By the time I walked into Stadium29 to prepare for day 3 of the SEABA Stankovic Cup, the dance squad were already parading their way off the court after their daily practice (much to my disappointment). The moment he was that the court was vacant, new Mono Vampire Head Coach and National Team Assistant Coach Jon Corbacio walked up to an arena staff to ask if he could get some shooting done before the National Teams arrived.
The past two days might have been a bit rough I guess. Like I had mentioned, this was a lot of change in the sports entertainment scene and also in basketball. A lot of this stuff that everyone had been doing was relatively new. Maybe it was just a matter of fatigue kicking in.
I walked around and got to talk basketball with some people. Coach Tim Lewis of Thailand was hovering around, waiting to scout the other teams. We swapped opinions on the overlook of the tournament so far. Walking a little bit further, I ran into the Thai commentators and we had a discussion about the very well anticipated Thailand vs. Philippines matchup on the 26th of May.
Speaking of Thailand, they weren’t going to be playing today and maybe that factored a lot into the lackluster level of buzz that was hovering in Stadium29.
The past few days saw large crowds of Thai people flocking into the stadium but the main purpose was to watch the Thailand National Team play. Photographers were strolling all around the arena making sure to catch every single moment of their countries representatives. Basketball junkies were in the stands looking over the game and dissecting play after play, adding in their own personal suggestions.
But without Thailand playing today, it all just seemed to disappear, save for a few ghostly souls strolling around.
I was sitting in the commentator’s room wondering about these things when my co-commentator walked in. We both discussed this and joked around with each other why we were here. What was that lonely Thai guy in the top row of the stands doing here in a day where Thailand wasn’t playing? What was that Thai photographer doing here?
It got to the point where I started asking myself what I was doing here.
Coach Jon Corbacio had finished his shootaround and walked into the commentator’s box to cool down. He told me that if an import for a Thailand Basketball League team gets injured, he was going to be ready to replace him on the spot. I chuckled a bit.
And once I started going into this routine of coming in, meeting people, talking to people, I found my answer. It was all for the love of this game. I was rarely ever playing that much anymore (and it showed in my waistline) but I have always stuck around the basketball scene just because I had loved the game so much. And it was probably the same for everyone else who was here.
In some crazy twisted way, everyone was here to express their love for the game.
Kelvin Lim of Singapore was in full uniform.
He had injured his right hand and it seems like he would not be playing in this tournament. Quite a tough blow for a Singapore team that was quite severely thin to begin with. But still, he was here rooting his team on as they faced the powerful Philippines team.
Singapore put up a really good fight, too. Even though it clearly seemed that Coach Rash Racela was feeling out his lineups (substituting very frequently), Singapore just kept pushing at the Philippines squad. After letting the lead go to 16, Singapore got a run in and cut the lead down to 6. It went back up to 18 again, but Singapore slowly jabbed and cut it back to 10.
Delvin Goh would have plenty of his moments and it was more than the 17 points he scored. It was more of the 3 assists that he had, which led the Singapore National Team.
I had anticipated Goh to come up huge, but I don’t think I knew that I would be feeling this impressed. Goh showed footwork driving to the basket, a solid back-to-basket game, great defensive discipline, and great basketball IQ. Coach Nash Racela of the Philippines mentioned to me after the game how impressed he was himself at Delvin and how smart he was of anticipating double teams in the post and passing out of it.
While Delvin was trying to get the better of the Philippines interior defense, the Philippines guards were shredding Singapore’s defense apart.
After Singapore cut the lead down to 10 late in the game, Jiovanni Jalalon went to work and scored 3 straight consecutive baskets and pushed the game out away for good. That was in fact what Jalalon had been doing all game.
Jalalon seemed to have his foot on the gas pedal the entire time, pushing the ball up and slashing to the basket when he saw even the slightest seam in the defense. Jalalon would end the game with 17 points. The other Filipino guards would also score in double digits (Tolomia with 12, Vosotros with 14). Philippines would eventually run away to an 81-59 point victory.
Singapore vs. Philippines had turned out to be closer than I initially thought it would be, but I had kind of been expecting the unexpected if that makes sense. Singapore is always feisty and the Philippines had serious work to do on defense.
The next game between Malaysia and Indonesia though, had “blowout” written all over it. Both teams had yet to secure a victory after two game, but Malaysia had played quite well despite coming out defeated. Indonesia on the other had been unable to put up a fight.
Maybe Malaysia had been a bit more worn out, having played Thailand and the Philippines in their two previous games. Maybe Indonesia had just caught on a groove.
Whatever the case, Malaysia had only a three point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Around the 6.40 mark, Indonesia finally took the lead for the first time in this tournament. For a solid 93 minutes of regulation basketball time, Indonesia has always been behind the opposing team. For a majority of that time, they had been down large as well. So when they finally fought their way into a lead in the middle of a game, I couldn’t help myself rooting for them a little bit (sorry, Malaysia).
The inspiring play of Yericho Tuasela (17 points) and Yogi (sparked the run that put them into the lead) had willed them up ahead Malaysia, but eventually Cinderella would have to return home. Indonesia would have the lead for an official 4 minutes and 42 seconds before Malaysia put on a 14-0 run to end the first half.
Leading the way for Malaysia was the revival of Wong Yi Hou, after he got smothered by the Thailand defense. He would bounce back from that 3-point performance to score 24 points and would also grab 6 rebounds as well. He’s still doing a good job of drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line (8/9) and all he needs is a touch of experience here and there before he can really take this region by storm.
Despite blowing the lead up to twenty going on the verge of thirty, it was cool to see that the Indonesia players were still fighting. Barra Sugianto was out-hustling everyone on the court. Untung Maryono was still running into timeout huddles and fired his team mates up all the time.
This was a set of players who under the normal circumstances might not have a good chance of being called to represent their country. Despite the fact that they were being outplayed, they were still fighting back. A part of it was that patriotic pride for sure, but I also felt another part fired up with the passion for basketball.
The game would end at 74 -49 and Malaysia was able to secure their first victory. Both Singapore and Indonesia had tried to beat the odds, and while they failed to do so, it was an inspiring effort.
There were only a few group of people at Stadium29 today and in a way it seemed kind of right. In their own kind of way, the forces of the passion for basketball had brought them here. And it kept them here until the end.
Passion for basketball is like a magnet and those with strong forces of passion tend to pull themselves closer to each other. It might be a small group of people for now, pulling each other together but the stronger that passion becomes, eventually it will start drawing more people in closer.
Someday, I can only wish that Thailand will be able to fill the stands of a basketball game despite Thailand not playing. It seems like it will be a lot of work to do, but if the love for the game of strong enough, some day we’ll get there.