysia, said team manager Danny Francisco, is determined to snatch the title away from us right in its local soil. The last time Malaysia won a SEA basketball title was in 1989 yet.

Del Rosario said the teamís strength lies on its big men like Ranidel de Ocampo and Ervin Sotto, but the back court led by Celino Cruz will also play a pivotal role in our campaign.

Also, Del Rosario noted that the experience the National gained during their recent stint in the PBA Invitationals was a great help in terms of developing character and confidence.

The RP Five didnít win a single game against the pros but Francisco, himself a former national team player, said that having been exposed to big time basketball is enough motivation force for the team.

The team is made up of Cruz, Richard Melencio, Emmerson Oreta, William Wilson, Gary David, Dennis Madrid, Nelbert Omolon, Bernzon Franco, Ricaredo Calimag, Jean Marc Pingris, Sotto and De Ocampo.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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