In the waning seconds of Game 2, Justin Brownlee launched a three-pointer from the same spot where he had nailed a crucial one in the first game of the ASEAN Basketball League Finals. This time, Brownlee would miss the desperation game-tying shot.
As the shot clanged off the rim and the final buzzer sounded, the Mono Vampire bench started storming towards midcourt to celebrate their 103-100 win which tied up the series. Mono Vampire Assistant Head Coach Tongkiate Singhasenee beamed with a wide smile as congratulated his players.
“All of our players were hungry for the win in this game and they did well,” Coach Tongkiate said. “It came down to only a couple of tiny mistakes here and there in Game One.”
“[Game 2] was pretty much the same as Game One.” He added. “It could have gone either way.”
Teerawat Chantachon and Chanachon Klahan both played big roles in the win and now caped themselves with the Thailand National Flag and the Mono Vampire Flag. There was still a lot more basketball to be played in the series, but for the Thailand team to grind out a narrow win on Alab Pilipinas’ homecourt deserved some celebration.
As Coach Tongkiate (or as fondly referred to by his team as Coach Tong) watched the Mono Vampire enjoy and soak in their victory, there’s no doubt that he must have had some flashbacks to a similar experience 7 years ago.
On February 19, 2011, the buzzer sounded the end of Game Two in the ABL Finals. The venue was in Pasig at the PhilSports Arena and the series was then played in a Best of Three series. After two straight wins, the Champions of the ASEAN Basketball League that season turned out to be the Chang Thai Slammers, denying the AirAsia Philippine Patriots back-to-back Titles.
That Chang Thai Slammers championship squad included Jason Dixon, Froilan Baguion, Attaporn Lertmalaiporn, and… Head Coach Tongkiate Singhasenee.
“Yeah, I coached the Championship team that year,” Coach Tong says proudly. “And with any Thailand team, no matter what role I have, I’m going to be proud of whatever we achieve.”
“I actually didn’t think we would go that far,” he says of his 2010-2011 Championship squad. “But we just kept on rolling. We were under the radar and we just kept on going. Most importantly, the players weren’t feeling much pressure and that allowed them to relax more.”
“Compared to the first seasons of the ABL, the talent-level of the players are really high,” Coach Tong says.
Not only is he referring to the likes of an ex-NBA player like Renaldo Balkman and studs like Michael Singletary and Justin Brownlee, but also Heritage Imports like Jason Brickman as well. The level of talent can be seen quite significantly by watching the game, but it is also clearly evident in the final score.
Game 1 of the ABL Finals in 2011 ended at 66-58 while Game 2 concluded with a 75-68 score.
In only Game 1 of the 2018 ABL Finals alone, the teams were able to surpass the scoring total of the entire series in 2011 with a score of 143-130. In the first two games of the series, both teams have scored over 100 points.
The game has come a long way, as well as the fans supporting both teams.
“I feel like the Philippines didn’t really have much interest in the ABL that season as much as they do now,” he adds. “The crowds were already loud back then, but they were even louder this time.”
Coach Tong mentions that during his stay here in the Philippines, he is seeing a lot more news about the ABL on TV than before. The same goes for the media coverage in Thailand where he notices a lot more people following the league and rooting for their home team in the Finals.
Along with the improvement in terms of gameplay and fan following, comes the development of the players.
Since the Chang Thai Slammers won an ABL Championship in 2011, basketball in Thailand has risen in popularity. The title brought enough interest for the federation to start local leagues which introduced import players.
“Before that, we didn’t get a chance to play with or against import players that much,” Coach Tong explains. “Once we got those opportunities, we were able to get used to the physicality and the speed a bit more. What’s clear is that we’re not afraid to play against import players anymore, even if we are still behind physically.”
“A lot of our players have made great improvement recently,” says Coach Tong, before he lists off all of the teams’ local players proudly. “But the one who has made the most significant improvement is Palm [Darongphan Apiromvilaichai].”
Darongphan has been an X-Factor in the Finals averaging 13.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and shooting 4-6 from downtown.
“He’s played for me with the Slammers [in 2012] and I’ve seen him playing for other clubs among the years as well,” Coach Tong says referring to the Mono Vampire starter. “He’s never been more detailed in his career, whether it’s his shooting or just his composure. Defense is his calling card, as it always has, as well as his role as a glue guy.”
“But it’s his shooting that he’s done really well, where he’s had to take on the role left by the injured Ratdech Kruatiwa.”
This Game Two win in 2018 in the Philippines might not be the Champion-clinching triumph for Coach Tong like in 2011, but it was an important win nonetheless. Now Mono Vampire will be heading back home to Thailand for Games 3 and 4.
The heartbreaking Game One loss still hurts, but Coach Tong and Mono Vampire can still refer to the last two ABL seasons to their advantage where the eventual champions both lost the series opener.
With already one ABL title on his resume, Coach Tong hopes he can add another trophy to his mantle.