Indonesia raising their level for 2017

Image from FIBA.

*This first appeared on my weekly column on

Southeast Asia Basketball has long been dominated by the Philippines, but a new power may soon be rising this year.

That possible contender for the Southeast Asia Basketball Assocition (SEABA) throne is none other than Indonesia. The world largest island country is home to more than 255 million people, and it has, of late, made some significant strides in terms of raising the level of play at all levels of the sport.

Now, to be completely honest, Indonesia have never really been a powerhouse Asian team. Their best finish at the continental level was fourth place, but that was way back in 1967, and the last time they qualified for the FIBA Asia Championship was six years ago when the biennial meet was held in Wuhan, China. Indonesia finished 13th in that tournament, capping four straight times they qualified for the continental competition. They have missed the last two editions, though, so there is a deep-seated level of hunger to regain their spot alongside the Philippines as one of SEABA's best teams.

Their recent performances at the SEABA level have been promising, if a little inconsistent. From 2005 to 2011, they placed second overall in four SEABA Championships, but they slipped to fourth spot both in 2013 and 2015. Their results in the SEA Games, however, are more encouraging. Indonesia finished on the podium in three of the last four SEA Games, getting silver in 2007 and 2015 while settling for bronze in 2011. For sure, coach Wahyu Widayat Jati, himself a former national team player, is setting his sights for much loftier targets this year.

Just how serious has Indonesia become in terms of making their presence felt in basketball? They are among the most consistently competitive 3x3 teams on the planet, their professional league (the Indonesia Basketball League or IBL) has grown by leaps and bounds and they have reportedly bid to co-host the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 with the Philippines. If those aren't proof enough of Indonesia's commitment to improve their standing in the sport, then I do not know what is.

All of that, however, is gravy compared to what they can actually accomplish on the hardwood, and, frankly speaking, that's what matters most anyway. Coach Jati has called up a slew of old hands to the 2017 national pool, and he is undoubtedly counting on their collective experience and wisdom to hopefully help Indonesia's promising young talents improve at a faster pace.

Names like Dodo Sitepu, Arki Wisnu, Ponsianus Indrawan and Mario Wuysang are familiar to close followers of ASEAN basketball, while guys like Andakara Prastawa, Firman Dwi Nugroho and Adhi Pratama Prasetyo Putra are counted as Indonesia's future building blocks.

The most fascinating additions to coach Jati's pool of talent, though, are two naturalized players: 28-year-old Jamarr Andre Johnson (1.96m) and Anthony Hargrove Jr. (2.00m). Both ply their trade in the IBL, with Johnson suiting up for the CLS Knights Surabaya and Hargrove donning the kit of Aspac Jakarta. Johnson is currently averaging 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Knights, while Hargrove is putting up 8.6 points and 4.6 boards for Aspac. Either player will definitely add much needed size and depth to Indonesia, and the mere presence of either Johnson or Hargrove is a momentous indication that Indonesia are pulling out all the stops to make a splash in this year's SEABA Championship and SEA Games.

Not that having either Johnson or Hargrove automatically makes Indonesia the title favorites, of course, but they are potential match up problems for most ASEAN sides, maybe even for the Philippines if they fail to secure the services of either Andray Blatche or Marcus Douthit. Johnson can play both forward positions, and his skill-set makes him a dangerous inside-outside threat. Hargrove, for his part, is easily among Indonesia's tallest players, and he gives coach Jati a potentially dominant option in the middle.

Let us, however, be crystal clear. Even with all these marked changes and drastic improvements made by Indonesia, the Philippines remain as overwhelming favorites to secure SEABA's single outright berth in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, especially with coach Chot Reyes bringing an all-PBA squad. The reality, though, is no team can remain undefeated forever, no matter how good that team is, and perhaps, with the Indons making so many strides in recent years, the day we'll see them finally upset a Filipino side (they came close in the SEA Games 2015) may come sooner rather than later.




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