I never thought I’d start a basketball blog entry with the words “It was weird applying make up on for the first time”, yet here we are.
It was weird applying make up on for the first time.
I had landed a job as the English commentator and courtside reporter for the SEABA Stankovic Cup 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand mostly because I had plenty of time on my hands than anything else. The original candidate for the courtside reporter was going through the process of a “Miss Thailand World” beauty pageant, so the job was left for me to take.
That was the standard that were bestowed on me for that position. I was replacing someone who had the label of a “Miss Thailand World participant”. So the very first thing they did to me when I arrived at Stadium29, the venue of the tournament, was to doll me.
It felt weird for me to just sit there while I allowed a complete stranger to put layers of powder on my face…but you got to do what you got to do.
Once I was all powdered up and good to go, I took the time to stroll around the arena. Stadium29 is one hell of a stadium indeed. the 1407 seater (plus extra seats) had a jumbotron hovering smack above the court, Press boxes in the upper level looking down onto the court, and other top-notch facilities. It might take sometime to fill the seats consistently with the interest that basketball gets in Thailand, but sometimes its better to figure out how to fill the seats than to figure out how to expand a packed gym when you lack the space or funding.
Spectators were lined up below the court to buy tickets where they would also be walking past the shop. You could buy jerseys of various teams in the TBL and some basketball accessories. Pretty cool.
By the time I walked up to the area which I would be recording the pregame interview with the coaches, the stadium had started to fill up already. It was refreshing to see familiar faces in the basketball society, but I hope there were also people who didn’t know much about basketball and were here to enjoy the games and the atmosphere.
And there were plenty of fans in the stands for the opening game between Thailand and Indonesia. The stairways into the stadium was already packed with the players moving into their positions for the opening ceremony.
I took a seat and watched as the event started. It was quite the show that the organizers set up. Flag twirling, hot girls in short shorts, seizure inducing lights, dramatic music. You name it, they had it.
I got to finally know who the head coach of the Indonesia National Team was after being awkwardly and uncharacteristically clueless for the team previews. Coach Antonius Rinaldo was quick to point out during out interview that the team had very little preparation and the players were selected from a limited pool, but he still urged them to compete with all their heart with the National flag on their chest.
I interviewed Coach Tim Lewis next who repeated the same things he’s been saying to practically every press outlet during the pass week. This team is as prepared as it can be in the time frame given and that he aims to win in every tourney the team enters, this one included.
Finally (after quite some confusion which I was unable to comprehend from the live feed room), it was game time!
Sadly enough, the English commentators (one of whom was me) were left commentating according to a screen set on the table. I’m not one to complain a lot because in the end, it’s basketball and basketball is awesome but I kind of hoped that I’d be at least sitting in a room and facing the court.
The game went underway and I loved how Coach Tim Lewis started the game out with his selection of players. Alongside veterans Chanachon Klahan and Kannut Samerjai, Coach Tim started fresh youngsters like Nakorn Jaisanook, Chitchai Ananti, and Theerawat Chantachon. Jaisanook and Ananti had never been capped on the National Team and Chantachon had only logged garbage time minutes in his first cap at the SEA Games. Midway in first quarter, we got to see Thailand bring in Patipan Klahan and Bandit Lakhan. Both of them were enjoying their first time in the Senior Men’s National Team as well.
Thailand gradually built up the lead against Indonesia by forcing turnovers (25!!) and scoring off of those turnovers as well. That would be the main separation between the two teams. Thailand themselves weren’t taking good care of the ball (20 turnovers) but they had a huge advantage over Indonesia by converting those turnovers into 35 points. Indonesia had only 8 points to show for their defense. The Thailand team were playing far from perfect on offense and there were a lot of sloppy passes and loose balls to go around, but once Indonesia got out on the fastbreak they usually decided to take it back out and set it up.
The defensive numbers look good for Thailand (allowed only 22% shooting) and they did a really good job swarming Indonesia, but I still felt that they could have done better. I completely understand that Indonesia were not shooting the lights out from three (16%) but a couple of those attempts were left a bit too wide open.
Every Thai player got on the score board once Chanachon Klahan made his first free throw to start the half. The Thais had 6 players scoring between 8 and 13 points. Nice offensive touches and minutes distribution by the coaches.
It’s hard to pick out something to talk about the debut game for Indonesia. The players were obviously trying to fight back, but the lack of preparation (in haste because of clashes with the domestic league) and straight up talent to go toe to toe with Thailand eventually got the better of them. Still, Yogi & Teddy is still my most favorite duo in this tournament and Francisco Yogi Da Silva still tops the list for Best Hair in the Tournament (with Sukdave “Goldilocks” Ghogar following behind closely).
It was fun to experience the noise of the Thai crowds cheering for the National Team. Every time the Thais hit a three pointer off of some good ball rotation, the crowds would erupt in a cheer that slightly shook Stadium29. There’s still quite a way to go for proper basketball cheering in Thailand, but it was a nice start.
As the game was drawing to a close, the audio system for the English commentators broke down. With the free time I went back down to the court to prepare to interview the coach and the player of the game. “Shopper” Jittaphon Towaeroj would be the player of the game with his 13 points and 3 three-pointers. Always a fan favorite for his hustle and dedication, Towaeroj got the opportunity to play and made the most of it.
With the Thai fans still buzzing with excitement over their 89-44 win, the staff slowly cleared out the stadium during the intermission before the second game. As I walked out of the arena to get some fresh air, a flock of Filipiono fans were already waiting in line to enter to see their beloved Gilas Cadets go up against the Malaysian National Team. They laughed on as a Superman was taking awkward jumpshots in his spandex suit.
The Filipino fans made sure to fill out the stands behind the bench though. They each took some time to great the coaches who were sitting at the bench while the players were warming up. Because of a couple of technical errors, I wouldn’t get a chance to interview Coach Nash of the Philippines or Coach Goh of Malaysia before the game.
Despite the score being 108-84 at the end, I feel like Malaysia did a really good job of playing the Philippines. They were aggressive throughout the entire game and didn’t settle for lazy shots.
The aggressiveness might have also been the point of their demise as their fouled a whopping 30 times in the game. It led the Philippines team to 40 (!!!) attempts at the line and Malaysian star, Kuek Tien Yuan, fouled out of the game quite early too.
But despite all of that, Malaysia did a really good job and how they played should have Thailand on the tip of their toes coming into the matchup in the following day. I was particularly intrigued by these two things Malaysia showed in this first game:
- Kwaan Yoong Jing, point forward. I put some note in my preview in the concern of the Malaysian National Team that they had lacked a “true” point guard and Malaysia weren’t shy about that or forcing combo guard Ma Chee Khuen into that role. Instead, they put Kwaan Yoong Jing to the test. Kwaan would almost always set up the offense for Malaysia and while it was a bit slow and unorthodox, it was cool to see Kwaan use his height as an advantage to see the court and zip passes around.
- WONG YI HOU. Remember the name. The dude is still barely 20 years old and he just dropped 22 points on a Gilas Cadets squad that was playing legit defense for a large part of the game. And this was not some flukey hot shooting type of stuff, dude was driving to the hoop and finishing, working on the post and moving his feet.
He went from a small thin kid on the KL Dragons runner up team in 2014 to a legit role player on the KL Dragons championship team in 2015 and now he could very well be the star of the Malaysia National Team in 2016.
Am I overreacting to his performance in only one game? Maybe. But it was a really really good performance.
What about this Philippines though? Was it enough to lift the concerns of the Filipino fanbase?
To be honest, I’m torn between a yes and a no. The Philippines offense was clicking (with a sputter here and there) where they had a couple of plays with really good ball rotation. On the other hand, their defense was less convincing. As Coach Nash Racela mentioned in the post game interview, it’s not acceptable to be allowing 80+ points in a game. Ma Chee Khuen might have gotten a hot hand late in the game and Yi Hou seemed unstoppable going to the basket and Kwaan Yoong Jing was just all over the place…but that’s the point. If the defense was solid, a lot of those stuff might not have occurred in the first place.
But hey, we got a game where:
- Raymar Jose grabbed more rebounds (15) than points scored by all but 5 players in the first day of action.
- Mike Tolomia missed a wild floater BUT IT TURNED INTO AN AWESOME PASS OF THE BACKBOARD TO TROY “ARWIND SANTOS” ROSARIO.
Have mercy on the rims Mr. Rosario. We have so much more basketball left to play on this court.
- I certainly did not foresee my man-crush, Jio Jalalon grabbing more boards (9) than assists (3).
The game ended and I finished the interviews among a wild group of Filipino fans who were swarming their beloved stars.
I had approached Gilas Team Manager, Butch Antonio, before the game and asked if I could get the FEU players to sign my FEU Tamaraw jersey. He told me it was no problem and I decided to drop in after the game.
After finishing my interview with Coach Nash, I asked for his autograph on the jersey and asked if he could help me secure the signatures of the players. He told me to just go with him to the locker room.
It was a weird feeling. I hadn’t even stepped into the Thailand National Team locker room after the game earlier yet because I had to cover the second game.
Coach Nash went through his post game talk, followed by Coach Josh Reyes, before ending with words of encouragement from Sir Butch. The players then prayed before splitting out to shower and split back to the hotel. My JR Cawaling FEU jersey got passed around from Belo to Pogoy to Tolomia to Jose to Escoto (whose injury didn’t seem that bad after all) to Coach Mike Oliver before ending with Coach Reyes.
Before I left the locker room, Coach Troy (one of the assistant coaches and head coach the Traill International School team), asked me why the locker room had so many lockers (more than the usual 12-15).
I had to tell him straight up that I didn’t exactly know but I made note to myself to try to find out later. It’s been some what like my experience so far in the SEABA Stankovic Cup. I didn’t exactly know how things would turn out. Who would win it all, how to do courtside interviews, what it would feel like to have make up on my face. There was a whole lot of stuff I didn’t know yet, but I told myself that this was as best a moment as any to try to find out for myself.