Men aiming for gold standard

Coach, captain believe victory hinges on the perfect execution of strategies The 36-sport countdown continues with basketball and cue sports

ST 20150529 SPT7DAYS29 1229001m

 TWO years ago, the Singapore men's basketball team broke a 34-year medal drought when they clinched bronze at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar.

Back then, coach Neo Beng Siang boldly proclaimed that his team would aim for gold this time around.

That would mean the basketballers have to cause a big upset to overcome regional powerhouses the Philippines, who have won gold on 16 out of the 17 occasions that basketball has featured at the Games.

Two years on, the target is unchanged, as the players throw themselves whole-heartedly into an unrelenting training regimen.

They train twice daily from Monday to Friday. The intensity of their training has also increased, with Neo focusing more on physical and aggressive play, something he felt his team could improve on.

"None of the players complained. They know what's at stake, and they're willing to put in the effort," he said.

Still, there were demoralising losses along the way. A 48-59 reversal to Malaysia at the recent South-east Asia Basketball (Seaba) Championship, in which the hosts finished third, left Neo livid.

"Our team defence and one-on-one commitment weren't there, while we made several offensive errors," he recalled.

"So we took note and improved upon those areas in our recent training trip to Australia.

"We did play better against the Philippines at the championship, even managing to outscore them in the last quarter, so that was a positive note for us."

Nevertheless, the players hope that their blood, sweat and tears will translate into results, as echoed by captain Desmond Oh.

"It's possible to get gold, if we work hard and do what coach says.

"If we execute everything as he plans, I believe that we can do it," said the 28-year-old shooting guard, who plays for the local professional team, the Singapore Slingers.

He will be counting on the experience of his team-mates, as 10 out of the 12 players featured in the 2013 Games.

The debutants are also eager to make their mark. Leon Kwek, 18, made a fine start to his national team career in the recent Seaba Championship, when he notched 18 points against Laos on his debut, finishing as the game's top scorer.

Said the Republic Polytechnic student, the youngest member of the team: "I think it'll be an exciting yet nervous experience.

"But I just want to do what I'm capable of, and do our country proud."

Meanwhile, the Singapore women's team will be making their first appearance at the SEA Games since 2007.

They won silver at the 2003 Games, but the years since then have been barren, with the team rarely featuring in major competitions.

Coach Ng Choon Hong, the latest in a merry-go-round of coaching changes, believes his team will have to give their all just to fight for a medal.

He added: "They've shown the will to fight for a podium. Most of them come for training after school, and they're willing to train themselves, with attendance almost 100 per cent."

Captain Lim Jia Min is relishing the chance to participate in the SEA Games, saying: "We rarely go out for major competitions, and when we do, we're caught unprepared as we didn't train regularly.

"For this SEA Games, we have prepared quite a bit."

Recent overseas training stints in China and Taiwan have exposed them to a higher standard of play, and the players are determined not to be overawed by the occasion.

"I'd like to think anything is possible. The other teams are pretty strong, so we'll just give it a try, and do our best," said Lim.