SEA Games: Amid loss to Gilas, Singapore teen wins Pinoy fans' hearts

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 05 2019 01:09 AM | Updated as of Dec 05 2019 10:04 AM

Singaporean teenage player Lavin Raj was a fan favorite Wednesday. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Singaporean teenage player Lavin Raj was a fan favorite Wednesday. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines -- With Gilas Pilipinas' victory over Singapore all but assured, the Mall of Asia Arena crowd turned its attention to its new favorite player: 19-year-old Lavin Raj.

The burly big man immediately caught the attention of the Filipino fans at the game, and by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was clear they wanted to see him in action. They roared every time he touched the ball, and reacted in disappointment whenever Raj would hand it off to one of the Singaporean guards.

Even the Filipino players and coaches couldn't help but notice that the crowd had quickly developed a fascination with the 6-foot-7 big man.

"Today, (the crowd) was all for us until the end, when they got a crowd favorite," noted Chris Ross after Gilas' 110-58 demolition of Singapore.

Gilas coach Tim Cone added: "The collective yelling and screaming when their big guy got the ball was typical of the personality of our crowds," 

Raj scored just five points and grabbed two rebounds, but he got some of the loudest cheers of the night when he attempted to post up Greg Slaughter at the end of the game. And when the contest was over, the Filipino fans chanted his name.

"I was joking on the bench that he (Raj) is gonna show up on a commercial tomorrow on TV, because he got so popular in one day," Cone said.

Raj, the youngest player in Singapore's national team, said he "definitely noticed" the reaction to him. "They're very loud, you know?" he said.

"I'm honored to be here, to embrace the crowd and play a game here," added Raj. "It's a game of basketball, you know? The crowd can cheer for both sides."

"I'm really happy they liked the way I played a game, and they are cheering for me. It's great. I'm happy."

Playing in front of Filipinos is nothing new for Raj. He played for Singapore in the 2017 SEABA U-18 Championship in Manila, and is part of Singapore Slingers. He can see how Filipino fans showed up to support San Miguel Alab Pilipinas whenever they play them in the ASEAN Basketball League.

"They're everywhere," he said of the Filipino basketball fans. "So they're really a great, passionate people. They really have a good passion for basketball."

It's not just the Filipino crowd that Raj is thankful for. He said he appreciates the experience of playing against the Philippine national team once again, as well.

"They are really good," said Raj, who made his national team debut for Singapore in the 2017 SEA Games. "They are experienced, they are PBA players."

"It's a good experience for me to play against them, and improve my game slowly," he added.

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