GUA MUSANG: Perak and Selangor may have retained the men's and women's titles at the just-concluded 45th Agong's Cup national basketball championship in Gua Musang but the major revelation of the tournament was the national men's Under-19 squad.
The Perak men defeated Sarawak 71-66 in the final while the Selangor women downed Johor 65-52 for their crown but it was the boys who stole the thunder from the seniors.
The National Juniors, who represented Petronas in the competition, surprised even themselves with a gutsy display to upset star studded teams like Negri Sembilan and Johor.
The young products of the Malaysian Amateur Basketball Association (Maba) Academy, who won the SEA Basketball Associations (SEABA) Junior Men's Championship last year, had initially been written off as just making up the numbers.
However, coach Sim Sin Heng's boys made heads turn, justifying their participation in next month's World Junior Basketball Championships in Greece.
In fact, they just missed out on a place in the final on points difference to eventual champions Perak.
Players like Cheong Yow Keen, Ang Tun Kaw, Harjinder Singh and Lai Chze Wei are already on their way to becoming permanent features in the Malaysian senior squad soon.
National senior men's team coach Felton Sealey, who was in Gua Musang as an adviser to the Petronas team, said that the emergence of the juniors augured well for the Malaysian basketball scene.
“These players have been together for the past three years and have matured to be a serious threat to the seniors.
“They are still young and can only get better with time,” said Sealey.
Maba's decision to bring this year's Agong's Cup competition to a small town was also a brave move and the Kelantan Basketball Association, together with the people of Gua Musang, did a wonderful job of making it a success.
But, successful as the tournament was, there seems to be little change in the national basketball scene, apart from the national juniors.
Almost all the state teams playing here, including the two men's finalists, trained together for less than a month for the Agong's Cup and will be disbanded after the week-long competition.
In order for Malaysian basketball to look beyond the South East Asian standards and start challenging for honours at the Asian level, a comprehensive programme is needed for the states.
The argument that the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese are better players because they are much taller may not hold much water any longer, since we have tall players of our own.
In fact, all but three players in the national juniors squad are either 1.85m or taller.
Something has to be wrong with a system where the states who are clamouring to sign on national players nurtured by Maba.
It is the national team that should be scouting the states for these players.
Since basketball has an encouraging following, especially in schools, more state level tournaments and the re-introduction of the inter-state Malaysian Basketball League are needed to both create a bigger pool of players and protect the interest in the game from waning.
Most of the Agong's Cup players only have the neighbourhood compound basketball games and small-time local competitions to look forward to for the rest of the year.
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