The countdown to the 26th SEA Games in Indonesia will cross the 50-day mark tomorrow as all 20 sports federations representing the Kingdom at the biennial regional tournament intensify their training.
One such organisation, the Cambodian Basketball Federation, has lined up a series of friendly games to beef up their preparations, with two of their foreign imports set to arrive in Phnom Penh on October 17, according to NOCC adviser Ken Gadaffi.
The basketball team bound for the SEA Games is one of several sides benefiting from team support by the Olympic Solidarity program, which helps national Olympic committees fund federation activities.
“I have been following the basketball team with keen interest, as this is one of the sports the NOCC intends to promote. We hope they can do well in the SEA Games,” Gadaffi said.
“The NOCC is sending the team to take part in a six-team tournament in China from October 23 to 30 as part of China-ASEAN co-operation.
“Prior to the team departing for China, the NOCC, in conjunction with the CBF, has also mapped out plans for a four-nation tournament involving Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia.”
Laos and Vietnam are likely to bring their national squads, but the Philippines will select a side from Filipino players living in the Kingdom.
“I am sure that with these friendly matches lined up, we will have a strong team to compete in the SEA Games, especially with the addition of the foreign imports,” Cambodia coach Austin Koledoye, who led the team during their previous SEA Games appearance in Bangkok in 2007, said.
“We have been inactive for the past two years in terms of [international] competition, but the team has been training and I am confident the players will hold their heads high.”
US-based Cambodian players Ouen Sopouen and Mith Pek, who both play college basketball, have confirmed their flights to the Kingdom for next month.
“I actually can’t wait. I am really excited to represent Cambodia,” said Pek Mith, who was born in Fresno, California and has never visited the homeland of his parents.
Ouen Sopoeun, who has Cambodian heritage, is also a 25-year-old first-generation American hailing from Fresno.
“I have been playing basketball since I was 12, and started playing competitive basketball in my sophomore year in high school,” he said.
“I enjoy playing, watching, and learning about the sport. I am excited about the idea of representing my parents’ home country and putting Cambodia on the basketball map.”
Koledoye noted that Cambodia had yet to be informed of their opponents at the SEA Games, but said he assumed the likes of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and hosts Indonesia would be in the mix.
“Whichever group we fall into in the draw, our target is to get out of the group. From there, we can take it on and expect to be in the medals zone,” the Nigerian-born coach said.
Meanwhile, Sweden-based Cambodian Thach Boroth will join the national team on October 19, while Austrian-born Stefan Doll-Therro Sao is slated to fly in on November 1, just a few days before the team departs for Indonesia.
Boroth has been cleared to leave college early to compete in the China tourney, while Stefan is engaged in a pre-season tournament with his new basketball club, UBBC Giant Vorchdorf, who play in the second tier of the Austrian National League.
“It’s not a problem for us to miss [Stefan in China],’’ Koledoye said.
“Much as I would have loved to see him play with the other team-mates, I understand his predicament and have been following his progress from our base.
“With those four [foreign-based] players and a couple of the local players I have now, I am sure we will go far in the SEA Games.”
Cambodia are currently ranked fifth among the 10 nations that competed at the 2007 SEA Games, as the 2009 edition in Laos omitted basketball from its events schedule because of a lack of facilities.
The Philippines are the top-ranked team, followed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.