It's a full-court press for gold

SINGAPORE - S'pore basketball coach spares no effort for shot at SEA Games glory.

IT WAS 9pm on Tuesday night at the Singapore Basketball Centre. The arena was quiet, save for a refereeing course taking place on one of the courts.

However, the national men's team were still hard at work in the gym, under national coach Neo Beng Siang's watchful eyes.

The players had been slogging through their weights training session since 7.30pm but he insisted: "Not done yet."

Such gruelling sessions are part and parcel of the team's revved-up preparations as they target a shot at gold at the Singapore SEA Games.

A provisional 18-man squad have already started training five days a week - twice daily for the four full-timers in the team. The squad will be trimmed to 12 for the June 5-16 Games.

Besides added training, the cagers have a slew of tournaments and training trips lined up too.

First up is the 20th Super Kung Sheung Cup International Basketball Invitation Championship in Hong Kong on Jan 25.

This is followed by the domestic National Basketball League next month, after which the team will embark on training trips to Australia and the Philippines to face club sides.

Their final tune-up will come at the Southeast Asia Basketball Association Championships at the Sports Hub's OCBC Arena by early May.

Neo declined to reveal the cost of the preparations but said it was the highest since he took over as national coach in 2003. Such impetus for gold was gained after the team finished third at the 2013 SEA Games in Naypyidaw, earning the first men's basketball medal for Singapore since 1979.

Yet, for Neo, the bronze could have been a silver, had they not frozen against regional kingpins Philippines.

Singapore were tied with the Filipinos during half-time of their clash at the Zayar Thiri Indoor Stadium but lost 75-88 after the opponents pulled away with several three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Said Neo: "We believed we could beat them and we were doing well. But against the good teams, you must get everything right. You cannot afford to fall apart.

"In the last quarter, our defence broke down. We over-committed on some plays and gave them too many outside shots."

It is this lingering loss that motivates him to crack the whip and drill his team into a crack outfit capable of tackling the region's best.

He said: "The target is definitely the gold medal. In the past, we always set our target lower but it didn't really benefit us.

"Now, we're in front of our home fans. I'm confident we can take down Philippines this time."

Owing to the packed training schedule, the national players are not allowed to play in the Pro-Am Singapore Basketball League, another domestic event which started its second season last month.

The cagers will also have to do without 2.06m-tall American centre Kyle Jeffers whose application to be granted citizenship under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme was rejected.

Still, national captain Desmond Oh is optimistic of his team's gold-winning chances.

"We're playing in front of our home fans and we don't want to waste their effort. We want to show them that we can do it," the 28-year-old said.

"We need all the competitions and games to gel because we have some new players from the youth teams. All these training will make us stronger as a team."

This article was first published on Jan 08, 2015.
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