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Powerade-Team Pilipinas takes on Malaysia Saturday for first of expected 3-game sweep

MEDAN, Indonesia – The “first big step” to the FIBA-Asia World Championship qualifier – as national coach Yeng Guiao calls it – begins Saturday for Powerade-Team Pilipinas when it meets Malaysia at the start of the 8th Southeast Asian Basketball Association tournament at the Angkasapura Lanud Basketball Hall.

The PBA-backed Nationals, led by team captain Asi Taulava, take on the Malaysians at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. here) before Singapore battles host Indonesia at 9 p.m.

All four teams have their sights on the passageway to the 25th FIBA-Asia Men’s Championship in Tianjin, China in August where the top three finishers will step into the global stage in the 16th World Basketball Championship in Istanbul, Turkey in August next year.

“We’re using the SEABA to bond in a big way in preparation for the Jones Cup (in Taipei next month) and the Tianjin tournament,” said Guiao, aware that the presence of professional players in the team has reduced the competition into a battle for the second of two berths in dispute.

Guiao has cancelled RP team practice prior to their departure Thursday afternoon to give way to the critical phase of the Motolite-PBA Fiesta Cup quarterfinals.

“It’s futile if we don’t have full attendance, and I don’t want to interfere with the plans of the head coaches,” he said. “Instead, we’ll practice every morning in Medan – mostly walk through and shootaround – and play in the evening.”

The national team – Taulava, Mick Pennisi, Ryan Reyes, Arwind Santos, James Yap, Kerby Raymundo, Willie Miller, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood, Cyrus Baguio and Jared Dillinger – took the three-hour flight to Singapore and then switched planes for the 80-minute travel to business haven Medan, the country’s third largest city after Jakarta, the capital, and Surabaya.

Point guard Jayjay Helterbrand (pulled hamstring) and center Sonny Thoss (strained knee) joined the trip but won’t be suiting up. Kelly Williams, recuperating from a blood disorder that briefly put on hold his playing career, stayed home.

From the airport, the Nationals had a pizza-pasta-chicken dinner before checking in. They had their first out-of-the-country practice Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, with Rickie Santos, PBA operations chief and delegation head attending the SEABA managers meeting at 2 p.m.

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