Sharjah : They love their basketball, these Filipinos. A visit to the Al Sha'ab Sports Club only confirmed what I already knew. On the face of it, what I witnessed was just a group match of the 8th Summer Basketball League, but you wouldn't think so considering the decibel levels inside the indoor stadium which increased tenfold with every basket. It was a Class "C" Division match between Al Abbar and Indus Group which the former went on to win 79-58, but the real winner on the day was the incredible passion which the players and fans displayed.
The scoreline belied the intense battle between the two sides with Indus Group even going on to take a 33-29 lead after the second quarter. It was then that Al Abbar coach Ramon Irlandez decided to ring in the changes. "I changed the formation to make the defence stronger after the second quarter," he said. As for Ariel Marquez, the Indus Group coach, they just didn't have enough in the tank in the end. "At 33-29, it was looking good. But then the changes worked for them. We really didn't have any answer especially since our bench isn't strong enough and the players were tiring," he said.
And the man who made the difference with his sharp-shooting skills was 25-year-old Christian Deguzman who top scored with 22 points. "I am playing for Al Abbar for the first time and I am delighted with the way I played. I am probably the most experienced guy in the team having played in this tournament for three years now, but I think we have a good team and can go far," he said.
The brainchild of Filipino Basketball Centre (FBC) chairman Ramon Pizarras, who has been organising tournaments of this nature since 1985, this event is quite a hit with the local Filipino community in the region. "People come out in large numbers to play and support the league which is why it has been such a huge success," he said.
There were wives and friends and there were children who had come to cheer their favourite players and besides the colour and the noise what was evident was their love for the game which Pizarras hopes to cash in on even more. "We plan to start a summer league in Fujairah soon as we want to get more Filipinos involved with the game," he said. And from what I had just seen, this is one venture which is bound to be a success.
For Ramon Pizarras, it just wasn't enough having only Filipinos play basketball here.
"The idea of an expat league began to form about two years back and finally it will see the light of day come October," he said, unveiling the blueprint for the Dubai Expat League that will feature 20 teams comprising different nationalities like Indians, Sri Lankans, Egyptians, Jordanians, Bahrainis, Syrians, Lebanese and of course Filipinos and will be held at the Al Nasr club for 22 weeks starting October 1. "We are still on the lookout for sponsors. It will be a huge event. We have sent invitations to have the ambassadors of all participating nations present for the opening day," he said.