The “Window of Opportunity” is a strange thing. Sometimes, you just never know when it’s going to open despite it glaring you in the face for the entire time. Even more cruelly, it can also slam shut at any given second without any warning whatsoever.
But sometimes, the signs are there. You can sometimes feel the breeze of hope coming from the outside. All you need to do is open your heart and reach out.
Thailand basketball, consider this your breeze of hope. The Window of Opportunity is wide open now.
The signs that basketball in Thailand is going through an upwards trend has been pretty clear for a while. A team from Thailand won the ASEAN Basketball League 2 years ago. Thy followed that up with a SEA Games match up against the Philippines that is a bookmark reference for the rise of ASEAN Basketball to this day. The popularity of basketball has risen up to a level that new club, Mono Vampires, were confident enough to build a state-of-the-art Basketball Stadium for their professional team.
The Mono Vampires’ stadium, Stadium29, would not be finished in time for their home stretch in the ASEAN Basketball Season, but it would be debuting in a much larger basketball stage.
Around mid April, it was announced that Thailand would indeed be the host of the 5th SEABA Stankovic Cup. Thailand would immediately crank into “Win Now” mode since then.
According to what little information we can find on the internet, the Thais were the first team to actually take serious action in the tournament. Not long after the tournament was announced, the team flew in their new National Team Coach and arranged tryouts.
Tryouts were a free-for-all participation event. Literally anyone in Thailand could have walked into the tryout and had a shot at impressing the coach enough to make the team. While the practice does seem a little bit too “high school” for a National Team, you have to admit that the National Team Coach had never seen any of these players AT ALL. It’s hard to use the normal “call up” system in this situation.
He did have ex-National Team stars, “Boy” Piyapong Piroon and “JO” Ratdech Kruatiwa, to give him a briefing throughout the tryouts of who’s who and what’s what.
Since then, the national team has gone through vigorous twice-a-day practices and scrimmages to get the best 12 players to represent the host nation.
Let’s break the team down:
I mentioned that Thailand flew in a head coach earlier, so yes, that means that he’s foreign. Tim Lewis is a coach of British Nationality who has had experience coaching in the various places such as Japan and Germany. However, he’ll probably be most known for his gig as an lead assistant coach with the Raptors 905 team (NBA Team Toronto Raptors D-League affiliate).
Coach Tim was the head coach of the U20 Great Britain National Team and and assistant to the Senior Team, which is why he crossed paths with Coach Tony Garbelotto of Vietnam (and the Saigon Heat) somewhere along the way. Their connections led from one thing to another and next thing you know, Tim Lewis was in Thailand.
I was fortunate enough to get a chat with Coach Tim before the tryouts during his briefing with the assistant coaches. At various points in the briefing, I remember bits and pieces of him quoting great coaching minds like Brad Stevens. Coach Tim seems like a laid back guy, but I feel that has a lot to do with how prepared he is. The more prepared you are, the less you have to get concerned over.
This will be the first time since Felton Sealy that Thailand has had a foreign National Coach to lead the team. There doesn’t seem to be much of a problem about communication between him and the players/coaches/staff now, but we’ll see how things play out in his debut tournament.
Let’s slowly break this down:
I like the mix of veterans and youth here. You have seasoned guys like Lertmalaiporn, C. Klahan, and Apiromwilaichai who should be the leaders of this team. However, Thailand will have a neat number of younger players like P. Klahan and Chantachon. The main strength of this squad will be the players in their peaks. Obviously Samerjai will be the lead star of the team and Coach Tim has gushed time and again about how impressive he’s been, but look for Ananti and Jaisanook step up as well.
It’s a bit concerning when you break it down by position however. Thailand has a slew of talented wing players to work with, but they are looking pretty shallow in the lead guard and center positions.
There are two true inside players on this team, “Dave” Sukdave Ghogar and “Big” Teerawat Chantachon.
Neither are in their peak forms however. Ghogar’s confidence took a huge hit after playing small portion of minutes in the ABL behind two imports and missing the TBL due to an injury and his performance proves it (6.9 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg). Chantachon has been oozing with potential but hasn’t really gotten a chance to shine being stuck on the bench both during SEA Games and after he transferred to a stacked Mono Vampires squad. They should get a chance to regain confidence in the SEABA Stankovic Cup.
In the mysterious void between being an inside player and a wing player are “Palm” Patipan Klahan and “Singh” Chanachon Klahan.
Before we move forward, they aren’t directly related.
The thing with the unrelated Klahans is whether they can transcend from the cruel label of being a tweener. Palm has good length and height, but doesn’t really has a post up game. He should be a terror on the perimeter, if he had a more consistent shot and better handles. Palm can still score in spurts (12.2 ppg in TBL) and his long arms can get him to the line pretty well (2.2 FTA/g in TBL), but it’s still a guess as to which position he’ll be slotted in. It would be fun to see Coach Tim try him at the Small Forward, but given how stacked Thailand already is on the wing, that might be a long shot.
Singh on the other hand has more strength and a better post game than Palm. He is however a bit shorter than the ideal power forward. His club, Mono Vampires, played him here and there at the small forward position. He found a way to combine his passing with shot selection to post a relatively effective performance (4.8 ppg off 56.7 eFG% in ABL), but he was still a step or two slower than your typical small forward. However, Singh should not be at much of a disadvantage against the power forwards in this tournament.
If you remember in my SEA Games preview on Thailand, I clearly emphasized how strong Thailand was on the wings. That is still very true. What’s impressive is that this team only returns two of the wings from the SEA Games squad, “Palm” Darongphan Apiromwilaichai and “Nop” Attaporn Lertmalaiporn. Palm is still one of the teams best offensive weapon. His offensive efficiency might have dropped in the ABL (46.1 eFG% in ABL), but he’s still capable of being an all-around threat (8.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 apg) for any team. Nop keeps on fading to the wrong side of 30 as his minutes continued to drop in the ABL. Still, his height, length, ability to shoot the three (3.68% from 1.4 3PA/g), and veteran guts could prove to be valuable for Thailand.
As mentioned, Thailand will be missing three of their top forwards as well.
“Reuben” Wuttipong Dasom is still out with an injury he picked up during the ABL Season. Out goes a defensive/transition wing.
“Kanu” Wattana Suttisin is not 100% fit from his ACL tear from SEA Games. Out goes a one of the deadliest scoring options in Thailand.
“JO” Ratdech Kruatiwa has phased on to an Assistant Coach position. Out goes one of the best three-point shooters in Thailand.
That injury/unavailable list would seem like something a National Team would take a hard hit from. But I think Thailand rebounded pretty well.
“Rang” Nakorn Jaisanuk, “Van” Pairach Sekteera, and “Pae” Chitchai Ananti all can contribute in a similar way.
Van himself is a long athletic forward, similar to Dasom. Dasom might be better in transition, but Van posts a better shooting touch from long range (35.7% from 3P). Van was also on the 3rd SEABA Stankovic Squad and has improved vastly since then.
I feel like he is a guy who could give you a nice mini-run of points.
Losing a shooter in the caliber of JO is something that’s hard to replace, but appointing Rang to his first Senior National Team cap is something that can lessen the blow. While Rang is not a shot creator off of the dribble like JO, he is pretty good at finding his sweet spots and getting to them. His form has sputtered and might not be so convincing (30.6% from 3.0 3PA/g) but I think he deserves a chance to prove himself. Also underrated is his defense and how he uses his long arms to disrupt passing lanes.
Wrapping up the crop of wings is ABL breakout star, Chitchai Ananti. “Breakout” and “Star” might be two very strong words, but they are words I’m willing to throw at Ananti. He went from a “good stats, bad team” guy on Thew-Charoen Aksorn before he became the guy that sparked an underdog Mono-Thewphaingarm team over Hitech in the Thailand Basketball League Playoffs. He then signed with Mono Vampires to play in the ABL and instantly made a bang. After hitting crucial shots in a crucial game against rivals Hitech, he then put in a 29 point performance in his second ABL game before finishing with 13.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg. I have faith in Pae to be able to step up and be Thailand’s main scoring option. While he is still a streaky shooter, I feel like he’s hitting the right stride at the right time. This is one guy who was NOWHERE on the radar one year ago to get a national team gig. Yet here we are.
Now we head on to the guards. Let’s ta-
THIS IS IT. WE ARE LIVING IN THE REIGN OF SAMERJAI.
“Bas” Kannut Samerjai is going to be the star of this team whether you like it or not. I’m probably overreacting to his ABL season (7.5 ppg, 2.2 apg), but I think it’s very much worth overreacting. I mentioned that Samerjai was a player that Coach Tim has mentioned once to me as possibly being the best player on this team. It relates with what a lot of foreigners with international coaching experience has told me. Samerjai is one of the best purest talents in Thailand. Samerjai is in peak form in his peak physical years. This is THE moment for him to shine.
..it gets a little bit awkward from here on considering Thailand guards.
“Peace” Bandit Lakhan is a really good guard. So good that I put him in my Second Team All-TBL. Peace is a solid shooter and can pull up off the dribble in midrange effectively. He had some big moments in the recent ABL spelling Freddie Goldstein off the bench.
“Shopper” Jittaphon Towaeroj raises even more eyebrows. He has always been a gunner and a confident one but he hasn’t actually had to play a lead guard role, at least during his time with the Mono Vampires where he has had guys like Samerjai, Nattakarn Meungboon, and Sorot Sunthornsiri.
The question mark hanging over all of the Guards in this squad is “Are you guys true point guards?” and it’s a fair question. Samerjai is more of a combo guard like Lakhan. Towaeroj is even less of a true point guard than both. Will this effect how Thailand performs in the SEABA Stankovic Cup?
Maybe, but there’s a chance it might not really matter as well. The Thailand SEA Games squad had only one true point guard (Meungboon) and another injured player who didn’t play a single game (Darunphong Apiromvilaichai). Samerjai was called upon to lead sometimes, but most of the time it was Meungboon and sometimes it was Darongphan Apiromvilaichai.
It’s a bit of a concern, but it’s not something I’d lose sleep over.
I like this team. They are a nice mixture of everything. I might have been better to add in a true point guard somewhere along the way, but like I said, I’m not losing sleep over it yet.
Thailand has collected the best talent in the tournament when compared relatively to the pool of players they have to choose from. Couple that in with them being hosts, and you realize that this is their window of opportunity.
Indonesia has been restricted of most of their top players due to clash with the domestic league.
Singapore is suffering injuries to some of their top guys.
The Philippines has had trouble securing the guys they initially wanted.
Malaysia have collected a good group, but the lack of recovering Loh Shee Fai and Tong Wen Keong dampens their level a bit.
This is Thailand’s chance to blow by the competition and take away the win on their homecourt. The path has been set. All Thailand needs to do is walk along and not fall off the edges.
best case scenario:
The home crowd energizes the Thailand National Team over the Philippines in the elimination round in a tightly contested game. Thailand sports a 4-0 record heading into the Finals for a rematch with the Philippines.
In the Finals match up, Thailand is in a bad situation down 82-80 with only a few seconds left in the game. Kannut Samerjai and Sukdave Ghogar has fouled out of the game. Coach Tim fields in a three point shooting lineup of Towaeroj, Jaisanuk, Ananti, Klahan (whichever one), and Lertmalaiporn.
Klahan tries to inbound the ball but all the sharpshooters have been locked up.
Lertmalaiporn is breathing heaviliy. He has played more minutes than he usually does and this is the last day of the tournament. He ponders about what lies in the future for Attaporn Lertmalaiporn after basketball. Maybe he could open a coffee shop? Should he consider coaching?
The whistle sounds as the referee sounds the start of the 5 seconds Thailand can use to inbound the ball. Lertmalaiporn takes in a deep breath and runs towards a screen set by decoy Towaeroj. He gets free from Raymar Jose who has been guarding him. Klahan finds him in the corner and Lertmalaiporn picks the ball up and twists awkwardly into shooting position. Midtwist, Lertmalaiporn is forced to start jumping motion. He realeases the shot high up into the air.
The lights above of the arena blind him for a bit as the ball floats through the air and he falls down to the floor. He skids and tumbles on the landing, ending up face-first. The view of the trajectory of the shot is blocked. He lies on the floor in exhaust but it is only a few second before his team mates start piling on top of him. He can hear the announcement muffled over all the cheering.
“With an 83-82 win, your champions of the 5th SEABA Stankovic Cup! Thailand!”
Maybe a coffee shop wouldn’t be so bad, Lertmalaiporn decides.
WORST CASE SCENARIO:
Thailand has one of the worse shooting performances in basketball history ever against Indonesia in their opening game. It also turns out to be the largest turn-off in basketball history as the jam-packed crowd slowly wonders why they even watched basketball during the game.
Thailand turns things around and wins 2 out of the remaining 3 game, but the damage is done. They don’t qualify for FIBA Asia Challenge.
Everyone in Thailand stops playing basketball and every basketball court is turned into large chessboards.
I told you it would be worst case.
- 19-year-old “Ohm” Chanathip Jakrawan missing out on the final 12 roster really threw me off. On a 12 man roster, a coach rarely ever reaches down to his 12th man, which is why some teams like to add on a really young player with potential so that they can take in the atmosphere and maybe play in some garbage minutes. The USA Dream Team in’92 had Christian Laettner. More recently they had Mason Plumlee on teh squad before he made the NBA. Last year’s SEA Games Philippines squad saw them putting in Prince Rivero, who was clearly a step down from his team mates in terms of credentials and age.
“Big” Teerawat Chantachon was that guy on last year’s SEA Games but he’ll be playing a bigger role this time.
It’s not really a big deal and Ohm wasn’t going to be the guy that would determine if Thailand won the championship or not in this tourney…but it might have been a better move looking towards the future.
Check out the other team previews here: