Malaysia’s Heng admits to being a Pinoy hoops fan
by rick olivares
It sure is gratifying for the foreign players taking part in the Seaba Men’s Championships to not only see their efforts appreciated such as the case of Myanmar’s Aung Wana who drew applause from the Philippines’ Andray Blatche. But to also come up close to their Filipino heroes.
Say that again?
The Indonesian Under-116 team admitted to checking out on social media all the hype about the Philippines’ 6’11” center Kai Sotto. Said their pint-sized point guard Julius Robert, “The Philippines is our region’s version of the NBA.”
For Malaysian point guard Heng Yee Tong, he has this respect for Philippine basketball.
Last year, during the FIBA 3x3 Asian Championships held in Cyberjaya, in the Selangor region of Malaysia (it is their version of the famed Silicon Valley), Heng was a part of a home team that was expected to win it all.
That is until they ran into a Philippine team composed of Rhayyan Amsali, John Lloyd Clemente, John Galinato, and John Tan.
Heng, according to Philippine 3x3 head coach Mark Solano, “is a dead shot from the three-point area. He’s very shifty and moves around well with the ball. He knows how to use screens properly and makes good reads.”
Unfortunately for the Malaysian guard, Solano had Amsali, a two-way player with a good defensive background, stick to him like glue, and as a result, he was unable to play his usual game. In front of a roaring home crowd, the Philippines defeated the Malaysians by one-point.
“They were leading all throughout and we just fought our way back, point by point,” recalled Solano.
Amsali forced Heng into a shot clock violation, with Malaysia up 20-18, a 1:03 left in the game. John Galinato scored to come within a point. However, the Malaysians missed two attempts to win it all. The ball swung Clemente’s way who drilled a wide open three-pointer to win it for the Philippines (they lost to Qatar in the finals).
The home crowd was stunned into silence, their head coached walked out and left his players on the court. And Heng, he bawled himself out.
Right before the start of this edition of the Seaba championships, Heng, who is the only player on that Malaysian 3x3 from the FIBA 3x3 U18 Asian Championships to participate in this Seaba tournament, made his way to Solano, who is a part of the local organizing committee. “Hi, coach,” said Heng who shook his hand. The memory of the loss, according to Heng, still pains him, but he has always had this healthy respect for Philippine basketball.
Through national teammate Chan Kek Thai, Heng said that he enjoys watch Philippine basketball and to be here in Manila and up close to Gilas Pilipinas was like a dream come true for him. Playing at a storied venue such as the Smart Araneta Coliseum was a big deal for Heng. “They played so many great games here, championships,” smiled Heng.
In fact, one of the Malaysian’s goals for the tournament was to take a selfie with Philippine ace guard, Terrence Romeo.
“He is my idol and inspiration,” said a star-struck Heng.