Cars were blasting their sound systems as they slowly drove by. Kids and teenagers were slowly moving in masses, most of them completely soaked in water. Foreigners were everywhere looking to get in on the splashy wet festival that is the Songkran Holiday or the Thai New Year’s.
But basketball takes no holidays. Not here at the Sports Authority of Thailand indoor sports complex anyways.
“Basketball Diaries” is a series of write-ups about the U-18 Thailand National Basketball Team where I follow the team through its journey towards the U-18 SEABA Championship 2016.
Practice started early today. The indoor complex is closed for public use, so they have the entire schedule to themselves. The coaches agreed on a 4PM slot. According to “Bas” Atikom Supkhong who attended today’s practice but watched from the sidelines, the team had only practiced once or twice in the 4PM slot.
And I immediately knew why.
Due to Thailand’s tendency to have weather that resembles the surface of the sun, the heat can be quite tormenting. This is okay when you start practice when the Sun has set and the air starts to cool down.
But the heat at 4PM is the combination of the Suns’s full force heatwaves combined with the heat that has been piling up in the air since the morning. Even with the help of the four corner power fans and a well ventilated gym, it was still hot in here.
I’m sure the team didn’t really mind the heat and that they’ve been in worse practice conditions before…but it was evident that it had some effect on their energy. Even the ever enthusiastic “Boat” Nuttaworn Banchathorn seemed a little bit drained by the temperature.
After the first drill, only 2 players refused to take their bright blue jerseys off. The rest had already threw the sweat soaked kits somewhere on the side of the court in frustration.
“Tor” Tanakrit Limjattakorn was one of those players who kept his jersey on despite all the sweat weight it was carrying. Adding onto that, he also wears an extra layer underneath as he usually does. Yesterday, it was a blue tee shirt. Today it was a white Assumption College-Thonburi jersey. Whichever day or whichever extra shirt he had on, it made no sense to me as I consistently sweat like a pig.
Coach Sopon had pegged Tor as one of his key players citing that he is a modern game power forward. Having seen him play, I agree with this approach. The kid out of Ubonratchathani has a consistent three point shot, can make quick drives to the basket, and can finish in traffic. He’ll probably have some trouble posting up, but if Coach Sopon is going to go small ball, using Tor as a stretch forward isn’t a bad decision.
“I like Lebron James a lot,” says Tor. “He’s really strong.”
If the kid can bring an all-around game to the team like LeBron James, he will surely be a key to their success.
Aside from the return of “Bas” to the practice, the team also got “Tam” Suvichai Suvarn back in the mix.
I hadn’t really notice it in the first practice, but his return today showed why Coach Thong talked so highly about the effect of his absence in practice.
His skills are obviously important. Tam can alter between roles as a shooting or a point guard. He’s a nice ball handler and those long arms really come in handy during crossovers. His hang time in the air is surprising which helps with his awkwardly efficient floaters and last minute passes on drives to the basket.
As well as he plays on the court, his value to this team is most appreciated as the vocal leader. While there are other senior players like “Tae” Attaphong Leelapipatkul and “Tarn” Pongsathorn Tubtim, “Tam” is the guy who is never afraid to make his voice heard. He can always been visibly seen communicating with his team mates maybe in attempt to bridge the gap between all of them, if there was any gap at all.
One moment, he would be confiding with Tae about adjusting the offensive play. Next he would be mocking Boat, who was on the sidelines, when he made a three pointer.
These guys might still only be high school teenagers, so there might not be many egos to clash, but Tam put in the effort to make sure there wasn’t any problem of that here.
In a way, I supposed Tam made this practice session more enjoyable, no matter how hot it was.
And maybe the team needed that jolt of fun.
“I usually don’t celebrate Songkran that much anyways,” said Tor which was in line with much of the response I got from asking other players around. Celebrating Songkran usually meant roaming the closed streets of Bangkok with a fully loaded water gun and an eye for a girl to flirt with. At least for kids this age.
This National Team training camp meant that there would be none of that. Even though most of them say they didn’t usually do much during Songkran, it still meant that they had to go through vigorous drills in a heated gym for long hours. Most kids are at least enjoying video games or whatever it is kids do these days in air-conditioned living rooms at home.
Kids like Konk (Chiangmai), Jdar (Yala), Tor (Ubonratchathani), Bas (Chantaburi), or Boat (Buriram) among others don’t get the chance to go back to their home towns to celebrate the Thai New Year’s with their families. Same goes with Coach Sopon and Coach Thongchai who both have families of their own that they would love to attend to.
That’s the sacrifice that these guys make to represent our nation in the way that they can. By playing their hearts out on the hardwood.
“Bro, aren’t you celebrating Songkran today?” Tor asks me when he saw me at the gym today.
I tell him that I’m too old for that and I don’t really like getting mushed in crowded areas.
But deep down, the truth was that if these guys could make the sacrifice to do all of this, I guess my sacrifice of a few hours of fun to sit in a heated gymnasium and spread the word about their story is a pretty fair trade.
Read other parts of “Basketball Diaries” Series here:
– Part 0: Introduction
– Part 1: Underaged
– Part 2: Nationwide
– Part 3: Sacrifice
– Part 4: Unity
– Part 5: The Ultimate Goal