At around 17 years young, Mike Tolomia and Jeron Teng have already experienced what they consider as one of the greatest things a teenage athlete could hope for. Even now as pros, they still gush whenever it gets brought up.
Tolomia and Teng, along two-time ASEAN Basketball League Local MVP Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. and Michael Pate, proudly waved the Philippines’ flag in the 3×3 men’s basketball event of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore back in 2010.
That loaded squad – formed by veteran coach Eric Altamirano and later on mentored by current PBA assistant coach Mon Jose – only finished ninth among 20 countries, but for the two, that doesn’t define the ride they had.
“Nagulat ako na ganun pala kaganda yung Olympic feel. Kasi yun na talaga yun eh, Olympics na,” Tolomia said.
“Sa buong buhay ko sa basketball, yun yung para sa akin eh, isa sa pinaka-magandang experience na nangyari sa akin.”
“It was a really great experience kasi nagka-feeling kami ng Olympics. It’s very overwhelming and unforgettable for me,” added second-generation star Teng.
“It’s really unforgettable. We got to showcase our talent all over the world.”
Since its inauguration, two Youth Olympics have been held – one in Nanjing, China in 2014 and the other one in Buenos Aires, Argentina that recently concluded this 2018 – and Philippines has been an active participant.
But sadly, there’s not one 3×3 team.
So, what happened?
According to Tolomia, their trip to the Youth Olympics had simply been an invite. But a year prior to that, they had played in the Asian Youth Games – which was also in its inaugural staging at that time and was also hosted by Singapore.
The first Asian Youth Games was also where FIBA debuted the 3×3.
But now, as 3×3 basketball has grown bigger since the discipline was shown to the world in 2009, the qualification process has changed. And that is where the problem lies for the Filipino dribblers.
For a country to make it to the Olympic 3×3, it has to have enough points to be included in the Top 20 of FIBA’s 3×3 world rankings – China is currently on top with 12,135,996 points, according to the FIBA 3×3’s official website.
Also in the upper echelon are Ukraine, Russia, Mongolia, Japan, Netherlands, France, Latvia, Romania, Andorra, reigning 3×3 world champs Serbia, Italy, Brazil, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, USA, Indonesia, Poland, and Spain.
The Philippines? 48th.
Earlier this year, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas revealed that they plan to be more active in the 3×3 scene to make it into the Top 20. Once they do so, the Philippines will make its way back to the Youth Olympic Games.
And not only in the Youth Games, though, but in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan as well, which is SBP’s main goal as the federation believes that an Olympic medal is more attainable in 3×3 than the traditional five-a-side.
Three-on-three was already declared an Olympic sport earlier this year, and it will make its debut in Tokyo.
So for Teng and Tolomia – 3×3 pioneers in their own right – they can’t wait for that time to come, so that the next generations of Filipino hoopers will be able to taste the sweetness of the Olympic experience.
“Ako, as an athlete, it really helped me a lot,” said Teng.
“Sana ibalik ulit yun para ma-experience ng mga bata yung na-experience namin.”
“Sobrang sayang experience nung ganun eh. Kahit yung Asian Youth Games sobrang ganda. Sobrang laki ng na-miss ng mga Filipino athletes, lalo na sa basketball – yung experience na makalaro sa AYG at YOG,” Tolomia said.
“Ako ang dami kong nakilala dun eh. May mga naging kaibigan ako dun. Kaya nga meron ganyan, for us to make friends with other countries,” he added.
“Sana makabalik, kasi sobrang laking tulong nun, dadalhin mo yun habambuhay.”