SEA Games: Singapore basketballer Lavin Raj's impressive debut bodes well for national team

Nigel Chin
Reporter
Singapore teen Lavin Raj, 17 (centre), makes his debut at the 2017 SEA Games. Photo: Nigel Chin/Yahoo

REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

Singapore’s basketball national team may have found themselves a new face for the national team in the years to come.

Lavin Raj, 17, who made his debut for the national team at the 2017 SEA Games has been wowing the crowd at the MABA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, after putting on impressive displays in Singapore’s first two games.

In the opening game against Cambodia on Sunday (19 Aug), Lavin, who plays centre, scored five points in just seven minutes of play, pulling down six boards, along with one steal and block each as Singapore won 95-64.

He followed that up with an even more impressive stat line a day later, pouring in 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, making three of his four free throws. He also had 12 boards, five of which came in the offensive end. And they all came in just slightly under 17 minutes of play, while he was in foul trouble after committing three fouls alone in the third quarter alone.

“I was waiting for this opportunity,” Lavin said of his performance against Laos. “I kind of figured that I would have more playing time in this game against Laos, so I was just feeling confident to go out and do my best when my name is called up.”

Lavin’s performance in both matches were so impressive that Malaysian fans at the stadium have been cheering for him whenever he gets a touch of the ball. It was something that has surprised Lavin himself, who did not expect that sort of reaction at his first SEA Games competition.

Yet he has been on the radar of those who have been following the Southeast Asian basketball scene. In May, at the Southeast Asia Basketball Association championship in Philippines, Lavin put on show, scoring 19 points against Myanmar as he led Singapore to their first victory in the tournament.

He followed them up with several remarkable performances, which led to a Philippines collegiate coach extending an offer to continue his development in the basketball-crazy country.

Lavin chose not to take up the offer, as his parents wanted him to continue his education in Singapore. He is currently pursuing his Diploma in Sports Management at the Republic Polytechnic.

Took up basketball by chance

It’s been a wild journey for Lavin, who took up the sport only by chance because a teacher thought he had good height to play the game.

“When I was primary three, my teacher-in-charge brought me to watch one of the school’s basketball games. So when I first watched it, I thought it looked like it was really fun,” Lavin explained.

“So I started joining the school team for training and all that, and that’s when I found myself liking the game more. I thought to myself, ‘This game is actually really fun’, so I just started from there.”

From then, Lavin started watching more NBA and Asean Basketball League games. He then chose to go Anglo Chinese School (Barker Road) to join their basketball programme, and that was where he blossomed under coach Ng Choon Hong.

Then, when he was 15, he played in a youth basketball competition called the Milo Cup, which was where he was talent-spotted to go for trials with the national youth teams.

And in a case of déjà vu a year later in June 2016, Lavin was talent scouted by Frank Arsego, who had just taken over as coach of the men’s national basketball team, while he was preparing for the ASEAN School Games.

“When I first saw him, I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know there was a new coach coming in at all,” Lavin said of Arsego.

“But after that, he approached me and talked to me during games and all that, and I slowly got to know him. Frank has been one of those who have had a huge influence on my game. He is constantly providing me with pointers on what I’m doing well and what I can improve on.”

Arsego told Yahoo News Singapore that he selected Lavin because of his size. He said, “When I arrived here, my plan was to look at the youth competitions and what was happening. Lavin was a member of the Under-18 youth squad as a underage player. But we looked at his size, and to be honest he was very limited at the time, but if he was in Australia, he would be someone that we would invest time in.”

“So I went out to watch some of his training, and then I invited some of the younger boys to come and train with the national squad. He kept coming and coming and coming, and I thought to myself, ‘well, why not’?”

It was Lavin’s commitment to training that led to him making the cut for the SEA Games team.

While Arsego has spoken well of Lavin’s shooting stroke – a rare ability about players of his size – and his prowess inside the paint, Arsego said that Lavin has to work on his conditioning – specifically, his 145kg body frame.

“I’d love to see him redefine his body a little bit more, so he can use what he has as a continued strength and just continue to develop as a big man,” said Arsego.

In response, Lavin has been going to the Singapore Sports Institute to see a sports training and dietician. He works out at SSI two to three times a week.

What’s next after SEA Games?

While he never harboured dreams of playing for the national team before, he is now intent on pushing himself even further to find more opportunities to play basketball internationally.

“I want to play basketball at the next level. Maybe in future, I can try to play for the Singapore Slingers. I’ve been dreaming of that since two years ago when I started playing in the national setup,” Lavin said, before adding that he has worked out with Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang previously.

For Arsego, his wish for Lavin is simple – to not give up the sport and be mainstay of the national team in years to come.

“I can see he takes great pleasure representing Singapore. I’m hoping he stays around for our national team program for many years. I genuinely believes he loves playing basketball and I definitely know the guys love him in the team… he has the qualities to put him in the right direction to stay in the sport,” said Arsego.

Follow Yahoo News Singapore’s SEA Games coverage here