Sure gold for PH in men’s doubles tennis as both teams qualify for championship round

The Philippines is assured of a gold medal in the men’s doubles competition in lawn tennis of the Southeast Asian Games after the two pairs it fielded in booked seats in the finals.

The first to qualify were Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales. Huey, who in 2016 was the 18th ranked doubles player in the world after he made the semifinals of Wimbledon, and Gonzales, who reached a career-high 131st in the world rankings last year, were the top-seeded pair in the competition and showed they deserved the number one billing.

They made short work of the Vietnamese pair of Nam Hoang Ly and Quoc Khan Le, 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals. They drew a bye in the opening round before beating Mohd Adam Das and Mohammad Naguid of Malaysia in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-3.

 

Huey and Gonzales will be facing compatriots Francis Casey Alcantara and Jeson Patrombon in the finals this weekend.

Alcantara, currently ranked 413th in the ATP tour, and Patrombon, who already won a bronze yesterday in the singles competition, blasted the Timor Leste tandem of Patricio Jose Ferreira and Antonio Mendes in the first round, 6-1, 6-1. They then stunned the 3rd seeded Indonesians David and Anthony Susanto, 6-4, 6-0, in the quarterfinals. The unseeded Filipino duo sustained their fine form in the semifinals where they won over Nguyen Daniel Cao and Van Phuong Nguyen of Vietnam, 6-3, 6-1.

With the Men’s Doubles gold all but secured, the Philippine contingent will be contributing one gold, one silver, and two bronzes in lawn tennis courtesy of the Men’s contingent. AJ Lim won the other bronze for the Philippines in men’s singles.

PHOTOS BY: Ryan Gonzales and Kristoffer Bellen

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SwishFit: The perfect basketball and workout combo

Basketball is the undisputed favorite past time of Filipinos. That much has been established. The Philippines and Lithuania are probably the only two countries in the world which rank basketball as their country’s number one sport. In most other countries, it is football which reigns supreme.

It is not uncommon for the average Filipino to be engaged in regular pick-up games or to be joining basketball leagues in their workplace or in their neighborhood. Not only is it a means for people to bond with friends and colleagues, but it is also an opportunity for people to exercise and stay in shape.

It is with this landscape in mind that Josiah Villegas had a creative moment of inspiration and innovation. Villegas has always been involved in physical training ever since his student days at the Dela Salle University. “I have been working as a trainer the past 13 years. Even when I was working in the corporate world for five years, I was still involved in fitness and I still played ball. In 2015, I also started my own fitness coaching service,” narrates Villegas.

Then a lightbulb flashing over his head moment hit Villegas: why not combine the workout regimen he offers with the sport and exercise that Filipinos are most familiar with which is basketball? In September of 2019, SwishFit was formally launched as they began to formally open their classes to the public.

The idea behind SwishFit is fairly simple: offer a fitness class that combines basketball skills development, plyometrics, and functional fitness into a one-hour session. Villegas can confidently say SwishFit is the only one of its kind in the Philippines. He says “My term for this is basketball-fitness. There are academies which focus on basketball skills development. There are gyms which offer purely fitness programs. I have been a cross-fitter and a spartan racer, so all my experiences in these programs plus my love for the game of basketball led to the birth of SwishFit. I thought it would be a good idea to offer a fitness program that revolves around basketball-specific and strength-specific, constantly varied functional movements done in a basketball court.”

 

Villegas has designed SwishFit to be a program that it is both scalable and inclusive. He personally supervises the workout of his students. He is ably assisted by his fellow coaches Marga Dagdagan, a former member of the DLSU Lady Archers basketball varsity in the UAAP, and Melbert Sumalpong, an experienced trainer and athlete. “Everyone is welcome to join our community, from former pros looking to get in shape to weekend warriors and even beginners. Male and female. Young and old. Newbie and experienced. SwishFit is also primarily an adult class. We have students as young as 18 to even as seasoned as 50, which shows how inclusive our community is”, shares Villegas.

For those looking to get some floor time in a basketball gym and become functionally fit, you may look up SwishFit on Facebook or you can give their classes a try. Their class schedules are every Mondays, 5pm at the Brgy San Antonio Multi-Purpose Gym in Pasig and every Wednesdays at 7pm at Decathlon Pasig. Beginning November 23, there will be Saturday classes at the Classica Clubhouse in Batasan Hills.

Alex Eala: The Phenom, The Prodigy

It might be premature to hail tennis sensation Alexandra “Alex” Eala as the next big name to watch out for in Philippine sports.

After all, she just turned 14 years old last May 23 and has been competing regularly in the top junior tournaments in the world for just a little over a year. But it is not too soon nor too presumptuous to call her a phenom or a prodigy, especially given her list of accomplishments in the international stage this early in her career.

Just last week, Alex made the finals of the Osaka Mayor’s Cup World Super Junior Tournament held at the Utsubo Tennis Center in Osaka, Japan. On her way to the finals, she beat two players from the host country, two Thais, and a Russian, all of them older than her. It took a 17-year-old French who is the current world number one junior player, Diane Parry, to stop Eala from bagging the title.

Alex is currently based in Spain where she trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy. The Rafa Nadal Academy offered her a scholarship after she won last year, at the age of 12, the tough Les Petis As Under-14 tournament in France. She and her older brother Miko left behind their lives in Manila and their friends at the Colegio de San Agustin to enroll at the prestigious center based in Manacor, Mallorca which offers the training methodology which built the legendary career of Rafael Nadal.

The programs that Alex and Miko undergo are individualized to refine their respective games and are aimed at helping them reach their full potential. “We train twice a day, from 8:00 to 10:45 am then from 11:00 to 12:15. Then we take a break, have lunch, and go to school in the afternoon. On Saturdays, we have practice matches. Sundays, we get a day off,” narrates Alex as she shared the daily grind that they are subjected to.

Alex already possessed a mean game before she moved to Spain, but the Academy which is being run by Toni Nadal, the uncle and former coach of Rafael Nadal, managed to fine-tune some more details in her arsenal, like her serves and power game. Being exposed to world class training, equipment, and facilities have helped Alex become one of the emerging stars in the junior ranks.

After her impressive showing in Japan, Alex climbed to the 13th spot in the world junior rankings (for players aged 18 and below). She is the 3rd highest ranked junior player from Asia after 7th ranked Qinwen Zheng of China and 8th ranked Natsumi Kawaguchi of Japan who are both 17 years old. Alex is the youngest among the Top 50 junior players in the world.

“My goal in 2019 was just to make the top 50 in the world. I did not expect that I would get this high in the world rankings” says Alex. She was ranked 247th in the world on December of 2018. This means in less than a year, Alex has climbed up 234 spots in the world rankings.

Alex made her first appearance in a Grand Slam event main draw last September when she played in the US Open juniors. She had to go through two qualifying matches to make it to the main draw. She bested American Kim Hance, 6-3, 7-5, before disposing off Romana Cisovska of Slovakia, thus becoming the first Filipino to qualify to the main tournament in Flushing Meadows since Jeson Patrombon achieved the feat in 2011. In the first round, Alex made short work of Australian Annerly Poulos, 6-1, 6-2. Alex bowed out of the competition in the 2nd round when she bowed to Thailand’s top junior player, Mai Napatt Nirundorn, 5-7, 3-6. Alex also made the 2nd round of the doubles competition with her partner Elena Kalieva of the United States.

Next year, expect to see Alex join more junior Grand Slam events as she attempts to further go up the world rankings. Part of the plans of her team is for Alex to start joining professional tournaments so that she could already garner ranking points in the women’s tour. It is therefore not far-fetched to imagine the possibility of Alex facing the likes of fellow teen sensation Coco Gauff and other big names in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour in the near future.

What is scary about Alex’s meteoric rise is that she has barely scratched the surface of her potential. The raw talent has always been there even when she was still based in the Philippines. Her growth and development in the one year she has spent training in Spain have been phenomenal. The results are indisputable. In 2018, she was named the Overseas Player of the Year by the European Tennis. She helped the Philppine Under-14 team qualify for the first time since 1993 to the 2019 World Junior Tennis Finals. Alex and the Philippine team eventually finished 5th in the competition. She made the finals twice in Grade 2 International Tennis Federation Under-18 events held in India at the start of 2019. She emerged champion in a Grade A ITF tournament in Cape Town, South Africa.

Alex understands the weight of expectations coming from local tennis fans who are all eager to see another Filipino become a fixture in big international tournaments. It is also not easy for a 14-year-old like Alex to have to live away from the comforts of home and away from her parents, Michael Francis Eala and Rizza Maniego-Eala. But Alex has shown remarkable maturity that belies her age. She realizes all these sacrifices come with the territory. She says “It is hard, but if these are what it takes to achieve my goals, then so be it”. Yes, it is too early to proclaim Alex as the next international tennis superstar. But it will eventually happen. It is no longer a question of if, but a question of when.

Filipino tennis star Ruben Gonzales cops Vegas Open doubles crown

Ruben Gonzales and doubles partner Ruan Roelofse of South Africa had to face three tandems that were all ranked higher than them. They also had to beat all their opponents in matches that lasted until the super tiebreakers. The Filipino and the South African duo proved that they were up to the challenge.

Gonzales and Roelofse won yesterday the $54,160 Las Vegas Tennis Open, an ATP Challenger Tour event, held at the hard courts of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV) campus. The unseeded pair faced top seeds Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico in the first round and escaped with a 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 win. In the quarterfinals, Gonzales and Roelofse faced a stiff challenge from wildcard entry Stefan Kozlov and Jack Vance of the United States before prevailing, 4-6, 6-3, 10-7.

The 3rd seeded American pair of Evan King and Hunter Reese awaited Gonzales and Roelofse in the semifinals. Undaunted by their favored opponents, Gonzales and Roelofse continued their dream run with a 6-2, 3-6, 10-4 victory to earn a spot in the finals against another tandem from the United States, Nathan Pasha and Max Schnur.

The championship lived up to expectations as both finalists battled tirelessly. In a match that was so close that it could have gone either way, Gonzales and Roelofse proved to be the steadier pair as they emerged triumphant, 2-6, 6-3, 10-8.

Gonzales, now ranked 204th in doubles in the latest ATP World Rankings, and Roelofse has been on a good run in recent weeks. They made the semifinals of the ITF $25,000 event held in Oklahoma in the first week of October before making the finals of another ITF $25,000 tournament held the week after in Claremont, California.

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Filipino tennis star Ruben Gonzales cops Vegas Open doubles crown

This just might have been one of the toughest tournaments in the career of Philippine lawn tennis national team veteran Ruben Gonzales.

He and doubles partner Ruan Roelofse of South Africa had to face three tandems that were all ranked higher than them. They also had to beat all their opponents in matches that lasted until the super tiebreakers. The Filipino and the South African duo proved that they were up to the challenge.

Gonzales and Roelofse won yesterday the $54,160 Las Vegas Tennis Open, an ATP Challenger Tour event, held at the hard courts of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV) campus. The unseeded pair faced top seeds Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico in the first round and escaped with a 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 win. In the quarterfinals, Gonzales and Roelofse faced a stiff challenge from wildcard entry Stefan Kozlov and Jack Vance of the United States before prevailing, 4-6, 6-3, 10-7.

The 3rd seeded American pair of Evan King and Hunter Reese awaited Gonzales and Roelofse in the semifinals. Undaunted by their favored opponents, Gonzales and Roelofse continued their dream run with a 6-2, 3-6, 10-4 victory to earn a spot in the finals against another tandem from the United States, Nathan Pasha and Max Schnur.

The championship lived up to expectations as both finalists battled tirelessly. In a match that was so close that it could have gone either way, Gonzales and Roelofse proved to be the steadier pair as they emerged triumphant, 2-6, 6-3, 10-8.

Gonzales, now ranked 204th in doubles in the latest ATP World Rankings, and Roelofse have been on a good run in recent weeks. They made the semifinals of the ITF $25,000 event held in Oklahoma in the first week of October before making the finals of another ITF $25,000 tournament held the week after in Claremont, California.

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Gonzales, Alcantara impress in ITF competitions

Federer’s face to be minted on Swiss coin

Philippine lawn tennis national team stalwarts Ruben Gonzales and Francis Casey Alcantara both had impressive showings these recent weeks in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) circuit.

Gonzales, currently ranked 239th in doubles in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) world rankings, saw action this week (October 7-13) in the M25 $25,000 event held in Claremont, California, USA. He teamed up with Ruan Roelofse of South Africa as they breezed through the early rounds. Gonzales and Roelofse, seeded first in the competition, beat the American pair of Keenan Mayo and Govind Nanda in the first round, 6-4, 6-4. They then disposed off Abraham Asaba of Ghana and Errol Smith of the US in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-2. The top-seeded pair had to go through a wringer of a semifinals against Simon Carr of Ireland and Jonathan Gray of Great Britain before prevailing, 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 10-8. Gonzales and Roelofse, however, saw their run come to an end in the finals as they dropped a close three-setter to the German pair of Milen Ianakiev and Hendrik Jebens, 4-6, 6-3, 15-17.

Gonzales also partnered with Roelofse for the M25 $25,000 event held from September 30-October 6 in Norman, Oklahoma. The pair made the semifinals of the tournament.

Alcantara, on the other hand, played in the $25,000 event in Brisbane, Australia. Alcantara, the 329th ranked doubles player in the world, joined forces with Australian Harry Bourchier. The pair prevailed over Alexis Musialek of France and Lucas Vuradin of Australia in the opening round, 6-3, 6-2. They would go on to triumph over wildcard local entry Tristan Schoolkate and Dane Sweeny in the quarterfinals, 5-7, 6-4, 10-7. In the semifinals, Alcantara and Bourchier had to dig deep to overcome the top-seeded pair of Brydan Klein of Great Britain and Scott Puodziunas of Australia, 6-4, 1-6, 10-6. In the finals, Alcantara and Bourchier fell short against the Australian pair of Jake Delaney and Luke Saville, 1-6, 6-3, 6-10.

These results bode well for Gonzales and Alcantara as they continue to grind in the international circuit in the pursuit to gain more world ranking points. The two are expected to lead the charge for the Philippines in this year’s Southeast Asian Games which the country will be hosting.

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Who was hot, who was not? Grading Gilas players’ performance vs Italy

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

Shell-shocked. Mercilessly dominated. A total beatdown.

These essentially summarize the first game of Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup against Italy. It would rank up there as one of the most horrible performances of a Philippine national team in a major international competition in the last 30 or so years.

It is quite hard to pick out a silver lining from last Saturday’s outing given that the team collectively failed to get going practically the entire game. But there were a couple of players who, to be fair, gave a good account of themselves in the game versus Italy. Let us break down the numbers of the Gilas players who did well and those whom we found to be wanting.

RELATED — These 3 factors caused Gilas Pilipinas’ nightmare defeat to Italy

Who was hot?

June Mar Fajardo

The Kraken lived up to the prediction that he could hold his own against the smaller Italian frontline. Fajardo was the most efficient player for Gilas at plus 15. This was built on a stat line of nine points, six boards, two steals, and one block. Fajardo, though, suffered an ankle sprain which might limit his movement in their next game versus Serbia.

CJ Perez

The Baby Beast was the best player on the floor for Gilas the entire game. The fearless rookie was the first one to really stand up in defiance and show some semblance of resistance against the Azzuris. He was the team’s second most efficient player and the only one who shot the ball well, going 7/12 from the field for a 58% clip.

Robert Bolick

Bolick was the last man off the bench for Gilas, but Coach Yeng Guiao might want to consider using him earlier in their succeeding games. Like Perez, Bolick was one of the few Filipinos who dared to challenge the defense of the Italians. He was rewarded with repeat trips to the foul line, going four-out-of-four from the stripe.

RELATED — Perez, Bolick’s performance a silver lining in Gilas’ agonizing loss vs Italy

Who was not?

Andray Blatche

The Azzuris knew that Gilas lived and died with Blatche, so they made lifep a living hell for him. Blatche was forced into nine turnovers and these obviously impeded any chances for Gilas to gain momentum. Though he chalked up a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, these mostly came when the game was already beyond reach.

READ — Blatche to PH fans after subpar game vs Italy: ‘I owe better to all of you’

Japeth Aguilar

Aguilar was supposed to be the Gilas rim protector. In the tune-up games, Aguilar was impressive as he provided the weak side threat when Blatche was bottled up or the shooters could not get open looks. He was not able to do either one in the game against Italy.

Kiefer Ravena

Ravena was third in the team in terms of playing time. But he too could not find the bottom of the net in the face of Italy’s suffocating defense. The Phenom was a mere two out of nine from the field, which translates to a 22% shooting clip. He also had zero assists and zero steals, two areas where Ravena usually makes a positive impact.

Roger Pogoy and Paul Lee

This has been said from the very beginning. If Gilas Pilipinas does not make its three point shots, then it decreases their chances to win. The two best shooters in the team, Pogoy and Lee, were non-factors in their first game, going a combined zero out of four from the three point area. Pogoy attempted just once. Pogoy and Lee are counted upon by Coach Guiao to shoot. If they do not attempt or if they cannot connect, then Gilas will continue to be in a whole lot of trouble in their succeeding games.

(Images from FIBA)

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No Middle Ground: Gilas Pilipinas – The team we need

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

In the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Gilas Pilipinas came in on a high.

Memories of beating Korea in Manila were still fresh. Andray Blatche was coming off his best-ever season in the NBA. The team went through a camp in Las Vegas and played against top teams in a frenetic training schedule in Europe. The cries of “Puso” was still a novelty, romanticized to its last drop to rally Filipino fans who were just happy to witness the national quintet playing on the world stage.

Fast forward to 2019, Blatche is no longer an NBA mainstay but has become a seasoned international campaigner. The current team does not have marquee names like Jimmy Alapag, Ranidel De Ocampo, LA Tenorio, and Jayson Castro who could be called upon to steady the ship at crunch time.

Chants of “Puso” no longer resonate as much among fans. Instead, you have keyboard warriors putting the team down before they even flew to China and bashing everyone from the coaching staff to players like Kiefer Ravena for even being included in the line-up. Times have indeed changed.

READ — Kiefer Ravena’s comeback trail begins at the world stage

Despite all these, the men tasked to banner the flag have carried on. The team had just enough healthy bodies to select from to form a 12-men lineup. The impetus is on the chosen 12 to prove they all belong in the team.

This current iteration of Gilas Pilipinas is not an assembly of the brightest stars in Philippine basketball. Rather, it is a group of players who know their roles and who complement each other. “I can see that whoever I put in will put in the effort. That’s all I am asking from each of them,”, said Coach Yeng Guiao whose task it is to ensure the team will get past the Group Stage.

Guiao has taken a pragmatic approach in handling Gilas Pilipinas. No longer are there any big Twitter announcements and media exposure with a dramatic backdrop. He has kept things low-key, typical of Guiao’s no-nonsense character, but devoid of ballistic outbursts which PBA fans have gotten used to. Instead, Guiao has been the picture of composure, someone who is locked-in on a goal which if achieved could be the highlight of his long, illustrious coaching career.

RELATED — How can Gilas score some wins in the World Cup? Yeng Guiao reveals

This has seemingly rubbed off on the entire Gilas squad. In the face of the negativity thrown at them by naysayers, the players have chosen to just prepare the best way they could. There is a quiet air of confidence palpable from this group. It is evident in Japeth Aguilar who is playing some of the best games of his international career.

Robert Bolick displays poise beyond his age. CJ Perez is the team’s utility man, playing the one, two, three positions interchangeably.

READ — Perez, Bolick’s fearless performance their ticket meal to Gilas inclusion, says Yeng Guiao

Mark Barroca provides full-court pressing defense, nevermind that the ones he is guarding often stand half a foot taller. Raymond Almazan has established himself as the team’s enforcer, banging bodies against heftier frontliners, providing bone-crunching picks, and dishing out hard fouls.

What this team has shown thus far is that it plays without fear. You have 12 men who believe in themselves, in each other, and in the man leading them. You do not get to play for Guiao if you are the type whose knees tremble in fear when the battle escalates. They play tough but not dirty. This is best exemplified by captain Gabe Norwood who for over a decade has been the national team’s ultimate glue guy.

RELATED — Gabe Norwood savors second FIBA World Cup stint

This time, he will be backstopped by Perez, Barroca, and Almazan, all blue-collar players who will not hesitate to put their bodies on the line to help the team gain an extra possession, who will pester opponents with their physical defense, who will leave every ounce of energy they have on the floor.

Their roles will be critical in enabling Blatche to get his double-double. They will be looked upon to free up RR Pogoy, Paul Lee, and even Troy Rosario because Guiao himself said Gilas will need to connect at least ten triples a game to give themselves a chance to win. They will need to protect their young court generals, Ravena and Bolick, and allow them to orchestrate the team’s plays seamlessly.

Then, of course, there is Junemar Fajardo. Against Italy, Fajardo will have to be the Kraken. The Italian frontline will feature Datome, Awudu, and Brooks, none of whom stands taller than 6’8, all of whom Fajardo can overpower.

As great as Fajardo has been in the PBA, he has merely shown flashes of brilliance, never dominance, in the international stage. He has made mincemeat of the defenses of Angus Brandt of Australia and Quincy Davis of Chinese-Taipei, providing a glimpse of what he is capable of when he gets his touches in the low block. This could be Fajardo’s last chance to reintroduce himself to the rest of the world. Fajardo can deliver. Gilas Pilipinas will need Fajardo to deliver.

This team is ready. They have the right man leading them. They have the right mix of players who can potentially play beautifully together. This line-up may not have all the players the fans want, but it has the players Guiao needs. Guiao has always been able to work with the resources at his disposal, and he knows how to squeeze every bit of talent and ability from every player to help the team achieve its goal.

This Gilas Pilipinas team harbors no illusions that the path awaiting them will be easy. They know that “Puso” alone will not be enough to win against Italy and Angola, moreso against Serbia. They know they have to outwork their opponents and maximize whatever advantages they have, no matter how small, no matter how marginal. They have accepted the challenge knowing things can end either of two ways: they overachieve and pull off a miracle run which will be celebrated fanatically by their countrymen, or they bomb out and come home with their heads both bloodied and bowed and they will be ridiculed no end by Filipino fans who will only be too glad to say “I told you so”.

There is no middle ground. Guiao knows this. All the players know this. And this just could be the fuel they need to succeed.

ALSO READ — Assessing the chances of Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup

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Roundtable: Assessing the chances of Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

We are a few days away from the opening of the FIBA World Cup 2019 in China. We asked a panel of knowledgeable analysts a couple of questions regarding Gilas Pilipinas. Here are their responses:

How would you rate the chances of Gilas Pilipinas getting past the Group Stage?

Jay P. Mercado, basketball historian: We were already at a disadvantage before but a roster that does not have Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright will hurt us even more. The key is the first game against Italy. If we get past the Azzurris, we will have the momentum and confidence when we face Angola in our last game. I do not expect much in the Serbia game but if we can give them a good and competitive fight, it will do wonders for our players heading to the Angola match-up.

Kriel Ibarrola, Fox Sports Editor: The odds are certainly against them. I will give them two out of five. Getting two wins in such a competitive group will be difficult, but not a totally impossible task. The way they perform in their first game versus Italy will most probably set the tone for their performance the rest of the tournament. If they do come out victorious, it will likely give them enough momentum to score a win against Angola and possibly make it competitive against Serbia.

Wira Pori, former Secretary-General, Brunei Basketball Association: The Philippines has a 33% chance of obtaining the second spot in order to advance. I say this because Italy and Angola have shown themselves having similar chances as well. No one will topple Serbia for first spot, at least not on paper.

Dr.Richardson Martinez, analyst/basketball aficionado: I will rate the chances at four. Short preparation. Lower caliber opponents in tune-ups compared to the others. Injury to our two best shooters, Lassiter And Wright. It would have helped if we were able to have a match against Spain in the pocket tournament as a better gauge of where we really stand.

2) What are the key factors going for Gilas?

Mercado: a) Defense – we have a bunch of young players, albeit vertically-challenged, who can make life difficult for our opponents. But if we focus on the perimeter and let Blatche, JMF, and Aguilar defend the interior, we will have a chance. b) Blatche – he remains the most important player in the team. If Blatche is physically ready, stays away from foul trouble, and imposes his presence both inside and outside, opponents may not have a chance of stopping him. He is the one guy who can turn the game around for us. c) Outside shooting – no ifs and buts about this. We need our shooters to click from the outside, minimum of 12 treys per game to give us a chance. That is also the only way to unclog the paint and allow Blatche and Junemar to get their points inside.

Ibarrola: As always, this team is built for speed. We are never going to be as big as the other teams so we make up for it by pushing the tempo and running the opposition off the floor. Even without Jayson Castro, I believe Coach Yeng has done a good job of picking the right guards that suit his system. Another good thing for us would probably be the element of surprise. We have added unproven but capable guards in Robert Bolick and CJ Perez — two guys who are probably off the other teams’ scouting reports.

READ — Perez, Bolick’s fearless performance their ticket meal to Gilas inclusion, says Yeng Guiao

Pori: Big men match-ups and outside shooting. While the game of basketball has geared towards a faster pace with emphasis on outside shooting, the battle of the bigs will be a determinant factor as the group they are in will feature prominent big men. If Gilas bigs can match up or outplay the opposing frontline, the Philippines will have a decent shot in the tournament.

Martinez: Andray Blanche still being a reliable scorer. Japeth Aguilar stepping up as Blatche’s second on both ends. The youth and exuberance of Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez, and Robert Bolick.

3) Who do you think will have the most impact?

Mercado: Blatche for obvious reasons. But I really like Bolick and Perez. Speed is of the essence and these two will essay that in this tournament. So long as they set aside the jitters, they will surprise many.

Ibarrola: Andray Blatche. Age and conditioning aside, he is still the team’s backbone and the best player on the floor on most nights. He will probably enter this World Cup with a chip on his shoulder, especially with some pundits questioning if he is still the best option as a naturalized player for the national team.

Pori: This is Fajardo’s time to shine. With the accolades he has compiled in the PBA, there is no excuse for him to not be able to translate these to the international stage. If he can match up with the NBA bigs of Serbia and Italy, it is safe to say he will validate himself as a premier centre in Asia.

Martinez: Kiefer Ravena. His Basketball IQ will be most crucial in determining what direction our team will be going.

RELATED — No signs of rust in Kiefer Ravena’s return to the hardwood

4) The first game against Italy will arguably be the most crucial. What will Gilas need to do to beat the Azzuris?

Mercado: Shoot the lights out from outside, allow Blatche to dominate their bigs and get them in foul trouble. Defend the perimeter to prevent Gallinari and Belinelli from getting their shots beyond the arc. I feel Blatche will not find any trouble against Italy’s defense, but we need our outside shooting to confuse the defense. I am also hoping the scouting report from Coach Sandy Arespacochaga would provide Gilas an idea what it is they should focus on.

Ibarrola: Pound the ball inside. As talented as Italy’s wing players are, I believe the Gilas bigs have the advantage skills-wise against their frontline. June Mar Fajardo should be involved in the offense early on and get his touches down low. Another factor would be our three-point shooting. We were dealt with a big blow when we lost our two best shooters, Lassiter and Wright, to injuries, but all our guards are capable of stretching the floor — especially when Fajardo and Blatche face double teams.

Pori: I have already mentioned the bigs and shooters must come in with their ‘A’ game for this tournament. Hustle and energy on both ends of the court and the willinness to make the extra pass are also critical in tipping the scales in Gilas’s favour. The game against Italy will be the biggest game for Philippines so they must come into the match with engines all fired up.

On a final note, should a victory against the Italians happen, Gilas also must make sure they do not look at Angola with a complacent attitude. The last thing the team wants is to fall short against a perceived “easier” team. With that being said, I look forward to our Southeast Asian representative doing us proud!

Martinez: Blatche dominating the post and our three-point shots going in. That will increase our chances. Plus maybe Danilo Gallinari having an off-night.

ALSO READ — Can the hard-luck Gilas catch a break in the FIBA World Cup?

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Adelaide 36ers spoils Ravena’s return, gets back at Gilas Pilipinas in 2nd tune-up match

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

In their last game on home floor less than a week before they open their campaign in the FIBA World Cup 2019, Gilas Pilipinas got a flavor of tough and physical pressure defense as they were defeated by the Adelaide 36ers, 75-85.

The game may have provided a preview of the final lineup which will be announced tomorrow as Beau Belga and the injured Matthew Wright and Poy Eram did not suit up.

Coach Yeng Guiao started with a tall lineup by fielding in Andray Blatche, Raymond Almazan, Troy Rosario, CJ Perez, and Mark Barroca. This experiment did not pay off as the 36ers’ crisp ball movement led to open threes from the visitors. The Australian club, which is reinforced by three American imports who all have played in the NBA Summer League, was also humming in transition as they raced to a 17-11. Back-to-back threes from Kevin White and Jack McVeigh allowed Adelaide to extend their lead to 29-13 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Kiefer Ravena made his first appearance towards the end of the 1st quarter but started making his presence felt in the 2nd quarter as he scored five straight points to keep Adelaide from blowing the game wide open. The 36ers held the Filipinos at bay with their three point shooting, connecting on 9-out-of-20 attempts for a 45% clip while limiting Gilas Pilipinas to only six out of 23 or (26 percent) from rainbow territory.

Gilas Pilipinas seemed to have found an extra bounce in their step in the 3rd quarter which opened with a Japeth Aguilar slam to cut the deficit to 12, 32-44. However, the 36ers full-court pressure defense would eventually render the Gilas offensive ineffective as they continued to miss from outside. A reverse lay-up by Obi Key saw the lead of the Australians balloon to 21 points, 65-44 in the closing minutes of the 3rd quarter.

The fourth quarter was more of the same as the Filipinos struggled to eat into the lead of the 36ers. Gilas Pilipinas showed some fight in the final six minutes of the ballgame to make the score respectable. A June Mar Fajardo three-point play and a Robert Bolick four-point play narrowed the deficit to 12 points. A three-point conversion from Blatche inside two minutes further incited hope among the Filipino crowd in attendance as Gilas Pilipinas threatened to catch up, 72-80. But a three pointer by former Arizona Wildcat Daniel Dillon doused cold water on the Gilas rally as the Australians held on to an 85-75 win.

Coach Guiao said he was still happy with the team’s performance despite the result.

“Even if we lost this game, we felt that there were a lot of positives that we could take with us. We were able to simulate the kind of intensity and pressure defense that other teams might apply against us. It is going to help us get better prepared for China,” said Coach Guiao.

The final 12-men line-up of Gilas Pilipinas will be announced by the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP). Coach Guiao’s boys will take a break on Monday before resuming practices on Tuesday. They will fly to China on Thursday, August 29, two days before they play their first game against Italy on Saturday.

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Can the hard-luck Gilas catch a break in the FIBA World Cup?

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

(UPDATED)

To say that the preparations of Gilas Pilipinas for the 2019 FIBA World Cup have been less than ideal is a huge understatement. Gilas Pilipinas has run into a spate of bad luck that one might as well call their journey to China “a series of unfortunate events”.

First, there was Marcio Lassiter, hands down the best shooter in the national pool, going down with an injury a little over a month before the World Cup opens in China.

They had three players — June Mar Fajardo, Troy Rosario, and RR Pogoy — missing the Spain training camp because of the PBA finals. Raymond Almazan also was unable to join the team because his visa was disapproved. Gabe Norwoord only played one game in Spain after suffering a groin injury.

They missed out the chance to face the powerhouse Spanish team in the Torneo de Malaga after unexpectedly losing to Congo, a team they had previously beaten easily in their first tune-up game.

RELATED — Fatigue played a factor for undermanned Gilas in loss to Congo, Gregorio says

Spanish trainer Jaime Capella, expected to arrive in Manila this week to serve as the team’s strength and conditioning coach, failed to secure permission from his mother club to fly to the Philippines.

Shooting specialist Matthew Wright and defensive ace Poy Erram also joined the list of walking wounded when the two also went down with injuries and were then ruled out of the final line-up.

Coach Yeng Guiao now has the unenviable task of making sure that these developments do not deflate the confidence of the team as they enter the prestige tournament this weekend.

READ — Bolick, Perez make it to Gilas Final 12 for World Cup, Wright, Erram, Belga out

Even if they had better preparations, Gilas Pilipinas would still be going to the World Cup as the clear underdogs. The odds have been stacked even higher now. One can only wonder if the law of averages will eventually be kind to Gilas Pilipinas.

What are the possible variables going for Gilas Pilipinas that could turn the odds in their favor?

First, if there is one coach in the local scene who knows how to make things work despite numerous limitations, it is Guiao. He may not be as charismatic as coach Chot Reyes nor as knowledgeable about the international game as Coach Tab Baldwin, but Guiao is an astute technician who knows what buttons to push to inspire his players and how to turn meager resources into an advantage. If the national team were ever going to war with at a disadvantage, the best person to serve as their general is none other than coach Yeng.

Second, Gilas Pilipinas knows they will need to rely on speed against taller and heftier teams. This current iteration of Gilas will have a motley crew of young thoroughbreds who are capable of running at every opportunity. Rookies CJ Perez and Robert Bolick showed this in their games in Spain.

READ — Bolick builds case for Final 12 after leading Gilas to wire-to-wire victory over Ivory Coast

Along with Kiefer Ravena who has over a year’s worth of pent-up energy waiting to be unleashed, the three youngsters will be needed to tirelessly anchor the team’s running game. A couple of quick, easy baskets in transition will go a long way in helping the team get their offense going.

Third, although Fajardo, Rosario, and Pogoy may still feel the wear and tear of the recent PBA finals, they can be expected to still be sharp and in game shape. Pogoy will arguably be the team’s best shooter. With Paul Lee also capable of lighting it up from beyond the arc, Gilas will have a troika of gunners who can space the floor. Rosario will be the second coming of Ranidel de Ocampo, a stretch four who can draw out opposing bigs and allow Andray Blatche and Fajardo to operate down low.

Lastly, Blatche and Fajardo together in the low block will pose match-up problems for Italy and Angola. Italy has a thin frontline with 6’10 Danilo Gallinari standing as the team’s tallest player. There is no one among the Italian frontliners who can guard Fajardo one-on-one.

RELATED — Could Gallinari, Belinelli offset Italy’s thin frontline?

Fajardo has shown that he can score against top international big men. The problem has always been his own ability to defend agile bigs who can shoot from outside and play the screen-and-roll. This is where Japeth Agulilar will be come in handy. Angola also does not have anyone who can cover Blatche. Serbia, though, is a totally different story. Fajardo will have his hands full against 7’0 Miroslav Raduljica and 7’3 Boban Marjanovic, while Blatche and Aguilar may find NBA All Star, 7’0 Nikola Jokic, and 6’10 Sacramento King Nemanja Bjelica too much to handle.

One can only hope Gilas Pilipinas will catch a lucky break in the World Cup. The chances of this happening may be not be too good, but previous campaigns of Gilas Pilipinas have always been built on hope. Whether that would be enough to tide the team by is something that will be answered beginning August 31.

ALSO READ — How Gilas’ rivals are gearing up for the FIBA World Cup

(Images from FIBA/Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas)

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How Gilas’ rivals are gearing up for the FIBA World Cup

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

(UPDATED)

Counting their tune-up game last July 8 versus the Mighty Sports squad that eventually won the Jones Cup, Gilas Pilipinas has played a total of five games in their quest to get ready for the FIBA World Cup 2019 which will begin on August 31 in China.

The Philippine national team has not seen a full complement of players in any of their five games. Andray Blatche was still not in the country when they played Mighty and the Gilas players currently competing in the PBA finals plus Kiefer Ravena missed out on the four games they played in Spain where they faced Congo and the World Cup-bound Ivory Coast.

The teams that Gilas Pilipinas will be facing in Group D of the World Cup have also been hard at work. Italy, which Gilas will be facing in its first game on August 31, kicked off their preparation by hosting the Trentino Basket Cup, a four-team pocket tournament which also featured the Ivory Coast, Switzerland, and Romania.

In their first game last July 30, the team known as the Azzuris defeated Romania, 88-60. Sitting out the game were team captain Gigi Datome and NBA veterans Marco Bellineli and Danilo Gallinari. Six-foot-seven guard-forward Alessandro Gentile, who was drafted in 2014 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, led the Italians with 14 points. The Italians bagged the championship when they beat the Ivory Coast in the finals, 69-58. Gentile once again topped the scoring with 22 points to bag tournament MVP honors.

Italy continued their march by hosting the Verona Cup during the 2nd week of August. They blasted Senegal in their first game, 111-54. This time, it was point guard Luca Vitali who led the way with 14 points. The Italians finally tasted defeat when they were beaten by Russia in a game where Bellineli contributed 11 points. The host team ended the tournament with a 72-54 victory over Venezuela which saw 6’7 Awudu Abass, whose mother hails from Ghana and whose father is from Nigeria, topscoring for the Italians with 16 points.

The Italians will look to intensify their training even further next week when they join a pocket tournament in Athens where they will be battling the host team Greece, Turkey, and Serbia.

The team favored to top Group D and touted to be the biggest threat to end the dominance of the United States, Serbia has also been dead-serious in their World Cup preparations. They won their tune-up game last August 4 versus Serbian professional club, KK Borac Cacak, 97-66. Nemanja Bjelica, a 6’10 power forward with the Sacramento Kings, led the way with 19 points while 7’0 Miroslav Raduljica who plays for Jiangsu Dragons in China tallied 18 markers.

The Serbians followed this up with another easy 95-75 win over Finland last August 8. Two days later, the Serbians, also known as the Beli Orlovi or the White Eagles, faced their first real test when they hosted Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania.

Serbia prevailed, 72-68, with 6’6 shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings, named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in 2018, torching Lithuania with 18 points. The two teams faced each other in a rematch last August 12 with Serbia again escaping with a 95-91 triumph. Bogdanovic defied all defenders sent to shadow him as he erupted for 27 points.

Serbia also made a stopover in Greece before flying to China. They also faced Turkey in their first game in the Acropolis International Tournament.

Perennial African powerhouse Angola is using Asia as its training ground for the FIBA World Cup. The Angolans are currently playing in the 2019 International Men’s Basketball Challenge in Kunshan, China. They faced the host team in their opening game. China won over Angola, 73-62. Six-foot-eleven center Yanick Moreira, a product of the SMU Mustangs in the US NCAA who has also played in the NBA Summer League in 2015 and 2016, paced the Angolans with 11 points.

Angola bounced back from their opening game loss with a 93-73 win over Croatia in their second game. Angola will resume their World Cup preparations when they join another pocket tournament in South Korea.

Gilas Pilipinas has two more tune-up games on August 23 and August 25 against the Adelaide 36ers, a top Australian ballclub which placed 5th in the National Basketball League in the 2018-19 season and was the NBL runner-up in the 2017-18 season.

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Can Manny Pacquiao make Keith Thurman Pay?

I partied too hard – Andy Ruiz admits after loss to Anthony Joshua

Although the betting odds have swayed in Manny Pacquiao’s favor in his fight this weekend versus Keith “One Time” Thurman, most scribes and experts are still split on who they pick to win in this bout for the American’s World Boxing Association (WBA) Super World Welterweight belt. There are good reasons why opinion has generally been divided.

Reports coming from the Pacquiaos have been glowing, with trainer Freddie Roach and conditioning coach Justine Fortune telling the media that Pacquiao has been working doubly hard and that the only eight-division champion in history is moving like he is not less than half a year away from turning 41 years old this December. These are the usual proclamations people read about before every Pacquiao fight.

Pacquiao has shown remarkable conditioning despite his advancing age and is still widely considered an elite welterweight. But he also will be dealing with the reality that father time is not something one can easily defy. This is why boxing legends like Sugar Ray Leonard and Ronald “Winky” Wright are going with Thurman who is ten years younger than the Pacman.

That, plus the wear and tear of over 24 years as a professional fighter which has seen Pacquiao accumulate hundreds of rounds of ring mileage as he faced 25 world champions in 32 fights have effectively slowed him down. There are still traces of his speed and punching power. But Pacquiao’s experience has taught him to work within his limitations. His recent fights have revealed that he is fully aware that he does not need to over-extend himself by going all-out every second of every round. Rather, the older Pacquiao has shown to be an astute student of the game who picks his spots, fights in pockets and bursts, and does not take too many risks that will expose him to the same perfectly-timed counterpunch that Juan Manuel Marquez unloaded in their last fight.

Pacquiao will need to be at his absolute best against the undefeated Thurman who is arguably the fighting Senator’s biggest challenge in recent years. Pacquiao was barely tested in his last two fights. Lucas Matthysse was a washed-up former champion while Adrien Broner was too scared to let his hands go. Thurman has spewed venomous diatribes in the build-up to the fight. The question on everybody’s mind is whether Thurman will back up his trash talk by engaging Pacquiao in a slugfest.

Thurman is a skilled fighter who can either go toe-to-toe or counterpunch. He has scored impressive wins over former world champions Carlos Quintana (4th round TKO), Julio Diaz (3rd round TKO), and Robert Guerrero (UD). His biggest wins came against two of the top welterweights in the world, Shawn Porter (UD) and Danny Garcia (SD).

Thurman has been known to be a strong starter, and this could spell trouble for Pacquiao who has not been the buzzsaw from the opening bell that he was in the early part of his career. It is not unlikely that Thurman will jump the gun and try to impose his will on his smaller and older opponent.

One key strength of Thurman has been his ability to go to his opponent’s body and inflict severe punishment. Quintana was floored by a left hook to the body in the 3rd round before capitulating in the next round. Diaz suffered a rib injury from Thurman’s body attack before the fight was stopped.

To fend off opponents, Thurman often leads off with the double jab that sets up his right hook, or a weapon he used to knockdown Guerrero, the uppercut. Thurman boasted that he knows what to expect from Pacquiao who he says does the same thing in every fight which is to put on flurries to impress the judges. This is the same thing Antonio Margarito said before he fought Pacquiao.

What Margarito eventually learned, as will Thurman, is that knowing what to expect from Pacquiao and being in the ring when the flurries from Pacquiao do come are two totally different propositions.

Pacquiao still holds a significant advantage in speed against Thurman or against any active welterweight in the world not named Terence Crawford. Thurman’s power punches often come from wide angles and this just might be the opening that Pacquiao will exploit to stop Thurman on his tracks and make him rethink about his pre-fight pronouncement that he will overwhelm the Pacman.

Thurman had moments in his fights against Garcia and journeyman Joselito Lopez when he looked vulnerable when his open stance made him susceptible to his opponent’s power shots. Garcia and Lopez are not Pacquiao. Pacquiao is better, and he is bound to connect more than Garcia and Lopez ever did. Pacquiao is bound to hurt Thurman more than Garcia and Lopez ever did.

Thurman has been hounded the past two years by injuries that caused him to be inactive for extended periods of time. His fight against Lopez last January revealed his ring rust. How much he has gotten back his old form, particularly his best years from 2016-17, will be revealed when he faces an all-time great for the first time in his career.

Thurman has been loud and outspoken from the time his match against Pacquiao was announced. He is now a day away from letting his fists validate his bravado. If Pacquiao is able to weather the early storm from Thurman and establish control by showing his superior hand speed and veteran ring generalship, then he has the opportunity to really inflict some serious hurt on Thurman and show the world that even on his 3rd decade as a professional fighter, he still is at the top of his game.

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Carl Tamayo: Under the radar and soaring

James hits dramatic buzzer-beating three as CSKA edge Zalgiris 85-82

While all eyes were focused on Kai Sotto during the FIBA Under-19 World Cup, another Filipino big man flew under the radar but came out showing to the rest of the world that there is another prospect from the Philippines whom scouts should also be looking at.

Carl Tamayo has long been considered the second-best big man from the junior ranks in the Philippines next to Sotto. A former UAAP Juniors Rookie of the Year, the 6-foot-7 Tamayo is the only high school player aside from Sotto who was included in former Gilas Coach Chot Reyes’s 23 for 23 pool for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Outside of the country, however, Tamayo has largely been unknown — unlike Sotto who has garnered interest from European clubs and the player whom Tamayo was supposed to serve as back-up to in the World Cup, AJ Edu of the University of Toledo Rockets in the US NCAA.

Tamayo was not part of the Gilas Youth team when they placed 4th in last year’s FIBA Asia Under-18 to qualify for this year’s Under-19 World Cup. He also was not lined up when the Philippines played in the FIBA Asia Under-16 in 2017. Various injuries have hounded his young career and have impeded his development.

But he did play for the national youth team that went to the FIBA Under-17 World Cup in Argentina. He played mostly as the starting power forward alongside Sotto. The NU Bullpup helped the Philippines finish 13th over-all in the tournament, although he missed the team’s last two games due to an injury. Tamayo averaged 10.2 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Philippines in the tournament.

The FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Heraklion, Greece was only Tamayo’s second major FIBA competition. He was thrust into the starting unit after Edu was sidelined. Tamayo struggled in the Group Stage where he posted modest numbers of 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. He was also plagued with 3.3 turnovers in their first three games.

Tamayo eventually adjusted to his increased role in Coach Sandy Arespacochaga’s rotation. In his last four outings, he improved his offensive production to 14.25 points while still grabbing six boards. He also played with better composure as he limited his turnovers to just 1.25 per game.

He was at his best in the last two games of the Gilas Youth. Facing a tall and rugged Chinese frontline, Tamayo matched their physicality with a combination of strength and finesse as he scored 20 points and collared 6 rebounds. He also hit three triples out of nine attempts for a 33% clip as he helped the Philippines defeat their Asian rivals, 86-72.

Tamayo followed up this performance with an even bigger game versus New Zealand in the battle for 13th place. His full offensive arsenal was on display against the Kiwis as Tamayo buried four out of eight from the three-point region, or an outstanding 50% shooting percentage. He was also six out of eight from the two-point area and ended with 24 points on an efficient 62% clip from the floor. He was the team’s leading rebounder with 12 boards, 11 of which came from the defensive end. His efforts, though, would fall short as the Gilas Youth lost to New Zealand, 70-76.

Tamayo’s performance in the latter part of the World Cup showed glimpses of the smooth inside and pivot moves of the legendary Zandro Limpot, while Tamayo’s willingness to bang bodies down low and his range from downtown was reminiscent of the game of one of the most versatile big men to wear the Gilas uniform, Ranidel De Ocampo.

The next logical step for him would be to find opportunities to play college ball in the United States where he will be exposed to bigger and better competition. Yuta Watanabe of the Memphis Grizzlies was a gangly 6’8 19-year-old when he went to the States to play a year for St.Thomas More Preparatory School before playing in the US NCAA for the George Washington Colonials as a 3-star recruit.

Tamayo turned 18 years-old just last February. Tamayo’s talent and skillset approximate Watanabe’s during the time the Japanese big man moved to the US. The Gilas program will eventually benefit if the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas and the NU coaching staff can work together to bring Tamayo abroad where he can develop at a much faster pace.

ALSO READ — Rating Kai Sotto’s performance in U19 World Cup

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