Pinoys’ passion for basketball rubs off on hoops-obsessed Malaysian coach

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jun 30 2020 10:34 PM | Updated as of Jul 01 2020 05:33 PM

Muhammad Ghazi, who has shown a keen interest in Philippine basketball, hopes to see hoops thrive in his home country, football-loving Malaysia. Handout

If you talk to Filipinos who coach or have coached in Southeast Asia, they will tell you that our regional neighbors hold us in high regard when it comes to basketball.

Muhammad Ghazi, a 31-year old assistant coach at the Kuala Lumpur Dragons Basketball Academy, has assisted a Filipino coach, Lito Vergara, for the past five years. And Ghazi isn’t only passionate about the game, but also Filipino basketball.

It is strange given that Southeast Asia, Malaysia in particular, are football-mad countries, and yet Ghazi knows his Filipino basketball. “Football is our national sport,” said Ghazi, “but basketball is becoming more popular.”

“I became interested ever since I first met coach Lito,” shared Ghazi. “Previously, I knew just a little bit Filipino basketball. I saw some videos on the internet featuring Asi Taulava and Jimmy Alapag. Coach Lito introduced me to other players who I can watch, follow, and learn from and these included Marc Pingris, Calvin Abueva, Paul Lee, and Kiefer Ravena.”

While Ghazi hasn’t watched a live game here in the Philippines -- and it is definitely on his bucket list -- he has scrimmaged against college squads of National University and Far Eastern University while suiting up for KL Dragons. And proudly, he says, “I did get to watch a pick-up game between Gilas Pilipinas and BlackWater Elite.”

How passionate is he? Shared Vergara: “He once got into a debate with other coaches about youth and grassroots development here in Malaysia.” Apparently, some were comparing it to Filipino grassroots basketball but the teaching of the game is different in both countries more so when many see it as a hobby in Malaysia rather than as a way of life the way football is in their country.

Ghazi has already amassed a collection that includes jerseys and jackets of BlackWater, Phoenix, Kiefer Ravena, La Salle, and others. And he frequents the athletic-apparel stores in Kuala Lumpur buying Gilas merchandise. He is awaiting an Alab Pilipinas shooting shirt that should arrive soon. 

“I don’t have a specific favorite team,” clarified Ghazi. “I like to watch as many games but when it comes to players, I like Pingris, Vic Manuel, Jared Dillinger, Gabe Norwood and Jayson ‘The Blur’ Castro. I like them because they are smart players who knows what it takes to win.”

“Hopefully, what I learn from Filipino basketball can help in teaching Malaysians. It is my goal.”

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