For Kiefer Ravena, his first two games in the B.League provided him an experience that he hasn't had in over a year.
Ravena played in front of fans on Saturday and Sunday, in his debut for the Shiga Lakestars in the 2021-22 season of Japan's top flight basketball league. It was already a special moment for Ravena, who played against younger brother Thirdy and the San-En NeoPhoenix on their homecourt at the Ukaruchan Arena.
"It's really nice to play in front of a lot of people," Ravena said after Sunday's game, which was attended by some 1,600 fans.
They were treated to a thrilling game, though the home fans must have been somewhat disappointed as the Lakestars squandered an 18-point lead to lose 101-96 in overtime.
They were much happier on Saturday, when it was Shiga that clawed its way back from a 22-point deficit to dominate the fourth quarter and take a 93-83 win.
Ravena gave a good account of himself in both games: he had 11 points and eight assists on Saturday, and his playmaking paved the way for Shiga's comeback. On Sunday, he showed off his scoring chops, finishing with 20 points and seven assists.
Afterward both Ravena brothers expressed their gratitude to the fans, particularly the Filipinos who made their presence felt in both contests.
"Back at home, we're not that fortunate; we've been playing in a bubble for two conferences now," said Ravena, who was released by his mother club, the NLEX Road Warriors, just ahead of the B.League season.
"It's just so amazing to feel the support of the fans, and the support of the Shiga Lakestars family out here," he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted sporting events in the Philippines, where only professional leagues are allowed to hold competitions. The PBA has held its last two All-Filipino Conferences in "bubbles," where no fans are allowed inside the venue.
During the 2020 and 2021 PBA Philippine Cups, teams instead played in empty gyms where their audience were shown on LED screens.
The pandemic has also impacted Japan's major events, and the Tokyo Olympics was held with no spectators. However, professional leagues including the B.League have allowed a limited number of fans inside their arenas.
Ravena and the Lakestars will play in front of their home crowd for the next two weekends, but he is also excited to play away games and visit other areas of the country.
"We're looking forward also to playing away games, traveling, and you know, representing our team even though we're playing in another team's home court," he said. "But we're fortunate enough to play our first six games out here, so hopefully the Shiga fans would always just be there and support us."