The buzzer sounded and it was official. Hitech (then Hitech-Assumption Thonburi) was eliminated from the playoffs (despite being a number two seed) to long time rivals Mono-Thewphaingarm.
Feelings were all over the place that day for Hitech. Since then, some emotions had faded away but one thing that has been on their minds since then: Vengeance.
“When we lost in the TBL Finals two years ago [to the Madgoats], it wasn’t as disappointing compared to last year,” Hitech Team owner, Nipondh Chavalitmontien, recalls. “We lost in the Semifinals last year to [Mono-Thewphaingarm] a team that we felt that we had the upper hand over.”
While that was a disappointing ending to the season last year which was riddled with injuries, at this point Mr. Nipondh has shaken off all the sorrow and instead has a fiery look in his eyes.
“Initially, the goal is to make the Finals first,” Mr. Nipondh continues. “but deep down, I know I want a championship this year.”
When I walked into the Thungkru gym that evening, the sense of how serious they were at going out and winning the whole thing hit you smack in the face the moment you walk through that gymnasium door. That day would happen to be the day that Hitech played a tune up game against affiliates, Thai General Equipment. These games would turn out to be a crucial part of both of the teams practices considering how competitive the games were.
Speaking of comebacks, I was pleased to see that Wuttipong Dasom was up and running quite heavily on the courts. Dasom had been hampered with an ankle injury which caused him to miss the ABL playoffs and missed out the tryouts for the Thai National Team in the SEABA Stankovic Cup.
“The process had been long and a lot of hard work,” Dasom says. “Missing out on the playoffs and making the national team has fired me to come back even stronger both as a competitor and as an athlete.”
Dasom is no the only player to make a comeback. I caught Tyler Lamb on the stationary bicycle as his team was playing. He had only recently come back from the United States to be there with his new born baby.
“It’s been a beautiful process [to take care of my baby daughter],” Lamb says with a fatherly smile. “But coming back, I expect a championship. I feel like we came up short last year [in the ABL]. I know that we all felt that way. That just adds more fuel to the fire. I expect nothing less than a TBL Championship and carry that momentum on into the ABL and win a championship there as well.”
Even newly acquired World Import, Justin Howard, can also feel the determination that this Hitech team has at achieving their goal.
“Hitech has always had a tradition of winning,” Howard says. “they had some disappointments last year. So I expect a championship this time.”
After the practice, the team gathered as they listened to Mr. Nipondh gave them a little prep talk as their first time completely present. He emphasized on the importance of this season and what their goal was.
At the Thungkru Gymnasium, it was hard as a Hitech player to not feel the pressure of expectation to win. The gym is covered by banners of celebration for all of the success that they had shared. They went through the entire past year without winning neither the TBL or the ABL. Whether they would like to admit it or not, practicing night in and night out under these banners probably pushed them harder to get their vengeance this year.
With the efforts that the team management went through to get this team together, I would like to say that they probably have a really good chance at achieving their target.
Regular Season Record: 9-1 (2nd)
Points Per Game: 73.5 (2nd)
Field Goal Percentage: 39.0% (2nd)
Points Allowed Per Game: 58.7 (1st)
Allowed Field Goal Percentage: 33.2% (2nd)
Rebounds Per Game: 39.7 (2nd)
Rebound Percentage: 55.5% (2nd)
Assists Per Game: 14.3 (2nd)
Assist Percentage: 49.5% (2nd)
Turnovers Per Game: 14.9 (2nd)
Turnover Ratio: 15.3% (2nd)
TBL 2015 Roster and Stats
TBL 2016 ROSTER
Head Coach: Jing Ruiz
Justin Howard (World Import)
Keala King (World Import)
Danai Kongkum (Madgoats)
Steve Thomas (Retirement, World Import)
Chris Charles (Free Agent, World Import)
Warawut Wuttikornphan (Thai General Equipment)
Supachai Sangthong (OSK R Airlines)
Sopon Pinitpatcharalert (Retirement)
Justin Howard (Free Agent, World Import)
Keala King (Free Agent, World Import)
Tyler Lamb (Free Agent)
Freddie Goldstein (Free Agent)
Anasawee Klaewnarong (Thai General Equipment)
Suppawich Khukhandhin (Thai General Equipment)
Goldstein and Lamb are not exactly new to Hitech. Most of us have already heard and seen plenty of the two half-Thais in the ABL. However, this will be their first go round in the TBL and there is quite a significance because both will not be restricted by a Heritage Rule like in the ABL anymore. They will now be considered equally as locals among the likes of other players.
Though the TBL has already seen a fair share of half-Thais in this league already (Moses Morgan, Brian Sherman, Richard Latham, among others), there has yet to be a team that has been able to pair up two half-Thais with such a high level of indidvidual talent.
These two will be key as they will be the guys who dictates the offensive flow of the game. Both had a sky high usage rate of 29.5% (Goldstein) and 27.8% (Lamb) which means that they handled the ball a lot. It’s okay to do so in moment where Hitech needs to use the “we need a basket now” card, but I feel that Hitech has enough high level talent surrounding these two guys to be able to let them lay back a little.
So far, the situation seems to be hopeful.
“I’m looking to be more consistent,” Freddie Goldstein tells me as he gets subbed out of the game to take a breather. “I have to work on my leadership skills and I’ll be looking to pass more.”
With all the attention that will be swarming on Lamb/Goldstein/King/Howard, this will open up space for Jaisanuk to continue what he was doing in the SEABA Stankovic Cup. Jaisanuk rattled in 17 of 30 shots from downtown over the course of 5 games at Stadium29. Now that all of the games in the TBL will be played there, Hitech can only hope that Jaisanuk has not run completely out of ammo yet.
To put in perspective how ungodly Jaisanuk’s shooting had been, he had shot 18 of 73 over the course of the 13 games in the TBL last year. Hitech will be hoping he sticks to his international game form.
The Middle Man
Wuttipong Dasom is a crucial part to linking of the cultures in this team. You have 4 players who grew up with American culture mixing in to the team. Though they have had plenty of time meshing in the ABL, Dasom is still a vital linking piece between cultures that help create a bridge towards each other.
He is also a versatile player who can pretty do a little bit of everything here and there to connect the aspects of the team together.
Hitech has shown their struggles when ever he is out of the picture like when he seemed to be rushed back into play in last year’s TBL playoffs or when he got injured in the ABL playoffs. That’s why he such an important piece of the puzzle.
There’s no reason to bat around the bush. Hitech is the most individually talented team top to bottom in this league. There’s no real competition for that and that is pretty much the consensus throughout what I’ve heard from players and coaches from around the TBL.
It will be up to Coach Jing Ruiz once again to figure his rotation out.
“The big problem for me now is how I can give equal balance to their playing time,” Coach Jing tells me. “Justin [Howard] used to play 40 [minutes per game]. I needed to talk to him to get him to understand out situation at Hitech.”
Not only will it be about managing minutes, it will be about managing shots. The aforementioned Goldstein and Lamb, along with King, are all players that have needed the ball in their hands to be effective. Hitech needs to figure how to give them a healthy amount of shots, all the while get them to distribute to other players who might need touches as well.
At this point for Hitech, their problem is not their level of talent and more than how they manage all of that talent that is crowded into this one particular team.
Then again, it’s a problem that they will live with.
One thing that is surely bound to happen this season
Tyler Lamb and Freddie Goldstein are going to combine for the two most amount of shot attempts by any two players on the same team.
ONE THING THAT IS never going to happen this season
Justin Howard dunking in a game on someone.
Yes, Justin Howard. I dare you.
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