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2017 SEABA Championship

Coach Chot throws down challenge to Torres and Almazan

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Ever since Gilas Pilipinas’ daily practices commenced a week ago, the team usually starts their sessions with basic sets — particularly cone drills and a few routines exercising the fundamentals of the dribble-drive motion offense.

The players utilize both ends of the court effectively. On one side are all the guards and wingmen combined, pulling off drive-and-kick sets plus hitting shots — either from beyond the arc or from near the hoop — with ease. And on the other side of the floor are a handful of big men. The Nationals have a guard-heavy composition, so seeing such a small number of cagers playing either the four or five spots is inevitable.

Of course, those bigs are also running drills. But their routines involve down-the-low-block action, aside from numerous drives to the basket, and either outside passes or pocket dishes.

And another facet that the frontline are working on are their shooting from beyond the arc.

For years, the game of basketball has evolved. In this day and age, centers and power forwards (especially on the world stage) are not just post specialists — they can also stretch the floor and hit shots from the perimeter and beyond the arc.

Given the circumstances, that is one of the many challenges Gilas head coach Chot Reyes imposed on his young bigs — shoot from distance on a consistent basis.

“[I want them to have] The ability to shoot the three consistently,” said the 53-year-old mentor moments after Gilas’ hour-and-ten-minute session Wednesday night at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City.

“We know Troy [Rosario] can hit that. We’re challenging Raymond and Norbert to consistently do that. Hopefully we’ll get there,” added Reyes, in provocation of Raymond Almazan and Norbert Torres.

For the 6-foot-6 Torres, the shift won’t be as drastic as one thinks, as he is a career 34.1 percent three-point shooter in the PBA. Moreover, during his early years with the De La Salle University Green Archers, he had been given the freedom to shoot from long range by former coaches Dindo Pumaren and Gee Abanilla.

“I’m just practicing. I practice everyday yung three-point shooting, and whichever workouts he wants us to do,” said the sophomore who plays for the Phoenix Fuel Masters.

“But that’s not enough, you know. We still have to get on our own. Get up extra shots.”

Almazan is not known to have the same touch from range, however. A career 21.8 percent three-point shooter, he has made strides from that zone this season — going 6-for-11 from downtown in 10 games played.

“It’s a big challenge for me kasi yun yung ini-improve ko since sumali ako ng PBA,” said Rain or Shine’s Almazan on the other hand.

“Nangyayari naman yun every practice so bakit ka matatakot na tumira sa labas kung alam mong pinapractice mo every day? Pinapractice ko naman siya every day, kaya yung kumpiyansa tumira sa labas mataas.”

Reyes’ order to them is not just the real challenge, though. Aside from that, the aspiring bigs also have to show their excellent forms night in and night out, as the frontline spots are loaded with the presence of shoo-ins June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, and Andray Blatche.

“Their challenge is to break through those big three and find their role in the team. Problema nila, yung tatlo, they’re not too old. ‘Di pa rin matanda yun kaya they really have their work cut out for them.

“They really have to show us they are deserving of a spot in this team,” Reyes declared.

But then again, Torres and Almazan have no qualms over this. And they are more than ready to face the tasks that lie ahead of them.

“That’s really just hoping for the best eh. In my situation, going up against seniors like that, I’m just trying to get better everyday. If you’re not ready yet, then you’re not ready. Pero that’s not gonna stop me from playing basketball,” said Torres.

“To compete and to help the team. Yun yung sa akin pare,” Almazan shared.

“Kung ‘di palarin, eh ‘di try another shot, ‘di ba? Yun lang yung sa’kin eh. Kung ako tatanungin mo, kung makakasali ba ‘ko or ano, ‘di natin alam. ‘Di natin masasabi.

“Basta ako ibibigay ko yung best ko sa practice — kung ano kailangan ni coach, kung ano yung gusto niya makita,” the 6-foot-8 center declared.

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2017 SEABA Championship

Reuben Amado’s family relishes return to Manila

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During the 2017 Southeast Asian Basketball Association Under-16 tournament, there was always a small crowd that sits on the patron section of the SMART-Araneta Coliseum cheering on the Singapore youth team. Even if the games were held early in the morning, the small group of Singapore supporters were lively and energetic.

The Singapore youth team has three players that trace their roots to the Philippines, namely Reuben Faustino Amado, David Chuabio, and Jack William Lacsado. The families of the three players made it a point to wake up early to support their relative.

And for Reuben’s family, the games also helped bring their family together.

At the young age of six years old, Reuben Amado, a native of Dasmarinas, Cavite, had to migrate to Singapore with his parents. But his love for basketball, the Philippines’ national pastime, did not fade.

“Nag-jojoin siya ng mga school competitions at by himself, sumali rin siya ng iba’t ibang clubs,” shared Raquel Amado, Reuben’s mother.

“Actually, hindi nga namin alam na yung ibang niyang sinasalihan na tournaments at clubs. Ganun niya ka-love yung basketball.”

When 15-year-old Amado was chosen to be one of the 12 players to represent Singapore, Mrs. Amado was more than happy. Her son got to represent Singapore while the family can also come back home.

“Ang saya. Para mapili ka sa isang bansa at mag-represent, napakalaking karangalan,” she shared.

“Mas lalong masaya nung nalaman namin dito sa Manila ang tournament. At the same time, nalaman din namin kasi na makakabalik kami dito. Pumapasyal din kami dito, last time namin nakauwi was in 2015.”

For four days, the Faustino and Amado family came in droves, cheering their hearts out for Reuben. It was the first time Reuben’s cousins got to watch the Singaporean guard play.SEABA 2017 U16 Indonesia vs. Malaysia - Reuben Amado-2971

“First time nila mapanood si Reuben. Parang naging family reunion na rin sa amin ito,” the mother of three furthered as Reuben’s uncles, aunties, and cousins sat at court-side as well.

“Dati sa TV lang kami nanonood and now nakalaro na siya dito sa Araneta.”

Though Singapore did not pick up a win in the tournament, the joy it brought to Reuben and his family is something that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

For Mrs. Amado, her son’s future in basketball is something that they will leave to Reuben.

“Gusto lang namin mag-enjoy siya sa whatever career na gusto niya. We are here to support him in whatever path he chooses,” Raquel closed as the family gathered for a photo with Reuben before they fly back to Singapore.

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2017 SEABA Championship

Wuysang continues to have high hopes for Indonesian basketball

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When Mario Wuysang returned to Indonesia after spending his secondary and tertiary years in Indiana, USA, he had a dream: to make basketball one of the main sports in the country.

Football and badminton are the “mainstream” sports in Indonesia with basketball lagging behind at three. But slowly, with the growth of the Indonesian Basketball League and the ASEAN Basketball League, basketball is gaining leverage in the country.

It has been 17 years since Wuysang, now 38 years old, returned to Indonesia but still, the program is still light years behind the Philippines as seen in the 2017 Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship.

“The Philippines is a tough team. Gilas is a tough team.

“We knew that coming in. We respect them a lot. We know they’re preparing for something bigger. We just wanted to go out there and compete today, give it our best, and put up a fight. That’s the best that we can do,” shared Wuysang after Indonesia’s 64-97 loss to Gilas.

The silver finish though was a small triumph for the program as they are starting to finally embrace the ins and outs of international basketball.

“We have imports now in our professional league – that’s gonna help the progress of the abilities and competition of our local guys,” the 5-foot-9 floor general remarked as cagers like Jamarr Johnson and former FEU foreign student-athlete Anthony Hargrove have reinforced their club teams.

“Get some international coaching in there. We can progress,” he furthered.

But with Wuysang entering the twilight of his international career, the best point guard Indonesia has ever produced remains hopeful that basketball can find its footing in Indonesia.

“This is my last SEABA. It’s gonna be my last SEA games, I played in so many of them already. I played in FIBA Asia already. It’s gonna be my last one,” said Wuysang, who averaged 7.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in the tournament.

“When you’re so passionate about a sport, it’s easier for you to get backings and sponsors. If there’s money involved, you’re gonna progress. Hopefully [Indonesia] goes in that direction. I’d be coaching by that time.”

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2017 SEABA Championship

Wright knows he has to fill shoes of former Gilas snipers

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For years, Gilas Pilipinas has had numerous shooters that can stretch out the floor. From Marcio Lassiter to Gary David and Jeff Chan, they have all made their mark in the Gilas program.

In the latest batch of Gilas, Filipino-Canadian Matthew Wright and Allein Maliksi have been designated as the team’s long-range bombers. And for Wright, he knows that this is his job.

“I’m here to replace guys like Jeff Chan, Gary David, and Marcio Lassiter.

“I have some big shoes to fill as one of the designated shooters in the team. I have to shoot with confidence, I have to shoot at a high percentage,” the 26-year-old shared. “I’m not gonna get the same amount of shots that I did with Phoenix, with my mother team. So the shots that I do get, I have to knock them down.”

And during the 2017 SEABA Men’s Championship, the 6-foot-4 sniper showed why he was destined to be part of Gilas.

Wright was the most consistent player in the Philippines’ six games, posting norms of 12.0 points on 49 percent shooting from the field, 54.5 percent shooting from downtown.

After hearing coach Chot Reyes’ praise about him, saying that he is an important piece to the program, Wright, who oozes confidence, downplayed it.

“That’s high praise but I’m still just one part of the team,” the 2016 ABL ASEAN Heritage MVP said after Gilas’ win over Indonesia Thursday night that booked their spot to the next stage.

“Every single one of us hold water for the team and we each have just as equal amount of say and amount of contribution to winning this championship.”

But Wright knows that the road only gets tougher as they now head to the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in August and the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in November. The product of St. Bonaventure though knows that they will work as hard as the other teams.

“They can scout me all they want, they can scout the team all they want. But they have to go out there and guard us.

“We scout teams too, that’s the beauty of basketball. They know we’re gonna do, and we just have to be able to execute it. It’s a chess match. So they can scout us all they want but they actually have to go out here and guard us,” the rookie opined.

“I’m not gonna say this is a cakewalk. But the competition was not as high level as what we’re gonna be facing. We definitely know that it’s gonna be harder and we’re up for it.”

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2017 SEABA Championship

Johnson, Indonesia concede to ‘superior’ Gilas

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The shower of red and yellow confetti inside SMART-Araneta Coliseum Thursday night signified Gilas Pilipinas’ continuing reign in Southeast Asia as the undisputed basketball kings in the region.

But in every reign, there will always be those who will try all they can to overthrow the rulers. Such is the case for the ever-competitive Indonesia, who stood in the Filipinos’ way that night, with hopes of wielding the upset axe to take down the region’s giants.

Prior to the virtual gold medal bout, the Indonesians, a team composed of Indonesian Basketball League veterans, were steamrolling over their counterparts, racking up five wins in a row to collect an unblemished 5-0 win-loss card.

Making their run more remarkable was the fact that they played in their first four games with a depleted unit. Naturalized Indonesian Jamarr Johnson and Indonesian-American Arki Wisnu had issues regarding their papers, trimming Indonesia to a nine-man team then.

With their display of their own brand of basketball, and with the way they posted victories, having an average margin of 31.8 points, it was heavily expected that the veteran-laden Indonesian side will serve as the most legitimate contender for the Philippines.

But then again, Gilas made it known that the Philippines will always be an untouchable force in the region, and sent that message clearly at the expense of the Indonesians, 97-64. The title-clinching victory also grew the country’s SEABA gold medal collection to eight.

Simply put, the week-long tourney was a showcase of how lethal the Philippines is, and was a stamp of class to seal that the region’s basketball landscape will always revolve around the Filipinos, despite the major improvements other countries have undergone.

And for the 28-year-old Johnson, a New Jersey native who was naturalized last year to be able to suit up in the Indonesian pro league, the Indonesians simply just could not provide any answer to respond to Gilas.

“We obviously are undersized and undermanned against a team like the Philippines. There’s no way we can defeat them,” lamented the athletic 6-foot-5 forward, who averaged 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in two games. “It’s gonna be hard for any nation to beat the Philippines at this time.

“Hats off to them, and they’re just superior at this time.”

With Gilas head coach Chot Reyes fielding in a line-up composed of PBA stars that will still be a force in the FIBA Asia Cup, the team was strongly a cut above the competition. And that composition is what made it challenging for all teams, says Johnson.2017 SEABA Championship - Philippines def Indonesia - Gilas Pilipinas

“In basketball you need a couple of things. You need athleticism and you need size. And the Philippines have both of that,” Johnson remarked. “They have three six-foot-10 guys and like a really solid core. It’s almost impossible with out roster right now to even compete.

“It’s impossible. They’re just too big.”

But despite the stinging defeat, the Indonesians held their heads high, as there was totally nothing to be ashamed of. They will fly back to their motherland with their fourth SEABA silver medal overall in bag, and that alone is already an achievement.2017 SEABA Championship - Indonesia

“I knew coming in that it was going to be a challenging experience for us. They’re bigger than us in so many ways but our management is satisfied with how we performed,” shared the 2016 IBL Rookie MVP with CLS Knights Surabaya.

Now that the SEABA tournament has concluded, Indonesia and all the teams’ focus are now set to the next contest, the 2017 SEA Games, set to be held this August in Malaysia. And, Johnson and the team aims to finish the biennial sporting event standing at the podium.

“I just feel like for SEA Games, Indonesia’s goal is to get second. For us to get second is satisfying for our team, for our management,” said Johnson.

“If that’s what they are happy with then I will do my best to be okay with that as well.’

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