MANILA, Philippines – In a tournament where Gilas Pilipinas is an overwhelming favorite, Filipino fans here can afford to support other struggling teams and players, especially those who are entertaining to watch.
One such player is Myanmar's Aung Wana, who caught the home crowd's attention with his boundless spunk, bold nerves, and unapologetic showmanship – the brand of basketball that Filipinos absolutely love.
The 22-year-old forward hailing from Sagaing, 3.5 hours north of Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, posted a team-high 21 points plus 4 rebounds in a 77-44 losing effort to Vietnam on Sunday, May 14, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It was Myanmar's second consecutive blowout defeat in the 2017 SEABA Championships after first being pummeled by the Philippine team. But the heavy underdogs showed a different side of them against Vietnam.
Led by Wana, Myanmar played aggressive basketball on Sunday and displayed a fiestiness that, had you not been paying attention to the scoreboard, gave off the impression it was a closely contested game.
The 5-foot-11 Wana showcased dribbling moves and passes like those you'd see on casual barangay leagues across the country. He kept looking for his teammates and his shot, going 7-of-16 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers.
He also vigorously tracked down loose balls and at one point late in the game, with the result already in hand, even crashed into the courtisde VIP seats.
Wana's best highlight came in the second half, when he swiped the ball away and raced down the court for the breakaway layup. But before finishing the solo fastbreak, Wana dared to look back at a Vietnamese chasing him.
But Wana didn't just look back to see how far away the opponent was. He stared the Vietnamese down as he ran with the ball, clearly taunting him, before laying it in.
The entire arena broke out in cheers and laughter, including Gilas' naturalized center and former NBA player Andray Blatche, who was sitting courtside enjoying the show and cheering Wana on. He even gave Wana a standing ovation.
"He feels so proud for that, even Blatche cheered for him," Wana said through one of his teammates serving as translator.
Wana's notoriety quickly grew as the game wore on to the point that everyone was up in arms in anticipation each time he let a shot fly.
Wana for threeeeeeee!! Everyone here, even Andray Blatche, is enjoying this guy's play and celebrations #SEABA2017 pic.twitter.com/k7PozUXJsS — Jane Bracher (@janebracher) May 14, 2017
Wana is a full-time national team player for the young Myanmar squad. He learned to play basketball at age 13 with the help of a coach in his region. He said he feels blessed to be competing in the Philippines and against a team like Gilas.
"He learned so much from the Philippines, like stamina, their set play, and their power," the translator said.
Myanmar's learning curve continues after it got thrashed again by Thailand, 102-35, on Monday. Wana managed 10 points against the Thais.
Myanmar will next face Singapore on Tuesday. – Rappler.com