MANILA, MAY 12, 2008
(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - Now comes the hard part.

After easily clinching the seventh Southeast Asian Basketball Championships for Junior Men, the Nokia-Philippine Youth team will now face the giants of Asia.

“The players came from different schools and different systems, but with all the hard work they put in, it eventually came together for us,” explained head coach Franz Pumaren. “We even had a couple of walk-ons who felt they could make it, and did.”

The team, made up of the best 16- to 18-year olds from all over the country, from as far north as central Luzon to as far south as Zamboanga, simply destroyed all opposition in Kuala Lumpur. They rendered a finals appearance academic by crushing Indonesia by 80, after thumping Malaysia by 31 and beating Thailand by 16. It was the first SEABA Youth championship for the Philippines since the 2004 edition held in Lucena, Quezon, with a team led by new Singapore Slingers recruit Jason Castro and UST swingman Dylan Ababou.

Pumaren said it was relatively easy to motivate the players to suit up for flag and country, and the players felt it once they stepped onto the floor at the Malaysian Basketball Association (MABA) gym.

“I told them that this is not just for us, but for the whole Filipino community,” said the UAAP champion coach of De La Salle University. “It’s all about getting the respect of our neighboring countries in Asia again. They realized that, and played really hard.”

The youth team, currently playing in the seniors division of the Nike Summer League, prepared for battle by participating in the Philippine Basketball League, against former national players and veteran amateurs.

“That was a big help for us,” Pumaren said of the experience. “The boys got to experience playing against more mature players who play a more physical game. That will be a big help for us when we get to Iran.”

The next step for the boys will be measuring themselves against the region’s best in the FIBA-Asia Youth Championships, which opens in Tehran, Iran on Aug. 28. There, the Philippines will be up against the likes of China, Iran, North Korea, Japan, and some Middle Eastern countries. In the meantime, the incoming college freshmen on the team will have to skip playing for their respective schools in the upcoming UAAP and NCAA tournaments.

“That’s one of the sacrifices we asked of the boys,” clarifies Val Victa of the sponsoring Tao Corp. “We asked them to forego representing their schools to focus on the goal at hand.”

There are several factors that could impact on the country’s success, foremost of which is the luck of the draw which determines the bracketing of participating teams.

“Also, we have heard from veteran SEABA coach Felton Sealy that some countries like China may be fielding some ineligible players,” Pumaren adds. “We are looking into that. Of course, the officiating will also be a factor. But like I said, it will be difficult, but possible.”

One significant change in how FIBA has run its tournaments will have a positive effect on the Philippine campaign, though. After this under-18 tournament, the next World Youth Championship will be under-19, and the next tournament will be under-20. That will allow us to keep our players together for the long-term. Pumaren likened it to his experience playing for the Northern Cement squad of the 1980’s.

“We played together for so long, Allan Caidic would just wink at me, and I’d know where he wanted the ball. And once Samboy Lim looked my way, I knew what he was going to do,” Pumaren recalled. “Of course, with any team, in the beginning, there will be a lot of frustrations.

The core of the champion team of Iran was their youth team of a few years ago.”

The ultimate goal of the current youth team is to make the 2012 London Olympics. But first, we have to overcome the giants of Asia.

Pacquiao flies to LA By Abac Cordero Monday, May 12, 2008

Manny Pacquiao is leaving tonight for Los Angeles where he will undergo at least six weeks of non-stop training for his June 28 title fight with David Diaz.

Pacquiao was originally scheduled to fly to LA last Saturday but due to previous personal commitments had to push his departure to tonight, 47 days before their WBC lightweight clash in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao, according to his secretary Bren Evangelio, is booked for a Philippine Airlnes flight at 10 p.m. Joining him are his Pinoy trainers Buboy Fernandez and Nonoy Neri.

They will land in LA Monday evening. The following day Pacquiao is scheduled to attend a noontime press conference with Diaz at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in LA.

Depending on his condition, Pacquiao may opt to visit the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood in the afternoon, and meet chief trainer Freddie Roach to draw up their battle plan.

At worst, Pacquiao will start training at the popular sweatshop on Wednesday. That gives him a little over six weeks to train daily in the hope of getting in tip-top shape days before the fight.

The past few days, Pacquiao has also played DVD copies of Diaz fights a couple of times. He liked what he saw.

“I know from watching the DVD copies of his previous fights that he never gives up and never lets up even if he is behind or ahead in the scorecards,” he said.

“I know he’s bigger than me when it comes to build but I’m doing everything trying to adjust to my new fighting weight. He’s not that tall,” said Pacquiao.

“He’s the type of boxer who always stays in front of you and never backs down.”

When in LA, Pacquiao runs at around 5 a.m. , and goes to the gym for a two-hour session at around 2 p.m. On Sundays, he skips gym work but runs in the morning.

Pacquiao should have trained in LA for eight weeks, as he did for the Juan Manuel Marquez fight last March.

But he said six to seven weeks under Roach would be perfectly fine.

Besides, Pacquiao has stayed in shape since his last fight, running in the morning or playing basketball in the afternoon after he comes out of school in Gen. Santos City.

While in Gen. Santos City, Pacquiao has also stayed close to his family. When he leaves tonight, he’ll be away from his family for nearly two months.

He has done gym work for the past week, too. Three times he’d visited the Wild Card Gym in Parañaque to train, and at times in an oven-hot, local gym in his hometown province.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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