A STINT in the FIBA World Under-17 Championship and a strong finish in the biggest event in an age group basketball tournament was indeed a fitting send-off for head coach Michael Oliver.
Batang Gilas ended its world event campaign on a high note, winning its last two games to finish 13th in the world stage level — the highest ever achieved by any national youth basketball team in years — and great way to give Oliver a last hurrah.
“From Day One, alam namin na may ipapanalo kami,” Oliver wrote in an exclusive online interview with FOX Sports Philippines. “It’s just a matter of when, pero by looking at the way we play every game, we knew we’re getting better.”
True enough, the Filipinos came out better, stronger, and more prepared against the Egyptians and were able to escape with a 70-69 win — their first in the tournament.
In that game, 7-foot-1 center Kai Sotto had a monster performance, finishing with 28 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.
“That’s exactly what we’re expecting vs Egypt. All the hard work paid off. Na-kundisyon na kami in time for us to be aggressive on defense from start to finish,” added Oliver.
In their next game against the highly-physical Kiwis, the Pinoy cagers were able to carry the momentum of their big win.
For Oliver, their familiarity on their opponents gave them an edge, which they utilized to the hilt.
“Nag-carry over yung confidence namin against New Zealand. Nakatulong din yung nakalaban na ntin sila nung FIBA Asia at naka-tune up dito before the start of the tournament kasi nakasanayan natin yung physical type of game nila kaya nung kalaban na natin sila for 13th place, nawala na yung effect nila na mag-physical game against us,” added Oliver.
During the FIBA World Under-17 tournament, one player who caught the fancy of Oliver was big man Geo Chiu.
“I think it’s Geo Chiu. If you’re following our game during FIBA Asia, wala siya halos contribution, but after that, he worked hard every practice preparing himself in the World Cup,” wrote Oliver.
“Kung wala siya, I think hindi tayo nanalo sa Egypt and New Zealand. He provided the spark off the bench and he made his presence felt on defense, holding his ground against taller opponents. Nakakabilib.”
Image from Michael Oliver Facebook