The first time Lavin Raj set foot in the Philippines was in 2017 as part of the Singapore team that played in the SEABA Championships, where he was the youngest in the field at only 17.
He has now returned to the country two years later for the 30th Southeast Asian Games. And upon his return, Raj, now 19, has surprisingly become a favorite among the Filipino fans.
The Singaporeans may have absorbed a harsh 58-110 beatdown from the all-PBA Gilas Pilipinas in a sour start to their campaign, but the burly 6-foot-7 center definitely won a lot of hearts.
Raj was showered with cheers whenever he got the ball, and the crowd was disappointed when he handed it off. The noise grew even louder when he tried to post up Greg Slaughter at one point.
“Our crowds always take a personality of their own. The collective yelling and screaming when their big guy got the ball was typical of the personality of our crowds were,” said coach Tim Cone.
“You’ve seen that in the PBA. They take a liking on some guy and they’ll either applaud him or give him a hard time. I was joking on the bench that he’s gonna show up on a commercial.”
Raj said that he “definitely noticed” the cheers that came his way, and he felt happy to receive them.
“They’re very loud, you know? I’m honored to be here, to embrace the crowd and play a game here,” he said.
“It’s a game of basketball, you know? The crowd can cheer for both sides. And you know, I’m really happy they liked the way I played a game, you know, and they are cheering for me. It’s great. I’m happy.”
But beyond the love he received from the fans, Raj was grateful for the experience he got to play against some of the best PBA players, saying that it will help him develop as a player.
“They’re really good. They are experienced. They are PBA players, you know? It’s a good experience for me to play against them and you know, improve my game slowly.”