MANILA, Philippines — The last two unbeaten teams in the Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship face off on Thursday, with the Philippines and Indonesia contesting the gold medal and, more importantly, a spot in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in August.
Gilas Pilipinas has been the favorite all throughout the tournament, and the hosts should still be favored on Thursday night against Indonesia.
Yet head coach Chot Reyes has been wary of Indonesia from the start, and he got an additional reason to worry on Wednesday after naturalized player Jamarr Johnson made his debut.
Johnson had been sitting at the sidelines for the first five days of the tournament, waiting for his clearance to come through. Indonesia finally received the go-signal to play Johnson on Tuesday, as well as Indonesian-American Arki Wisnu. Both players debuted on Wednesday against Myanmar, combining for 24 points in a 123-50 rout.
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"From Day 1, we took a look at their roster and we knew that it's not a roster that we can take for granted," Reyes said, after Gilas tied Indonesia at the top of the league standings with a 107-52 demolition of Vietnam.
"First of all, I think they're very well-coached. They have a very heady point guard who's been around. He's not afraid to take over in the clutch, and he's a great outside shooter," Reyes said, referring to 38-year-old Mario Wuysang, who has already hit one game-winner in the tournament.
"They have a couple of bigs who can score and shoot from the outside, and then they have Jamarr Johnson."
The 6-foot-5 Johnson, who hails from New Jersey, played for the CLS Knights in the Indonesian Basketball League; in 2016, he won both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.
Johnson played just less than 22 minutes against Myanmar, making eight of his 11 field goals and grabbing seven rebounds. Reyes expects him to be extremely fresh and energetic on Thursday, and to be Indonesia's "go-to guy."
"The key for us is to keep up with his motor," he stressed. "He's going to be raring to go. He doesn't have any minutes on those legs, so he's going to be very fresh. We gotta get ready for that tomorrow."
The Gilas players have already gotten their coach's message. Matthew Wright, who had a team-high 19 points against Vietnam, predicted that Thursday's game against Indonesia "is going to be a dogfight."
"I know Jamarr Johnson is going to be ready to play," said Wright. "He's going to definitely try to beat us with his motor, but I feel like we've been hitting our stride lately. Everybody has confidence on the team."
"They improved," Wright added of Indonesia. "They have a naturalized guy, they have good shooters on that team. It's not going to be a walk in the park tomorrow, that's for sure."
"But," he stressed, "They gotta guard us, too."
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