Christien Charles didn’t have to be here.
It was his first ABL game in nearly a year and it turned into overtime game against a strong Tanduay Alab Pilipinas team. Charles ended up playing a total of 35:10 minutes as he battled with the quicker and more fluid tandem of Renaldo Balkman and Justin Brownlee.
Charles was surely fatigued and no one would have blamed him if he went straight to the locker room to cool down and take a rest after such a heated debut.
Yet here he was, all 7’1″ towering over the Singapore Slinger fans who were waiting their turn to take pictures with their team’s new World Import. Even after all of his teammates had already retreated back to the confines of their locker room, Charles was still there beside the OCBC Arena court taking selfies and posing with the supporters.
As one small kid rushed up to him, Charles bent over to greet his fan with slight pat on the head.
“Sorry we couldn’t get the win buddy,” Charles said quietly in his usual soft tone that ABL fans had gotten accustomed to over the past 5 years.
It was a tough loss for the Slingers in Charles’ debut. They were able to make a rally and force overtime, but couldn’t do much more in the extra period. Charles had 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks — a typical Chris Charles stat line — but he was not entirely satisfied with his performance.
“I came out rusty,” Charles said. “I have to come in the next game to start out sharp and stay out of foul trouble.”
“I just [have to] continue to stay scrappy, be sharper defensively on my part.”
Though they were unable to seal a victory, the Slingers should be at least slightly pleased with what they got from Charles in his very first game. While he was still “rusty” as mentioned, he was visibly moving more comfortably than when he played in the league with the Saigon Heat last season.
In his stint with the Heat, Charles was constantly riddled with injuries, allowing him to play in only 4 games with averages of 12.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks.
“The [Slingers] have been patient with me,” Charles said after his first game “I just got here and I’m still learning the system and the plays. I just have to pick it up fast and help in as many areas as I can.”
The patience has paid off so far with Charles putting up 21.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, and an impressive 3.2 assists in his first six games with his new squad.
Charles is also getting the job done on defence. The ASEAN Basketball League’s All-Time leader in blocked shots has been swatting away attempts at a rate of 2.3 per game.
“That’s my job, thats what they brought me here for. To be a rim protector,” Charles said. “Now I have to do a better job on the perimeter defensively. That’s something that is still lacking. My teammates and coaching staff, they are working with me to get me acclimated to the system so that we can go on the road, fight, and try to get the W.”
Charles has gone through some intense playoffs battles here in OCBC Arena… as the visiting team. He and Hitech Bangkok City were able to knock the Slingers out of the playoffs back in 2014, but the favor was returned the following year with the Slingers eliminating the Thai-Based squad.
“I had flashbacks of coming back,” says Charles, smiling fondly as he reminisces past moments. “Usually, it’s been at the away team’s locker room coming in here with my Thai teammates. I always looked forward to coming here at the OCBC arena. Just great to have the opportunity to be on this side and just excited to be a part of this organization. The fans are great.”
“Its so fun to be a part of what [the Slingers] are doing here. They’ve got great development with their bigs, who as you see are growing so much, and they play like a true team. I’m excited to getting to grow with this team.”
There only a few people left on the OCBC Arena court now. Aside from the venue staff cleaning up the area, it was only Charles left entertaining journalists about his first game back in the ABL. Maybe he was just trying to soak in as much of the atmosphere and how it felt to be back as well.
Charles has been playing in every season of the ABL since 2013 when he debuted for the SportsRev Thailand Slammers. Two World Import MVPs, Two Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and an ABL Title later, returning to play his first game in the ABL this season might still have been a moment Charles wanted to cherish a little longer.
“I was super excited,” Charles said of his return. “It’s been something I’ve been working on all summer. To get back to this position and to be with such a prestigious and successful team. It’s been a blessing having to battle with injuries and fighting my way back to get here.”
“I’m really appreciative to the management, coaches, and my team mates for really embracing me.”
“The ABL has always been special to me and I’m just super excited to help this team, so i just have to be consistent. I’m just excited to have this opportunity.”
There’s has been a lot for Charles to adjust to in his return and he’ll surely be tested more and more as the season continues. The league has shifted to where teams are becoming more smaller — and quicker — by signing World Imports such as Marcus Elliott, Akeem Scott, Anthony Tucker and Marcus Marshall.
“[Teams] are trying small ball and spreading the floor,” Charles says of the playing style trend in the ABL. “I just have to be smart, to use my smarts and my experience. There’s a lot of smaller and quicker players that I have to adapt to.”
“Screen and rolls, three-point shots, that’s something that I’m positive about improving on moving forward and though the style is different, I’m confident that I’ll be able to adjust and that my coaches will help me with the style change.”
Charles knows the ABL very well.
He knows how to win.
He’s experienced tough losses.
He knows the effort it takes to get in.
He knows how tough it is to stay on a team.
Now that he’s back in the ABL with the Singapore Slingers, he’s willing to give his all to make this ride worthwhile for everyone involved.