The attention of basketball fans in the region will fall on Jakarta, Indonesia where the best in the region will compete at the 26th South East Asia Games (SEA Games), which opens on Friday the 11th of November 2011.
As the only professional league for basketball in the SEA region, it is then no surprise that more than a few familiar faces from the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League will be present during this tournament.
Exchanging his Westports KL Dragons jersey for the Malaysia National Team’s jersey will be Guga, the captain of the Dragons squad which made it into the play-offs in the second season of the AirAsia ABL. Joining him will be Singapore Slingers teammates Desmond Oh and Steven Khoo who will be representing the Singapore national team and Attaporn Leitmalaipon from the Chang Thailand Slammers.
There is no question that the Philippines are still considered the strong favourites to win at the SEA Games, having won 14 out of the 15 times the sports has included in the games but host nation Indonesia alongside Thailand and Malaysia are still considered strong contenders, all of whom have featured heavily in the standings.
In fact, Malaysia caused a huge upset when they took home the gold in the 1989 SEA Games, edging out the Philippines. More recently, the Chang Thailand Slammers defeated the AirAsia Philippine Patriots to bring home the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League’s season 2 trophy, further increasing the belief that, while no easy feat, the Philippines is no longer unbeatable.
We travelled the region to speak to some of the people behind the teams in the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League for season 3 to find out what their thoughts are on the upcoming games:-
Connor Nguyen, , General Director of Siam Sports Academy (Saigon Heat) : The Vietnam Men’s Basketball team is faced with a very tough challenge being placed in Group A with powers Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia. It should be the goal of the team to make it out of group play, but sports are unpredictable so who knows how far the team could advance. The team is inexperienced in international play but is very excited and committed to the challenge of competing hard, displaying good sportsmanship, and representing Vietnam proudly. The heavy favorites have to be the Philippines as they have traditionally dominated the competition, their talent and skill level are supreme in the region, and they have the experience and depth to go all the way. In my opinion, it would be a heavy upset if any other team could knock off the Philippines and capture the SEA Games Basketball crown.
Michael Johnson, General Manager of the Singapore Slingers:The Singapore Men’s National team leaves for the 2011 SEA Games having had the best preparation for a major tournament in the past 5 years. Expectations are the team will perform well and be fighting for a play-off spot and medal. Singapore is in a tough pool with host country Indonesia & Malaysia, both of whom are expected to move through to the semi finals. Singapore is definitely an underdog to win through to the semi finals but are confident of playing well and hopefully causing an upset or two. The Philippines are still the favorites for the gold however anything is possible and there are 2-3 other teams who are capable of causing an upset in this tournament.
Mr. Nipondh Chawalitmontien, team owner of the Chang Thailand Slammers: This year at the SEA Games will be very challenging for us. Due to the flooding disaster in Thailand, we were not able to prepare as we normally would because of the recurring changes in practice courts and the fact that not all players were able to attend the practices. It would be very difficult to compete against the powerhouse Philippines but we will still try our very best. I am not sure whether or not we will have a chance to enter the play offs, but I am sure the players will give more than 100% participation in the SEA Games this year despite the troubles effecting all of us in Thailand because of the flood. I think that Philippines will win the SEA Games this year, since they’re a very strong team. However, we will still put all our efforts in this years SEA Games and hope for the best results we may achieve.
Yakub Hussaini, general manager of the Westports KL Dragons: I think we are as prepared as we can be at this stage, playing Indonesia at home will not be easy, but anything is still possible. I am quite confident with the boys after the past few tournaments we had abroad and we can see improvements . Most of the players from the AirAsia ABL should have the experience going into this tournament, with experienced players coming to join and my prediction would be that we would have a chance to be in the finals and hopefully can win the tournament.