MANILA, Philippines – Southeast Asian Games veteran Kiefer Ravena anticipates nothing less than a "dogfight" when Gilas Pilipinas takes on their regional rivals in the biennial tournament next week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ravena, participating in his fourth SEA Games, said the basketball tournament has become progressively more difficult, even as the Philippines continue to dominate the event.
In 2015, a young Philippine team composed mostly of cadets survived scares against Thailand in the semis and Indonesia in the finals to take home the gold medal. Two years later, Ravena said the Filipinos should brace for an even tougher campaign.
"Ngayon, feeling ko mas magiging dogfight pa talaga," Ravena told reporters last Thursday, during the official send-off for Filipino athletes.
[I feel that the SEA Games will be a dogfight.]
The reason, he said, is that most of the other countries' national teams have been playing together for over half a decade now. In contrast, the Philippines' SEA Games team has been overhauled virtually every time.
"Since 2011, sila na 'yung nakalaban namin," Ravena pointed out in a previous interview. "Walang change, technically."
[We've been playing against them since 2011, and they haven't changed their teams.]
Players such as Wei Long Wong of Singapore and Mario Wuysang of Indonesia have been leading their teams since 2011, when Ravena first represented the Philippines in the SEA Games.
"This is my fourth one, and there are minor changes within their teams in terms of rosters," Ravena explained. "'Yung chemistry na pino-problema namin ngayon, sila wala silang problema, kasi since 2011, magkakasama na lang sila eh."
[Our opponents don't have problems with their chemistry inside the court.]
Of the current Philippine team that will compete in the SEA Games, Ravena is going for an unprecedented fourth gold medal in basketball. Mac Belo, Kevin Ferrer, and Ray Parks are going for their third. Their "rookies" include Von Pessumal and Kobe Paras.
The Philippines remains the favorite to win the basketball gold in the SEA Games, but Ravena said he and the rest of the team should be prepared to work harder than ever if they want to live up to their billing.
"Ang totoo, nag-improve talaga ang mga neighboring countries natin," said Ravena. "Unlike before, na talagang masasabi natin na walk in the park ang SEA Games."
"But as I had my second, my third, and now my fourth, I think it's going to be harder and harder and harder," he warned.
[Our neighboring countries have really improved, so the SEA Games isn't a walk in the park anymore, unlike before.]
The basketball tournament in the 2017 SEA Games starts on August 20, with games to be held at the MABA Stadium.
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