FROM among Gilas Pilipinas' rivals, only Indonesia opted to bring in a naturalized player in a serious bid to topple the hosts as king of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (Seaba) championships.
As teams arrived for the 2019 Fiba World Cup qualifiers that kick off on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Indons came over fully armed as they are set to parade Jamarr Johnson for the May 12-18 tournament.
Johnson, from New Jersey, stands 6-foot-5 and played for Widener University in Pennsylvania.
The Indons, ranked 72nd in the world, lost the gold medal to Gilas in a closely-fought final of the Southeast Asian Games two years ago, 72-64.
Now they are banking on Johnson, who won both the regular and playoff MVP honors in the Indonesian league along with the Rookie of the Year award, to help them complete their unfinished business against the fancied Filipinos.
Anthony Hargrove, an American center who played for Far Eastern University in the UAAP, is also part of the Indonesian pool as a naturalized player. But scouting reports from Gilas indicate it is Johnson who will be suiting up for the Seaba.
Fiba rules limit teams to only one naturalized player.
Top gunner Mario Wuysang, who suited up for the Fort Wayne Mastodons in the U.S NCAA Division II, will again banner the Indonesian charge.
Thailand surprisingly, didn’t have a naturalized player in its roster as earlier expected.
Mentored by British Tim Lewis, the Thais will be without Tyler Lamb or 6-foot-6 Moses Morgan but still has the same core that gave Gilas cadets a scare during their semifinals encounter in the Singapore SEA Games in 2015.
The pair of Thai-Irish Wuttipong Dasom and Sukhdave Ghogar lead the Thai charge along with veterans Nattakarn Muangboon, Patiphan Klahan, and Teerawat Chanthachon.
Both Indonesia and Thailand are the teams expected to give the host country a run for its money.
All three plunge into action right away on opening day, with Indonesia starting off hostilities against Singapore at 3 p.m.
The Thais then take on Malaysia, runner-up to Gilas in the 2015 edition of the tournament, at 5 p.m. followed by the Gilas Plipinas-Myanmar tussle in the 7 p.m. main game.
Malaysia has opted to go with a young core made up mostly of players from its youth team.