Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Team began its title defense with a resolving win over Tanduay Alab Pilipinas on Sunday night, coming away with a narrow 92-89 victory.
As the defending champions began its campaign for a second straight ABL title, all eyes were also on their Heritage Import Christian Stanhardinger.
The Filipino-German big man made his ABL debut in front of his countrymen at a jam-packed SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. Cheers and applause filled the venue to witness the versatile forward at work.
Stanhardinger earned the respect and adoration of Filipino fans having played for three international tournaments for the Philippines national team. He competed in the Wiliam Jones Cup, FIBA Asia Cup, and Southeast Asian games and played with sheer heart and determination. Filipino fans also wanted to see Stanhardinger up close as he was recently drafted number one overall in the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association).
Stanhardinger had an outstanding first game for Hong Kong, registering 26 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists. He was also clutch towards the dying minutes as his team tried to outlast the gritty Alab squad.
“What a great victory. My God, it was so close,” said a relieved Stanhardinger. They really got everything [out of] us.”
With the game still hanging in the balance, the 6-foot-7 workhorse was able to knock down two tough baskets in the last 18 seconds. His first jumper momentarily gave Hong Kong a slim four-point lead. But reigning Local MVP Ray Parks came back on the other end and finished with a difficult and-one play. Stanhardinger had the last laugh as he trickled in another basket with five seconds left on the clock.
“You can lose your focus, you can lose your emotions,” he explained, recalling those crucial moments. “We got frustrated but we kept going, we kept working hard and in the end we came with a victory.”
Amidst the applause, there was also the expected boos from the crowd since Stanhardinger played for the visiting team.
“I didn’t hear the booing,” he honestly said with a smile. “I think I just love the Filipino fans. If they cheer for me or boo me, it’s okay. It’s nothing personal but I hope someday I can hear the cheers again. But today, it’s all good. It’s all love. I was so excited.”
The 28-year-old from Munich loved the opportunity to play in front of an energetic crowd, regardless if they were rooting for Alab Pilipinas.
“What a great atmosphere. This is what I love about the Philippines. They’re a great basketball country. We have a great basketball country. That’s why I love coming back here,” he went on.
For now, Stanhardinger isn’t thinking about the PBA season next year. He isn’t thinking about future stints with the national team. In the meantime, he’s all focused in helping Hong Kong reach the pinnacle of the ABL.
“We’re a great team. You see them fighting hard. They’re good guys,” Stanhardinger said about his teammates. “We just have to improve even more and work hard and I hope we come out of this season with a victory.”