Basketball: Toppling Philippines remains a tall task

Children lining up to take turns to shoot at yesterday's Jr NBA clinic at Our Tampines Hub sports hall. National player Ng Hanbin (in the blue shirt) was one of the coaches for the day.
Children lining up to take turns to shoot at yesterday's Jr NBA clinic at Our Tampines Hub sports hall. National player Ng Hanbin (in the blue shirt) was one of the coaches for the day.PHOTO: MARCUS TAN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

The Singapore national men's basketball team may be dreaming of winning gold in Aug 19-30's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, but a team silver is a more realistic target.

After settling for bronze at the 2015 Games on home soil, the national basketballers enjoyed two successful seasons in the Asean Basketball League (ABL), helping the Singapore Slingers to two straight ABL Finals appearances.

While they failed to win the ABL title on either occasion, they are filled with optimism that they can do better than their bronze showing in 2015.

"Definitely the national team are aiming for a gold, but my prediction is that they can get a silver," said Slingers head coach Neo Beng Siang, who stepped down as national team coach to become the principal of the ActiveSG Basketball Academy.

The Philippines continue to stand in the way of the Republic's quest for gold, being the region's basketball powerhouse nation. They have won 17 SEA Games golds since 1977.

For Singapore, the ABL Finals experience should be helpful to the national players, who make up the bulk of the Slingers team.

Said Ng Hanbin, 28: "Right now we are still working really hard towards the SEA Games.

"We are definitely looking forward to achieving a result that was better than the previous Games.

"I think we stand a good chance because, in the past, exposure was the issue. But right now I believe that we can step up to the occasion and achieve a better result than the previous two outings.

"I would really love to get a silver, but I won't rule out the chances of a gold. We have actually beaten the rest of the countries other than the Philippines, so anything is possible."

Ng believes that Singapore's defence will be key to their medal hopes, but they will need to work on their offence before the Games.

"Defence has always been our strength but if we improve our offensive game then that's definitely one aspect where we can start beating teams by good margins," he said.

"I hope that the whole team learn to work together, and play a beautiful game of basketball."

Both Neo and Ng took part in the Jr NBA clinic, where 600 children aged five to 14 years old were introduced to basketball via fun-filled activities at Our Tampines Hub sports hall yesterday.

Eight-year-old Aaric Chan, who was playing basketball for the first time at the clinic, said he "enjoyed the camp".

"I like basketball the best because I get to bounce the ball," he said. "I get to shoot every ball in the basket, and the coaches helped me to score."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Toppling Philippines remains a tall task'. Print Edition | Subscribe