Like a father watching from the bleachers, Leo Austria was a proud witness to the national team campaign of his three San Miguel players.
The San Miguel head coach watched the live telecast of the Philippines-Iran FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers Thursday night, with three of his players donning the national colors. About 7,300 kilometers away from Tehran, Austria was one with Filipino basketball fans who cheered on the men’s national team in the second round of World Cup qualifiers.
While the Philippines absorbed an 81-73 loss to Iran, Austria beamed with pride as three of his Beermen were given the opportunity to don the “Pilipinas” jersey in the international stage.
In an interview with FOX Sports Philippines, Austria shared his assessment on the individual performances of Christian Standhardinger, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot against Iran, and his thoughts on the current state of the national team program.
On Christian Standhardinger
Leading the charge against Iran and the only double-digit scorer for the Philippine quintet was Fil-German slotman Christian Standhardinger. His 30-point, 12-rebound double-double performance turned out as the most impressive output by far by a Filipino player through four windows of the Asian Qualifiers.
With repeated stints in the national team, Standhardinger has seemingly found his niche in international play. “Yung laro ni Christian, because of his exposure in international competition, mukhang komportableng-komportable siya. Yung work ethic niya is really different. That is something na we’re really proud of,” said Austria.
The 6-foot-8 power forward battled the depleted Iranian frontline, who missed the services of their main man Hamed Haddadi due to a groin injury. Carrying the fight for the three-time FIBA Asia Cup Champions were 6-foot-10 center were Meisam Mirzaei and 7-footer Rouzbeh Arghavan. Despite the size disadvantage, Standhardinger stood tall against his Iranian counterparts.
“Sa international game, ubusan ng lakas yan e. He knows how to deal with it. From start to finish, you have to keep on running. Kailangan na kailangan siya ng national team,” beamed Austria on the splendid showing of his rookie center.
“I’m happy for him kasi namayagpag siya against Iran. Very consistent siya maglaro since the Asian Games. He was averaging in double-double and against Iran, he scored 30 points.”
On Marcio Lassiter
Returning for national team duties in the Iran joust was Marcio Lassiter, a member of the very first Gilas Pilipinas program. Hampered by a boxer’s cut over his left eyebrow, Lassiter shot a dismal 1-of-9 (11%) from the field, including 1-of-7 from the three-point arc.
“Inaabangan na pumutok siya. Ang nangyari, pumutok yung kilay niya,” Austria said in jest.
“That‘s one thing kaya nag-struggle sya kasi nasugatan siya and he got into foul trouble. Usually pag ganyang nasugatan ka, nag-iiba yung approach mo sa game. Bigla kang tumatapang. Yung energy mo, ibubuhos mo lahat to the point na nawawala ka sa rhythm.”
Starting at the two-guard spot, Lassiter hit his first and only three-pointer of the game at the 2:16 mark of the second quarter. But from that point on, San Miguel’s resident gunner clunked his next attempts from the perimeter.
The scouting done by the Iranian coaching staff against Lassiter worked wonders for the West Asian powerhouse, according to Austria. Matched against taller Iranian defenders, Lassiter was visibly thrown off his shooting rhythm.
“He’s always a threat and a marked man. Hindi sya makatira ng libre kaya I think, na-scout sya. Dahil sa internet, nakikita lahat ng laro ng PBA. Covered na covered sya,” Austria quipped.
“Mas malalaki yung mga tumatao sa kanya. Medyo nanibago. Yung bantay nya, nasa 6’6 o 6’7. Inalis sya sa comfort zone nya.”
On Alex Cabagnot
In his debut game for the nationals, Alex Cabagnot ended up as the second leading scorer behind Standhardinger. After a slow start, the veteran San Miguel point guard finally settled down to finish with nine points on 4-of-12 (33%) shooting from the floor. Cabagnot also dished out five assists in 30 minutes of action.
“A little bit short yung mga tira niya na usually, nana-knockdown nya. May first game jitters na tinatawag e. You are new to your teammates, and you are new to the tournament,” said Austria.
Just like Lassiter, Cabagnot had to navigate his way through taller, athletic Iranian defenders. Apart from the subpar field goal shooting, the spunky playmaker had to turn his defense up a notch against Iran’s pair of Sajjad Mashayekhi and Mohammad Jamshidi.
“This was Alex’s first time in the national team. An international competition is really different from the PBA. Kung sa PBA, kilala na niya yung kalaban niya. Sa international, best point guards of the other countries na malalaki sa kanya ang kalaban. Kailangan nya mag-exert ng extra effort sa defense,” explained the multi-titled mentor.
On the current state of the national team
Still, Austria remains a firm believer of coach Yeng Guiao and the present national team who are out to salvage a ticket for the 2019 World Cup to be staged in China. Despite the short preparation, Guiao was able to somehow form a competitive team against Iran.
More importantly for Austria, the bond between Guiao and the national players has been evident since the Philippine team’s stint in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games.
“Saludo talaga ako kay Coach Yeng Guiao. In spite of the short period of preparation, we have been competitive. I’m happy for him. Tinanggap niya kahit alam niyang mahirap yung trabaho. In a short period of time, nadevelop niya agad yung brotherhood ng players,” exclaimed Austria.
“The players are still in an adjustment period. Sa coach, sa teammates, sa environment. That’s why after their first stint in the national team, familiar na sila. Alam na nila ang gagawin.”