By Les Tan
Assistant coach Neo Beng Siang chats with some of the Slingers while waiting for the coach to take them to the game against the Patriots. (Photo 1 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
The Singapore Slingers finally lost their first game in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) last weekend when they were thrashed 70-53 by the Philippine Patriots in Manila.
The main reasons? One bruised knee and the chicken pox virus.
Al Vergara was injured while Wong Wei Long and Lim Wai Sian (aka Lao Lao) both went down with chicken pox while in Manila.
When I got to the Budget Terminal last Friday, November 6th, ready to fly out on Cebu Pacific Air with the Slingers, I noted that Al Vergara was sitting there on the bench.
I asked Al how his leg was and he said it was badly bruised.
Vergara suffered a bad knock when he clashed with teammate Marcus Ng accidentally in the game against Indonesia’s Satria Muda BritAma the week before. The knock was so bad he could not carry on in the game and had to sit out practise the whole week.
I turned to Michael Johnson, general manager of the Singapore Slingers, and said, “Al’s ok to play?”
“If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t waste money flying him there!” joked MJ, as he’s known among the players.
The flight there was uneventful, although I always marvel how Kyle Jeffers (206cm), Michael LeBlanc (202cm) and Pathman Matialakan (202cm) fold themselves up into economy seats.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by … traffic jams. It took a long time in the Manila traffic to get to the hotel. Little did we know that the Manila traffic gridlock would throw another spanner in the works the next day.
We finally got to the Greenhills Elan Modern Hotel in San Juan but it was less than modern when I discovered there was no internet connection available in the room.
When I came down later and got on the team bus at 8pm to follow the Slingers to their night practise, I discovered that there was no Wong Wei Long.
By then, Wei Long had clearly broken out all over his face and body with the chicken pox and was stuck in his room.
A trip to the local hospital at 2am in the morning confirmed the chicken pox diagnosis and as it turned out, Wei Long would not leave his room again until Tuesday, four days later.
The Slingers were now down to nine.
The team had practised the whole week without Vergara and were prepared to play without him but losing Wei Long at the last minute was tough psychologically.
The next morning, after breakfast, Marcus Ng, who has six months left of medical school to go through in Australia, diagnosed Lao Lao with chicken pox.
The Slingers were now down to eight.
On game day, the bus that was supposed to take the Slingers to the San Juan Arena did not show up at 2pm as expected. It was stuck in – you guessed it – traffic.
MJ then rounded up three taxis and bundled the players in first. When the players got there, they found their changing rooms still locked but managed to get in 15 minutes later.
A small crowd at the San Juan Arena greeted the tip off but for the Slinger bench, they were more concerned with whether their makeshift starting five of Michael Wong, Marcus Ng, Desmond Oh, Kyle Jeffers and Michael LeBlanc would hold up.
10 minutes later, the verdict was in – Patriots 22, Slingers 8.
Vergara, who was meant to play in short bursts, was finally introduced towards the end of the first quarter and saw major minutes. The Slinger composure returned somewhat and they outscored the Patriots 15-14 in the second quarter but they were still staring at a 13-point (23-36) deficit at half-time.
For a team that only had seven and a half fit men, the Slingers did well, getting to within seven points (37-44) near the end of the third. Michael Wong then had a great chance to narrow the gap further when he went to the line for three but managed only one to make it a six-point game.
The Slingers outscored the Patriots again in the third quarter, this time by 16-14, to trail by 11 (39-50) at the end of the third.
The Slingers threatened again at the start of the fourth, getting to within six on the back of two Michael LeBlanc free throws at 44-50. However, Desmond Oh missed a three-pointer and LeBlanc a two-pointer and the Slingers faded away thereafter. They never got that close again and at one stage late in the fourth, were staring at a 19-point deficit.
The Slingers eventually lost the game 70-53. This was a thrashing.
As my crew mate Erwin “Statsman” Wong pointed out, the Slingers only managed to score the same number of points at full-time as they did by half-time against Satria Muda BritAma the week before when they handed the Indonesian club a 96-72 thrashing.
How things change in a week.
The ride back to the hotel in the team bus was devoid of the normal chatter that usually comes from the local boys.
The one highlight in the losing effort for me was watching Jeffers dunk four times. I sat there admiring it and totally forget to take photographs like I was supposed to. But other than that, there wasn’t much to talk about.
The other thing that struck me was the poor crowd numbers and response during the game. I was told that it was going to be a sold-out crowd but somebody forgot to tell the Filipinos.
So as tests go, the Slingers failed their second road test. However, they don’t get the luxury of taking their next test at home this weekend. Satria Muda await them in Jakarta.
The Indonesian team thumped the Brunei Barracudas 97-62 last weekend and will surely want to avenge their 96-72 loss to the Slingers two weekends ago.
That’s the fun thing about a regular league, isn’t it? There’s always another game coming up.
And I’ll be there to see it again.
Head coach Frank Arsego (seated) and Beng Siang waiting for the coach that never came. (Photo 2 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
The team can’t wait any longer and hail cabs to get to the San Juan Arena. (Photo 3 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
When the players get to the arena, they found the doors to the changing room locked but they finally get in. (Photo 4 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Hong Wei Jian gets a bit of last-minute advice from Slinger GM Michael Johnson. (Photo 5 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Desmond Oh (left) and Michael Wong warm up before the game … (Photo 6 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
… and the rest of the team do the same. (Photo 7 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Marcus Ng lays up during warm up. (Photo 8 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Marcus Ng does his recovery in the hotel pool the day after the game with the rest of his teammates. (Photo 9 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
With the heavy defeat the night before, the Slingers were glad to get to the airport to check in. (Photo 10 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Looking for seats on board the Cebu Pacific Air flight. (Photo 11 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Getting off the flight at the Budget Terminal at Changi Airport. It was good to be home. (Photo 12 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Slinger fans Gordon Loh and his younger brother Alvin Loh were on hand to welcome back Hong Wei Jian … (Photo 13 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
… Kyle Jeffers … (Photo 14 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
… and Marcus Ng … (Photo 15 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
… while Michael Wong is happy to see his girlfriend Lynn. (Photo 16 © Les Tan/Red Sports)