KL Dragons call on fans to turn out in full force as they take on Philippines Patriots


weiloon@thestar.com.my

THE KL Dragons basketball outfit will be exploring different methods in their attempt to set up their youth programme during the off-season of the Asean Basketball League (ABL).

As a build-up to the second edition of the regional league, team co-owner Ruben Emir Gnanalingam revealed, they would be embarking on an initiative to attract a bigger pool of junior cagers between mid-April and the end of June.

They are also planning to scout for potential young talents to shoulder their challenges in the National Basketball League (NBL).

“It is important to ensure that the local youngsters are given the opportunity to show their talent. We need to guide them to come through the ranks.

“At the moment, we are still considering various ideas. It will be an experiment for all the six teams competing in the ABL to look into various ways to implement their youth programme,” Gnanalingam added.

The other two stakeholders in the KL Dragons are Datuk Robin Tan and Datuk Wira Dani Daim.

Besides conducting introductory sessions in primary and secondary schools, Gnanalingam hinted that they were keen to increase the intensity of the local university league in their youth system as a stepping-stone for the emerging players as they strive to attain greater heights and move up to another level.

“We want the players to consider playing professional basketball as a career option without compromising their tertiary education.

“Despite struggling to deal with the expectations of stepping up to a higher level at the start, the locals in our team are showing their maturity as professional players. Their remarkable progress serves as an inspiration for others to follow.

“Our aim is to elevate the status of the ABL. It will not happen overnight but we have to start somewhere,” he said.

In their debut appearance in the ongoing inaugural ABL, KL Dragons, comprising 10 Malaysian players teamed up with five imports in their line-up, have earned a hard-fought slot as the fourth qualifiers for the semi-finals.

Filipino trio Rudy Lingganay, Roel Hugnatan and Fhadzmir Bandaying, America’s Jamal Brown and Chris Kuete from Cameroon make up the foreign cast in the side, which is guided by local head coach Goh Cheng Huat.

Gnanalingam admitted that it had been a tight finish, with the spot secured in the play-offs decided over the best of three matches.

“Although it was our initial target to finish among the top four teams, we did not expect to come through after our poor start. It was an uphill battle all the way, but we did not throw in the towel. We were surprised by the team delivering results beyond our expectations. The players gave a wonderful final push to make the cut. They were pushing hard in training. They put in their heart and soul to chalk up back-to-back victories (against Singapore Slingers and Satria Muda BritAma of Indonesia) for the first time in completing the fixtures,” Gnanalingam said.

The turning point came when team general manager Yakub Husaini introduced classroom sessions for their charges.

“They don’t hold back any punches during the sessions. We allow them to vent their frustrations at each other in a controlled environment. Besides fostering stronger friendship, it has helped them develop better understanding and constant communication on the court,” Yakub said.

Yesterday, they were up against league leaders Philippines Patriots in the away opening leg of the semi-finals.

On Wednesday, they will be hosting the visitors at the Maba Stadium, and they are urging their fans to turn out in full force to back them in their quest to put up a res­pectable display in the return leg.

After having gone down narrowly in the first two league matches against the same opponents, they pulled one back with a convincing 18 points (77-59) victory in the final league encounter.

Goh said they were comfortable with the underdog tag and the pressure was on the Philippines Patriots to live up to their billing.

“We are confident of playing to our true potential and putting on a good show without the unnecessary pressure. We have nothing to lose against them because every match is a bonus for us.

“In the first two matches, we lost to them as they came charging at us in the closing stage.

“We know each other’s game plan well from the previous meetings. But, we have to be wary of the unknown threat with their new import joining their side,” Goh added.

The other semi-final is between second-spot side Singapore Slingers and Indonesia’s Satria Muda BritAma.

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