Aside from the thousands of Filipinos rooting for the home team, small group of fans coming from the other 5 participating countries have consistently braved the Mall of Asia Arena to support their respective teams.
It was no different when New Zealand faced Gilas Pilipinas Wednesday night as a mix of a few young and old Kiwis trooped together and defiantly cheered their voice out against the home crowd that eventually did not go to waste.
Curiously, part of that outnumbered but unfazed fans were FEU Tamaraws’ rookies Ken Tuffin and Joseph Nunag as they were seen watching from the lower box section of the venue while proudly waving the New Zealand flag.
Tuffin, a Fil-Kiwi, and Nunag, a full-blooded Filipino, spent their childhood in the Oceania nation before flying over the Philippines as early as last year to be part of FEU’s basketball program.
Both of them suited up in Tamaraws’ campaign in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Premier Cup last May.
“Born and raised from New Zealand so I guess definitely my loyalty was definitely with my country of birth,” said Tuffin to FOX Sports in the aftermath of the Tall Blacks’ triumphant victory over Gilas in their debut in the qualifier.
Confused who to cheer after learning that New Zealand and Gilas were grouped together in the qualifier, the Tamaraws’ international recruits shared they came up with the consensus to take side a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m half-Filipino so there will be always a part in me that doesn’t like the Philippines to lose, and that’s the same for tonight but for New Zealand I have to (support),” continued Tuffin.
They felt sorry that it was the Tall Blacks that ended Philippines’ Olympic hopes, Nunag clarified they will rally behind Gilas against any other country in the world not named New Zealand.
“If Philippines is playing another team, I will go for the Philippines,” said Nunag.
Still, it was an interesting choice given that they cheer against their FEU mentors Nash Racela and Josh Reyes, who are both part of the Gilas coaching staff.
“Coach Nash is okay, I guess. He gave us a funny smile,” shared Nunag. “I think he assumed that we’re definitely gonna cheer for New Zealand.”
Their decision paid off though, as Tall Blacks were able to counter every Gilas run in the crucial game and Tuffin believed it boiled down to the physicality of the match.
“New Zealand was able to match the Philippines’ physicality and I think that got us to over line and with their rebounding, especially with the offensive boards, I think it was a good key for New Zealand to get the win,” said Tuffin.
With the victory over Gilas, the Tamaraw duo is upbeat on the the Tall Blacks’ chance against world powerhouse France and the rest of the remaining teams that will be fighting for the lone ticket to Rio at stake here in Manila. – By Jason Mercene
Follow this writer on Twitter: @JasonMercenePH