MANILA, Philippines – Young Filipino big man AJ Edu is excited for the upcoming campaign of the Gilas Pilipinas Youth team in the FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup, as he believes the team has greatly improved from last year.
Edu was part of the Philippine youth team that placed fourth in FIBA Under-18 Asian Championship last year, securing their qualification to the world championship. It marked the first time that the 6-foot-10 teenager played for the Philippines in a 5-on-5 tournament, having previously competed in 3x3 events.
The FIBA Under-19 World Cup is "something I'm really excited for," said Edu, who joined the national youth team's practices a little over a week ago. "I think it's the first time we had an under-19 team in the World Cup in (a long time), so it's an opportunity that we're not gonna take for granted."
"We're very excited," he said.
In the U-19 Worlds, Edu will reunite with Kai Sotto to form a towering frontcourt for the Philippines.
Other members of the team include Xyrus Torres, Gerry Abadiano, Bismarck Lina, Geoffrey Chiu, Carl Tamayo, Rhayyan Amsali, Joshua Ramirez, Miguel Oczon, Dave Ildefonso, Terrence Fortea, James Spencer, and Dalph Panopio.
As several of these players were also part of last year's Under-18 team, Edu believes that chemistry will not be an issue for them when they compete in the World Cup.
"I'm really liking the chemistry," Edu said during an appearance in the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday at the Amelie Hotel in Manila. "After a year, we've improved, all of us."
"Kai was in the States for a bit, Carl has been doing well in high school, and Gio has improved as well," he added. "Just skill-wise, we've improved a lot, and I feel like the chemistry is there from last year."
"It can only get better from last year for sure, and I'm looking forward to it," he said.
Edu was one of the team's top performers in the Under-18 Asian Championship, averaging 14.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. The 19-year-old is coming off his freshman season at the University of Toledo, where he normed 3.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14 minutes of action per contest.
"Going from high school in Europe to college in the States is a big jump in level, not only skill-wise but in athleticism and speed," said Edu. "The overall pace of the game is much faster in the States."
"It was a big adjustment for me, but towards the end of the season, I felt that I had adjusted to it," he said.
Edu, along with the rest of the youth team, had to make more adjustments before the FIBA U-19 World Cup as they are now being handled by a new coach in Sandy Arespacochaga.
"There is a new system with the new coach, but it's been going well so far," said Edu. "I feel like he's a really good teacher."
"The system works well not only for the bigs, but for everyone," he explained. "Everyone will get an opportunity. I feel like it will work well in the tournament."
The youth team is set to leave for Doha, Qatar on Friday where they will hold a training camp and play tune-up games with a club team. There, they will also link up with Panopio who will be flying in from Rome.
From there, the Gilas Youth will go to Greece on June 27. They play their first game on June 29 against Greece, before taking on Argentina on June 30, and Russia on July 2. All teams will advance to the knockout stage.
"It's quite a competitive group," said Gilas Youth team manager Andrew Teh. "We're going to take it one game at a time."
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