Indonesia aims for gold
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2017 - 12:00am

The final game in the SEABA Championships will pit host Philippines against Indonesia in what could be the battle for the gold at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Thursday, May 18. Assuming both teams sweep their previous assignments, it will come down to a winner-take-all duel for the right to represent the Southeast Asian region at the FIBA Asia Championships in Beirut on Aug. 10-20. And with FIBA recently announcing that every qualifier for the FIBA Asia Championships will see action in the Asia/Oceania qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the fight for the SEABA championship becomes even more significant.

Make no mistake, Indonesia isn’t playing just for the sake of showing up. Like the Philippines, Indonesia is shooting for the gold. Both countries are represented in the FIBA Central Board with SBP chairman emeritus Manny V. Pangilinan for the Philippines and media mogul Erick Thohir for Indonesia. MVP and Thohir are passionate about sports and they’re teaming up for a joint bid with Japan to host the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Indonesia is hosting the Asian Games in 2018 so Thohir would like nothing better than to nail the SEABA crown preparatory to a major push for an Asiad podium finish.

Thrice, Indonesia placed second to the Philippines in SEABA in 2007, 2009 and 2011. What’s inspiring Indonesia to pull the rug from under the host nation this year is the dream of repeating the title conquest in 1996. That was the only year when Indonesia won the SEABA title and it came at the Philippines’ expense, 88-81 in the final in Surabaya. The losing Philippine coach was Dong Vergeire and the team’s standout was Romel Adducul. Another source of inspiration was Indonesia’s spirited effort against the Philippines in the final of the Southeast Asian Games in 2015. Indonesia ignited a 9-1 bomb to cut the Philippines’ lead to only three midway the fourth period. But the Philippines held on to win, 72-64.

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“We have done well in past years but our ultimate goal is to get the gold medal and defeat the Philippines,” said Indonesian-American veteran Mario Wuysang who played for the Fort Wayne Mastodons in NCAA Division II. “Our goal is nothing less than silver. Gold would be amazing and I do believe our chemistry will help us achieve our goal. We have a lot of the same players from the past couple of years and our rhythm is good now. If we can secure silver and play in the gold medal final game, that would put us in a great position to win and make history.”

Wuysang, 38, led the Indonesian league in assists this past season and is expected to steer the team on the floor in SEABA. “I believe the future of Indonesian basketball is bright,” the 5-10 point guard said. “There are a lot of things to work on but these are achievable. Getting better coaching and having American players in the local league will help improve the level of play which will also help our national program in the long run.”

Another Indonesian mainstay Akri Dikania Wisnu said it’s not impossible to bring down the Philippines. “We have a lot of potential,” the 6-2 New York-born forward said. “With the proper preparation, I think our team will be a strong contender. “I heard it’s been a long time since any country has defeated the Philippines in SEABA but I believe it’s possible to defeat them.  Why not go for gold? I’m not the type to settle for less. I’m here to win and that’s what my target will be for this team.”

Aside from Wuysang and Wisnu, Indonesia has recalled three other players from the SEA Games to suit up in SEABA – 6-3 Sandy Kurniawan, 5-8 Andakara Dhyaksa and 6-6 Christian Renaldo Sitepu. The newcomers are 6-5 naturalized player Jamarr Johnson, 5-10 Abraham Grahita, 6-6 Adhi Pratama Putra, 5-10 Hardianus Lakudu, 6-1 Diftha Pratama, 6-6 Firman Nugroho and 6-5 Kevin Sitorus.

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Indonesia head coach Wahya Widayat Jati opened training camp for the national team last November so lack of preparation won’t be an excuse for losing. Gilas assistant coach Jong Uichico even took a trip to Indonesia last January to scout the national team in a pair of tune-ups. Apparently, when word got around that Uichico was in the stands, Johnson was pulled out of the second tune-up.

Johnson, 28, is the new face of Indonesian basketball. The New Jersey forward from Widener University was the Rookie of the Year and regular season and playoffs MVP in the Indonesian league this past campaign. Unlike Andray Blatche, Johnson lives in Indonesia throughout the year and plays in the local league. Wisnu said allowing each team to enlist two imports in the Indonesian league has raised the bar of play. “This helped to improve the level of competition drastically and gave the local players the experience of playing against imports,” he said.

Blatche and Johnson are the only naturalized players in this year’s SEABA. The Philippines has the tallest players in the tournament with 6-11 Blatche, 6-10 JuneMar Fajardo, 6-9 Japeth Aguilar and 6-7 Raymond Almazan. The tallest players on the other teams are 6-5 Kek Thai Chan and 6-5 Wei Hong Choo of Malaysia, 6-6 Patiphan Klahan of Thailand, 6-6 Kok Chiang Goh and 6-6 Lavin Raj of Singapore, 6-4 1/2 Kaung Myat Aye of Myanmar, 6-3 3/ 4 Nguyen Van Hung of Vietnam and 6-6 Sitepu, 6-6 Nugroho and 6-6 Putra of Indonesia.

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