Basketball: Warriors Cap Rally as Asean Champions
As late as April, a return to the Asean Basketball League playoffs seemed like it might be a bridge too far for the Indonesia Warriors.
Just two months later, though, the Indonesian club hoisted the ABL title for the first time after making the playoffs and ousting the Philippines Patriots and San Miguel Beermen.
The Beermen had every reason to be confident going into Game 3 of the ABL finals on Saturday, having swept all three games against the Warriors in the regular season en route to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. That mattered little in the end, though, as Indonesia held on to win the decider 78-76 at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City, the Philippines.
“I’m just overwhelmed with pride for my guys. We’ve stuck together all season long,” Warriors coach Todd Purves, the league’s coach of the year in his first season, told the Philippine Star after Game 3.
The view from the awards ceremony was a far cry from what it was on April 4.
After an 88-86 loss at the expansion Saigon Heat, the Warriors were 7-9 and mired in the middle of the pack. It wasn’t until Purves — a former member of the Sacramento Kings’ front office — and team management produced a more settled roster that Indonesia found its stride.
With Americans Steve Thomas and Evan Brock anchoring the lineup and Filipino-American Stanley Pringle rounding out the imports with Jerick Canada and Joseph Salangsang, Indonesia won five straight games to close out the regular season and clinch the No. 3 seed. It went on to sweep the Patriots 2-0 and edge the Beermen 2-1 to bring the title to Jakarta.
The victory also brought a measure of redemption after the club missed out on the first ABL title in the 2009-10 season. Then-Satria Muda Britama lost to the Patriots 3-0 in the best-of-five finals.
A difficult season followed that disappointment, with the National Basketball League prohibiting players from competing in simultaneous tournaments. That forced Satria Muda to choose between the NBL and ABL, putting most of its best players in the local league and building the Asean squad around point guard Mario Wuysang, who was named that season’s best local player.
After finishing fifth out of six teams, the club underwent a major overhaul, starting with a rebranding as the Indonesia Warriors. The roster built on the fly eventually came good, with Thomas being named defensive player of the year and Brock chosen as the finals MVP in addition to Mario repeating as a finalist for best local player.
Indonesia’s victory gave the ABL two non-Philippines champions in three seasons. The Chang Thai Slammers beat the Patriots 2-0 in last season’s finals.
The Beermen and Warriors will represent Southeast Asia at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Lebanon in October.