RP 5 MAKES  ROUSING  LAS  VEGAS  DEBUT

LAS VEGAS, July 18, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Displaying unselfish teamwork, the Philippines used an unforgiving full-court pressure defense and precise execution to overcome a severe size handicap and upset the Aoshen club of China, 80-65, in a scintillating debut at the first-ever Global Hoops Summit in the Cox Pavilion on the University of Nevada at Las Vegas campus Saturday night (yesterday morning, Manila).

No team is shorter than the Philippines, whose average height is 6-3, and no team is taller than Aoshen, bannered by two 7-1 centers, two 6-10 power forwards and two 6-9 wingmen.

In all, there are 10 entries in the tournament organized in conjunction with a 10-day National Basketball Association summer league that ended last Friday in the same venue.

The Philippines is scheduled to play five games in the Summit. Next in line is Passing Lane Sports, featuring 7-8 center Sun Ming Ming of China and former Washington Wizards guard God Shammgod of Providence, this morning (Manila time).

Aoshen, fresh from demolishing the strongest Chinese-Taipei teams in sweeping a 7-game series in Taiwan, pulled a surprise by suiting up 7-1 center Shan Tao who played for China at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Aoshen’s Korean coach Lee Ho Jae also added 7-1 Zhang Song Tao to the roster at the last minute. Neither Shan nor Zhang was in Aoshen’s original lineup.

But coach Chot Reyes wasn’t fazed.

The Filipinos, carrying the national tri-colors and sponsored by San Miguel Beer, never gave Aoshen the chance to capitalize on its huge height advantage. They pressed from the inbound, trapped in the backcourt and challenged nearly every shot from anywhere on the floor.

Not even Shan was spared as Romel Adducul, Don Allado, Billy Mamaril and Sonny Thoss combined forces in a suffocating interior defense that took the starch out of the fancied Chinese. Shan scored only eight points on 3-of-10 from the floor and 2-of-5 free throws in 12 minutes. He keyed a 7-2 surge that cut the Philippines’ 15-point lead to 10 in the second period but ran out of steam.

The Philippines failed to score a single triple in four attempts but was a force inside the paint. Thoss banged in 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds to establish a strong inside presence. Mike Cortez, whose family and Carson High coach Richard Mason drove in from Los Angeles, orchestrated the attack, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds and three assists. Tony de la Cruz added 12 points.

Vegas Summer League director of business development Albert Hall said he knew all along the Filipinos would be competitive in the Summit.

"I was told that Filipino players are quick, jump really high and shoot very well," said Hall. "The win over China proved it."

Huang Hai Bei tried to save the Aoshen ship from sinking by scoring a game-high 21 points, including two treys. His teammates, however, failed to provide firepower support.

The Philippines’ late addition to the roster Dondon Hontiveros arrived in the playing venue straight from the airport while the game was going on and will play in the second game against Passing Lane Sports.

Late in the first half, Rich Alvarez’ two charities bloated the Philippines’ lead to 21, 51-30. Aoshen rallied in the third period, igniting an 8-0 bomb to trim the gap to eight, 58-50. Then, Thoss and Kelly Williams combined for six straight points to douse the uprising.

Reyes said he made a conscious effort to rotate the players like shuffling a deck of cards to sustain the fast pace of a full-court press. Stamina was never a problem, he noted.

"There’s no secret about us anymore," said Reyes. "Now the word will get around about us, that we know how to play this game. But that would’ve come sooner or later. This was an important first step for us in our building program. The win has certainly boosted our confidence. It showed what we’ve been working on for months in the gym can succeed."

Reyes said defense was the key to the Philippines’ victory. "Our pressure defense from end to end did it," he said. "It gave us opportunities to score in transition. We couldn’t hit any threes because the rules used the NBA three-point arc which is farther than what we’re used to so our guys kept on stepping on the line."

Reyes said in the next games, the Philippines will be severely tested by bigger, more athletic teams.

"How far we’ll go in this tournament depends on how we play our defense, how the other teams play defense because I notice a tendency to get lazy in this kind of tournament where most players are trying to impress scouts with their individual offensive skills. Another big factor is our ability to get rebounds. If we are able to hold our own on the boards, we’ll always be in the thick of things."

Assistant coach Tim Cone said teamwork on both ends was something the Chinese couldn’t match."’We don’t have any superstars," he continued. "The players look out for each other. They make the extra pass. They’re unselfish. It’s what the national team should be about."

The Filipinos in the crowd mobbed the players after the game. Among those who motored from out of state were Don Allado’s parents, grandmother and aunt and de la Cruz’ parents and sister.

The Philippines’ stingy defense held Aoshen to only 31.6 percent from the field. The Filipinos hit 51.7 percent and outrebounded the Chinese, 46-43.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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