Ariel Vanguardia out to cheer for Gilas even as Malaysia has soft spot in his heart
Malaysia will always have a soft spot in the heart of Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia. Jerome Ascano

ARIEL Vanguardia vows to be at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Sunday for the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (Seaba) Championship as two teams dear to his heart will be facing against each other.

Gilas Pilipinas battles Malaysia in Day 3 of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers in a match-up where Vanguardia has keen interest.

While the Phoenix coach will obviously be rooting for the Filipinos, the Malaysians also have a soft spot in his heart as Kuala Lumpur once served as second home to him.

“Siyempre malapit din sa puso natin yan (Malaysia),” he said of the Philippines’ neighboring country where he previously worked as coach and steered the KL Westport Dragons to their first ever Asean Basketball League (ABL) title.

“Can’t miss na game,” Vanguardia added of the 7 p.m. prime time game in which Gilas will be gunning for a third straight win.

Malaysia, a country where basketball is also popular, is winless so far in two games the tournament. But Vanguardia expects the scenario since according to him, Malaysia send its junior team which it is trying to develop for the next few years.

“They’re developing. It’s a 10-year program under (Malaysia basketball federation) new president,” he pointed out.

Vanguardia only handled two players in the Malaysian roster in Choo Wei Hong and Chin Zhi Shin, although he also had the privilege to coach the others, including Alvin Ang.

Wei Hong was even a teammate of Gilas cadet Matthew Wright when the Dragons beat the Singapore Slingers for the ABL title last year.

“Pero lahat yan puro mga bago,” said Vanguardia, who was tapped by Phoenix to become its new coach shortly after his success with the Dragons.

“I’ve seen that team grow and they’re trying to develop this young squad.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos