MANILA, Philippines – In search of consistency in their ongoing ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) Invitational 2023 campaign, the Zamboanga Valientes are taking advantage of the long break in between windows to fine tune their game as they vie for a semifinal slot in the tournament.
Keen on improving their record, the Valientes have first tapped the services of former two-time NBA champion Mario Chalmers, who is set to arrive next week. Chalmers will join the likes of James Kwekuteye, Kemark Carino, Rudy Lingganay, JR Cawaling, and John Amores.
The roster move is just a start of the ramp up for the team. The Valientes also played the Nick Young-led Strong Group Realty in a tune-up match held last Wednesday at Kerry Sports Manila.
Although they lost, 89-97, import Antonio Hester believes such practice games are vital before the next window of the ABL.
“This is very important for us. This is something we needed moving forward. We struggled a little bit in Batam (Indonesia), and we had a nice team discussion,” the former PBA import said.
“They really pushed us; we really appreciate them helping us out and we are getting ready for this trip.”
Hester has been averaging 23.3 points, 10.3 points, and 4.3 assists for Zamboanga so far. With Chalmers set to reinforce the squad, the big man believes the latter’s presence will rub off on the rest of their teammates.
“That’s all that matters. We’re just happy to have him. He’s going to give these guys a lot of confidence. We need this one,” Hester said.
In the game against Strong Group, the Valientes also debuted former Far Eastern University (FEU) center Emman Ojuola to bolster the frontcourt rotation as import Ryan Smith is nursing an injury.
In spite of Smith's status, Expedito De los Santos mentioned that having such tune-ups, as well as a larger pool of imports will give Zamboanga more flexibility heading to their final six games of the elimination round.
“Kailangan na kailangan namin. After three successive losses, down ‘yung morale ng players. I myself reflected as to what went wrong. We spoke after the practice before the tune-up, and they responded well,” he said.
“I think madadala namin itong magandang experience na ito sa third circuit sa Malaysia.”
With a 3-5 card, the Valientes currently sit sixth in the eight-team competition, trailing Hong Kong Eastern (6-2), Saigon Heat (6-2), NS Matrix (6-2), Singapore Slingers (5-3), and Macau Black Bears (4-4).
The schedule does not get easier either, with the Philippine side facing Hong Kong, MS Matrix, Macau, and the Cooly Bangkok Tigers in the Kuala Lumpur window from February 3 to 8.
Given the tough road ahead, de los Santos’ group will head to Baguio City to train and reflect for five days.
“We are going to Baguio for five days to train. It’s not about the Xs and Os here, but fixing our minds and our hearts,” he shared.
They will then welcome Chalmers and plunge back to action in the Kuala Lumpur leg of the ABL season, hoping to turn their fortunes around.
“With Chalmers around, gusto ko i-sweep lahat ng games. If we want to be sure sa Final Four, let’s sweep (the remaining games),” de los Santos said.
“I believe with Chalmers around and if Hester is still around, walang dahilan para matalo kami.”