(STAR) By Abac Cordero - The RP team smells gold in Thailand.

Two weeks before the curtains rise for the 24th Southeast Asian Games, the RP men’s basketball team is so confident of winning the gold medal that the Filipinos cannot afford to lose.

“We will not lose in the SEA Games. We will make sure of this,” Mikee Romero, Harbour Centre owner and godfather of the RP team to the biennial event, vowed yesterday.

“If this is the gold that really matters, then we assure you that we will bring home the gold medal,” he added, drawing cheers from members of the national team at the PSA Forum.

Romero was reacting to Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco’s statement that in the SEA Games, the Filipinos could lose in any other sport except basketball.

“We have no other choice but to win,” Romero added in the weekly forum at Shakey’s UN Ave.

Leading the RP bid to win the gold in the sport that was scrapped in the 2005 Manila SEA Games calendar are PBL standout Jason Castro, Fil-American Gabe Norwood and UAAP stars Jervy Cruz and Chris Tiu.

Others in the team are Allan Salansang, Beau Belga, Chad Alonzo, Jonathan Fernandez, Eugene Tan, Jeff Chan, Boyet Bautista, Patrick Cabahug, Al Vergara, Eric dela Cuesta, Erik Rodriguez and Alex Crisano.

Norwood, Rodriguez, Tiu and Vergara are the latest additions to the team. From the 16 players, the final 12 will be chosen during the managers’ meeting on Dec. 4.

“These are the players (additions) that plugged the holes,” said head coach Junel Baculi who will be assisted by Louie Alas, Ryan Dee and Beujing Acot in Thailand.

Team manager is PBL commissioner Chino Trinidad with Harbour Center’s Erik Areola as assistant.

“Everybody here deserves to be in the team. This is our Philippine team to the Southeast Asian Games,” added Romero in the forum sponsored by Pacgor and RedBull.

“We’ve been preparing hard. The players are ready to regain the gold medal that we’ve always won except for one instance. Our resolve is hard,” said Baculi.

The head coach said there’s pressure coming from different quarters, but he feels that whoever makes it to the final roster has what it takes to help the country win the gold.

“We’ve been trying to analyze this team everyday. And we don’t want duplication of roles. We will not allow that to happen,” said Baculi who expects Thailand and Indonesia are the toughest rivals.

“We’ve seen the opposition. And it’s not only the Thais, but the Indonesians we should be wary of. That’s why we’re recorded games of these two teams,” said Baculi.

Basketball was not played during the 2005 SEA Games because the Philippines was then under suspension from the International Basketball Federation or FIBA.

President to send off battle-ready RP bets Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The members of the Philippine delegation to the forthcoming Southeast Asian Games in Thailand will pay a courtesy call on President Arroyo on Friday in Malacañang.

Philippine Olympic Committee vice president and RP chef-de-mission Monico Puentevella yesterday confirmed the President’s availability to meet the 593 athletes bound for Thailand.

The courtesy call will take place at 2:30 p.m. The athletes will present the Philippine flag to the President who is expected to give a very brief motivational speech.

“It’s customary for Filipino athletes leaving for international competitions like the SEA Games, Asian Games or the Olympics to call on the President,” said Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez.

“And it’s also the President’s way of sending them off as our athletes prepare to defend the overall championship in the SEA Games,” added the PSC chairman.

Undersecretary Marilou Frostrom, deputy director for Presidential engagements, confirmed the President’s availability on Friday through a letter faxed to Puentevella’s office.

Ramirez also said they have extended an invitation for First Gentleman Mike Arroyo to join, visit or watch the Filipinos in action in Thailand from Dec. 6 to 15.

“We want him to be there if he wants to. I’m sure the athletes would also love to see the First Gentleman cheering for them,” said Ramirez.

The Filipinos will compete in 42 of 43 sports events lined up in Thailand and are eyeing a strong finish against the hosts who, this early, are tipped to win the overall crown. – Abac Cordero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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