DARWIN, Australia – A team made up of little-known players from Mindanao hopes to make the country proud in the 2019 Arafura Games men’s basketball tournament.
The team is made of players seeing action in commercial leagues in Mindanao, with Leomer Losentes and Jorem Morada the only names that ring a bell, only because they played in the MPBL last season.
Head coach Cholo Elegino assured each and every member of the team is proud to fly the flag here, even if the competition is not at the same level as the Asian Games or the Southeast Asian Games.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience na ayaw natin palagpasin ‘yung ganun opportunity. Once the opportunity presents iself, take it and grab it,” said Elegino.
Elegino said he was asked by Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez, his coach at Ateneo De Davao during his playing days, to form a team for this multisport event for emerging athletes in the Asia-Pacific.
“The PSC called me up, nagpapatulong na magbuo ng team last January. They asked me na maghanap ng team sa Mindanao. Eventually, may team na rine-commend ang Davao City LGU. Sabi naman ni Chairman, we will be up against Marines and Air Force so commercial level ang hanap niya.
“Sabi ni Chairman, go around Mindanao and find the best players in Mindanao na puwede nating gamitin sa Arafura. Medyo may time constraints, wala nang time maglibot pa so I consulted the commercial players in Davao to help me out in forming the 15 players."
Aside from Losentes and Morade, other members of the squad who are veterans in the Mindanao commercial basketball circuit are Bon Bulac, Conrad Fernando, and John Ray Manatad.
The Philippines is bracketed in Group A with Torres Strait, Johor, and New Caledonia. It begins its campaign with a game against Torres Strait on Tuesday, 1 p.m. (11:30 a.m. Manila time) at the Mararra Indoor Stadium.
Elegino admitted there is pressure to do well, especially with the Filipino community looking forward to watching the basketball competitions here.
“Masaya and at the same time, pressured dahil si Chairman ang may order, lalo na ngayon na I found out na maraming Filipino dito sa Darwin. Kinakabahan din ako how would I please the Filipino community,” said Elegino.
But the 39-year-old Elegino, who led Ateneo De Davao to a runner-up finish in the CHED National Games in 2009 after bowing to Calvin Abueva-led San Sebastian, is determined to bring out the best in the players in hopes of the best finish possible.
“The mindset should be one game at a time with the eye on the price. We want to make the Filipinos and the Mindanaoans proud. Ang sa akin lang, gusto ko muna makalusot sa bracket natin,” said Elegino.