THE OLYMPICS, SOON

No dream impossible for MVP
Noli Cortez
Assistant Sports Editor
Malaya-Business Insight

The MVP Sports Foundation (MVPSF) has been unstinting in its support of several sports and more so in basketball. All because the man who is the prime mover and chief benefactor of the MVPSF and for whom the Foundation is named after has one burning goal: To bring the country back in the Olympic basketball stage. "He's pretty determined to achieve the goal, na makabalik tayo sa Olympics," related Sonny Barrios, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director since 2011. "Just to get back there," added Barrios. "We all know the realities, that it would be very hard for us to win a medal. We're not looking at that yet. "But having said that, Mr. Pangilinan believes, and we hope the rest of our countrymen do, too, that it would already be a very big achievement for the country once we make it back to Olympic basketball."

Although the dream has proven to be a very tough task, Pangilinan, or MVP, as he is fondly called, has become even more determined to continue facing the challenge head-on while stepping up his unrelenting efforts to help the country realize that Olympic basketball dream. "We all know Mr. Pangilinan is giving everything for this project," said MVPSF President Al Panlilio, who also succeeded MVP as head of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, Inc. last August. "I mean, he firmly believes that we can do it. We're doing everything that we can do based on his directions –  on how we can form the best team, come up with the best program."

Make no mistake about it. Basketball is not the only sport the MVPSF is in to. The Foundation is also helping taekwondo, boxing, badminton, cycling, football, triathlon, golf, rugby and running. "The focus of the MVPSF, really, is to help the federation (national sports association) and therefore the national athletes attain international glory for the country," said Butch Antonio, currently the Foundation's program director of basketball and golf and team manager of the national basketball team, or Gilas, since 2009. "All of the aforementioned sports are being helped as much as possible. The ultimate goal is to either land that elusive Olympic gold and/or put the sport which we feel we can excel in internationally back on the world map."

Basketball is just part of the MVPSF's thrust, Antonio pointed out.

"Gilas is not really an entity that the Foundation directly helps. It's Smart (Communications) that's backing it up ever since," Antonio added. "But the Foundation helps basketball in general, from Gilas, Perlas (national women's team), Batang Gilas, down to the grassroots level."

Some estimates put the ballpark figure of MVPSF's investment in basketball at over a billion pesos, but there have already been returns.

"Because of Gilas' performance we are again back in the world stage," was how Antonio started his enumeration. "Our national team also saw action in the first-ever FIBA Under-17 World Cup in Dubai, Perlas is already in the Level I of FIBA-Asia after being in Level II for the longest time, and we are now a regular fare in the FIBA 3x3 wish list. The organizers want a Filipino team to always be there and Terrence Romeo was even voted by fans as the most spectacular player of the world in 2015."

Still, it is on bringing the country back to the quadrennial basketball stage for the first time since 1972 that ranks high in MVP's sporting priorities. "Boss MVP gives his all in everything for the flag," stated Panlilio. "He's very passionate about it. He firmly believes that whatever he can do to help the country, he will do it." Among those not doubting MVP can pull it off is Ryan Gregorio, assistant vice-president and head of Meralco Sports and Youth Advocacy and long-time assistant coach in Gilas. "When people say it is an elusive dream, he tries it," said the three-time champion coach in the Philippine Basketball Association. "That is exactly the feedback that we got when we started to dream of being part of world basketball again. Nobody believed it except him, and he was able to add fuel and energy to make it happen."

Gregorio was referring to Gilas' stint in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, the first time since 1978 Filipino cagers appeared in the tournament formerly known as the World Basketball Championship. The return to the world stage was paved when the Philippines wound up second to Iran in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship held at the Mall of Asia Arena, an event MVP left no stone unturned for the country to host. Pangilinan tried to follow that achievement up by bidding for the hosting rights of the 2019 edition of the Worlds, but the country got beaten out by China. So, MVP settled for the next best thing, which was to stage the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament also at the same Pasay City venue.

Again, Gilas was thwarted by France and New Zealand of making it to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but just how much MVP would do to win any advantage for the national team was re-emphasized.

"He has a very incredible desire to win, especially for his country, and he's willing to sacrifice a lot of things for it," noted Gregorio. "The way he displays it is by giving whatever help and support that he can give to Gilas. Even his presence in international competitions, that is exactly how much he shows his passion to the sport and how much he loves his country. He wants his country to excel in sports, especially through the game of basketball."
Panlilio couldn't agree more. "If only to give our team the best support, the best crowd, the best chance for us to really win and give us the best chance to go back to the Olympics," he said.
Many reasons have been given why MVP seems to love basketball the most and Barrios is among those who offers an insight.
"Boss MVP considers it his gift to the Filipino people who all love basketball," related the former PBA commissioner, who is now first-hand witness to all the late night meetings and thorough discussions Pangilinan conducts when the subject is the sport.

"He believes that he is just one of the millions of Filipinos who love basketball and if our national team can make our countrymen happy then it is only right that he invests attention, time, logistics, everything, to it," Barrios added.
"Even in my private talks to him, for example, in our hosting of the 2013 FIBA-Asia, the first question he asked was: 'Would this make our countrymen, the fans, happy?' The answer is of course, yes, and he would say, 'Go ahead, let's bid.'"

Panlilio also has an additional tidbit."In a way, it is also his stress-reliever," related Panlilio. ""Sometimes, he comes in with all the stress from the whole-day meetings, especially if the results are ones he didn't want. "But talks turn lighter when basketball is discussed. Then, when he gets to talking about basketball he really stays focused. 'What can we do to qualify and make our team globally competitive?'"

It is through Pangilinan's efforts that Gilas and its version for younger players, Gilas Cadets, were formed. But the real coup de grace was when he got the pro league to commit to the program in writing.
Only last Nov. 23, the SBP and the PBA signed a memorandum of agreement cementing their partnership in a program that would ensure a competitive national team to be fielded in major FIBA competitions.

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