[PHOTO AT LEFT - RP 5  Team  Coach
Yeng Guiao]

MANILA, APRIL 3, 2009 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - The Powerade Team Pilipinas, preparing for a shot at a berth in the 2010 World Championship, makes its first public appearance since its formation in November as it takes on the Motolite-Australian Great White Sharks tonight in the first of their scheduled two-game RP-Australia Motolite Goodwill Games series at the Araneta Coliseum.

The Nationals are raring to come out and go up against the tall Australian team in their 7:30 p.m. contest to find out how far they have gone since they started working out together late last year.

They’re playing their first tune-up game with two months to go before plunging into action in the SEABA championship in Medan, Indonesia which serves as the qualifier among Southeast Asian teams for the Fiba-Asia Championship set in August in China.

“This series will be a point of discovery for us. We will make our adjustments based on what we see in these tune-up games,” said RP team coach Yeng Guiao. “We’re a little rough around the edges, considering our limited time together, but the competitive fire is there. What we’ll learn here will help us in the future.”

Australian team organizer Marco Selorio, a Fil-Australian, said the Aussies are here to help the RP team, promising to give the Nationals a tough test.

The Great White Sharks arrived yesterday morning, checked into the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, met with Australian Ambassador Rod Smith before noon and had a shoot-around at the Jose Rizal University gym in the afternoon.

Phoenix Fuel throws its support to the series by putting P75,000 pot money per game as incentive to the winner.

The Australian ambassador has been invited to do the ceremonial toss. Among the special guests are top officials of the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the RP team’s advisory council composed of Robert Jaworski, Norman Black, Tim Cone, Jong Uichico and Chot Reyes.

NBL superstars Bruce Bolden, Graeme Dann, Anthony Susnjara and Eban Hyams banner the team, which also includes Brad Williamson, Michael Cedar, Tony Lalic, Goran Veg, Terry Amir, Leslie Coe, Sam Tsegay, Mark de Riviere and late addition Patrick Pilae.

The team has a height average of 6-foot-6.

“We are looking to take advantage of our size and strength. By adding seven-foot Pilae to the equation, we feel that we can really cause some serious match-up problems inside. Our team has only one goal – win,” said Selorio.

Tokushima Olympic qualifier veterans Asi Taulava, Kerby Raymundo, Jayjay Helterbrand, Mick Pennisi, Gabe Norwood and Kelly Williams, and Tokushima reserves James Yap and Ranidel de Ocampo are back for another tour of duty with the RP team. New members of the team are Arwind Santos, Sonny Thoss, Willie Miller, Cyrus Baguio, Ryan Reyes and Jared Dillinger.

Taulava, who’s also a veteran of the Busan Asian Games, was named team captain while Raymundo was chosen assistant team captain in a dinner hosted by team manager JB Baylon Wednesday night.

“FIBA basketball is totally different from the PBA. It’s unbelievable. The bar is raised so high and we have to raise our bar too,” said Taulava, addressing his teammates.

“We can’t think that how we play in the PBA is good enough. The PBA is good but we have to play great basketball now. Also, we have to be unified as a team through thick and thin, and we have to support each other,” Taulava added.

Preceding the RP-Australia showdown is the clash between the UAAP junior champions Ateneo Blue Eaglets and the NCAA title-holders San Sebastian Staglets at 5 p.m.

NOTES: The Australian team spent around an hour in the Manila airport looking for one missing luggage. It turned out the luggage was left in Australia...PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios, coming from the PBA board planning session in Cebu Monday and Tuesday, drove straight from the airport to join the RP team in a dinner Wednesday... “It was heartwarming and there was obvious camaraderie among them. I urge PBA fans and the whole country to rally behind this team,” said Barrios.

RP 5 raring to play Aussies SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson Updated April 03, 2009 12:00 AM

The PBA stars who make up the Philippine team coached by Yeng Guiao can’t wait to lock horns with the visiting Great White Sharks of Australia. They collide in their two-game series opener at the Araneta Coliseum tonight. The rematch is set this Sunday also at the Big Dome.

The Aussies are expected to throw their weight around, literally, on the court. They’re bigger, taller and heftier than the hosts. The most imposing Shark is 7-foot, 240-pound Patrick Pilae who’s a Samoan native. Other towers in Australia’s frontline are 6-9 Bruce Bolden, 6-10 Anthony Susnjara and 6-9 Goran Veg.

The player to watch is Bolden, a legendary figure in Australian hoops history. He played 17 years in the National Basketball League (NBL) and although “ancient” at 45, still commands attention at the post. Bolden made his Australian debut in 1985 and is the Sharks’ playing coach.

Mick Pennisi and Sonny Thoss, two players in Guiao’s squad with Australian credentials, said the Sharks are total strangers.

“I haven’t played against any of the Aussies because I think most of them are young,” noted the Australian-born Pennisi, 34. “I’ve heard of Bolden because he’s a legend in Australia and everyone knows him.”

Thoss, who attended James Cook University in Brisbane, said he, too, hasn’t crossed paths with any of the Aussie visitors.

Three Sharks trace their roots to Croatia – Susnjara, 6-5 Anto (Tony) Lalic and Veg. Susnjara played four years for Coastal Carolina College in the US NCAA and is coming off a stint with the Townsville Crocodiles in the NBL. Lalic averaged 19.4 points for Blacktown City in the Australian Basketball Association (ABA) in 2003 then played for the Zadar club that won the Croatian league title in 2005-06. Veg also saw action for Zadar and is a mainstay of the Parramatta Wildcats in the ABA.

The other Sharks are 6-7 Graeme Dann, 6-4 Eban Hyams, 6-7 Terry Amir, 5-11 Sami Tsegay, 6-3 Mark De’Riviere and 6-3 Fil-Aussie Vergel Alcantara.

* * * *

Dann, 25, averaged 7.1 points for the Sydney Spirit in the NBL last season. Hyams, 28, was born in India and once played in Israel. Amir, like Bolden, is American who has acquired Australian citizenship. The shortest player Tsegay is from Asmara, Africa, while the youngest De’Riviere, 18, is a college prospect from Sydney.

Tipped to start for the Sharks are Bolden, Susnjara, Pilae, Dann and Hyams. Assisting Bolden on the Sharks bench are Filipinos Jun da Jose, Jr. and Ato Tolentino.

Guiao said he’s not intimidated by the Sharks’ size. In fact, he’s bracing for a physical series where the Philippine team’s toughness will be put to a test.

“We’re really looking to play bigger and stronger teams because this is the kind of competition we expect in China (for the FIBA-Asia Championships) in August,” said Guiao. “Australia is a world power in basketball so we expect a strong and rugged team which fits our purpose of testing our players against big and talented teams.

“We might be a little rough around the edges because this is our first time to compete as a team but we will learn quickly. Our team will surely be smaller but I think we have enough talent and athletic ability to give them a good fight.”

Guiao’s big men Asi Taulava, Thoss and Pennisi said they’re ready to bang bodies with the burly Aussies.

“It will be a good early test for us to see how we adjust to their size and see how we can use our quickness against them,” said the 6-9 Taulava, now 36. “At the same time, they would help us get ready for the big Middle East teams. It’s also good for us that we get away from the PBA style of basketball. FIBA is something our new guys have to get used to. It’s a totally different game.”

* * * *

Thoss, 27, said size isn’t as much a concern as how the national team matches up with the Aussies.

“I feel we just have to focus for now on playing as a team, getting comfortable with each other and executing our offense and defense to the best of our ability,” he continued. “I’m sure these games (against Australia) are going to be tough and challenging. We just have to make the most of it and learn as much as we can. I’m excited and looking forward to playing tonight (Friday) and Sunday.”

Pennisi said instead of worrying about the Sharks’ size, he’ll concentrate on playing to the national team’s strengths.

“We’ll find it difficult to match up size-wise with the Australian team and teams we will be playing against in FIBA,” said Pennisi. “So I feel we should capitalize on our strength which is our scoring ability and play an up-tempo game.”

Kelly Williams said he’s not bothered by the Sharks’ physique.

“I’m hoping to bring some energy to these games against Australia,” said Williams. “The Australian teams that come here are tall, strong and shoot well. So it should be fun. Anyway, we have a tall, strong Aussie (Pennisi) who can shoot, too. It should be an exciting series.”

Ryan Reyes, a national team rookie, said it’s all about playing tough.

“They’re all tall in each position with an average height of 6-5,” said Reyes. “So we just have to play tough, physical and smart – doing all the little things like hustle and boxing out on defense. I just plan to play my best on both sides, offense and defense.”

Arwind Santos vowed to show the Aussies a thing or two about playing the game.

“I want to let them know that the Philippine team isn’t just there to sit and watch the game,” he said. “We will give them a real game. We will show the Australian team how Filipinos play basketball. As for the height difference, I don’t think we’re too far apart. To offset whatever size advantage they have, first we’ve got to play tough defense. Second, we should run our system efficiently and third, we must perfect our outside shooting.”

Edsa Shangri-La Hotel is the official residence of the visiting Aussies and the Powerade Team Pilipinas.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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