Basketball: Filipinos will be tall order for Hawks

By Anendra Singh

Mention the word Philippines and it conjures up images of pineapples, bananas and a pint-sized bloke, Manny Paquiao, trash-talking his way out of somewhere in the heart of Manila before unleashing a flurry of power punches in a boxing ring.

But the Philippines national basketball men's team in Hawke's Bay shatter any standardised mental pictures people have universally had about the Southeast Asians.

"Height and size has always been an issue for us so we tend to make up for that with speed and skills," said team co-ordinator David E Perez soon after arriving at their Napier hotel before heading off for a scrimmage at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, in Taradale, last night.

The 13-member squad, who tip off against the HBS Bank Hawks in a friendly affair at 7pm today at the Hastings Sports Centre, are in the country for a six-match series starting here and ending in Auckland following a game against the Wellington Saints on Tuesday next week.

If height has been an issue then the 15 other rivals in the Asian qualifying tourney, such as China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, India, Lebanon and Jordan, are in for a rude shock.

That's because the visitors boast three players who are a shade over 2m-plus as they build in their campaign for the Fiba Asian Qualifying World Cup tournament to be staged in Manila from August 1-11.

Centre Marcus Douthit, 32, stands at 2.11m and is their naturalised player who holds a dual citizenship with his birth country of the United States. His back up is Junmar Fajardo, 23, of equal stature.

Add to that, power forward, Japeth Aguilar, who is 2.08m tall and you start getting the picture of how daunting it'll be for Tab Baldwin's vertically challenged men tonight.

Point guard LA Tenorio, 28, who is the MVP for the defending champions Philippines in last year's Asian Championship, will be the floor general for the visitors who will tip off at 4.15pm in the curtain-raiser match against a Hawks Invitation side before the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) Final Four grand final from 7.30pm at the PG Arena.

Unlike a fair chunk of the world, Perez emphasised New Zealand was an option because the franchises here were at peak fitness nearing the end of the NBL.

The Paora Winitana-captained Hawks failed to make the cut for the Final Four, ironically in a year when the NBL board gifted them the hosting rights following Wellington's monopoly on it strengthened by Sky TV's reluctance to provide coverage.

This season Sky will cover all three play-off matches from Saturday - premiership champions Saints v Southland Sharks from 5.40pm and Otago Nuggets v Nelson Giants from 8pm.

The Philippines players hail from myriad clubs all based in Manila, such as GlobalPort Batang Pier, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Petron Blaze Boosters, San Mig Coffee Mixers and Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, with coach Chot "Vincent" Reyes at the helm.

Their national team have finished in fourth place in the past two Asian Championships, missing the cut to make the World Cup because there are only three slots for qualifiers from the region.

The last time the Philippines qualified through elimination play was 40 years ago although they did compete in the Manila one as automatic entries as hosts in 1978.

"We have a very rich tradition ... and we are forecast to be the strongest team for a while," Perez said.

The tourists' command super star status back home and risk having delirious fans mob them in the streets.

"Basketball there has a passion and following like the All Blacks have with rugby here," he said, not wanting Hawke's Bay Today to disclose their accommodation here for fear of Filipinos hounding them. "Manny Paquiao is a hero but boxing is not a spectacle sport."

A request to interview players or pose for photographs did not find traction.

With their affiliation with the Americans during World War II, Perez said basketball was very popular in the Philippines with people shooting hoops in streets.

If the Philippines make the World Cupthen the Government is advised to declare a public holiday.

"If it's not a public holiday than people will not report to work and kids will miss classes at school," Perez said with a laugh.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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