HAGATNA 1 (RNZ PACIFIC)—The Guam men’s basketball team is chasing history on home soil this week in two winner-takes-all Asia Cup qualifiers.
The U.S territory beat Hong Kong in June to advance to a two-legged tie against Chinese Taipei for a place in the main draw.
Crowds will be limited on both Thursday and Saturday, in an effort to manage Covid-19 restrictions in the territory.
But Guam head coach EJ Calvo said they were still looking forward to playing at home for the first time since February last year.
“It won’t be as big a crowd, I believe, as the New Zealand game but we will still have some fan support,” he said.
“Even though we’re not sleeping in our own beds we’re still looking out the window at our home island and really excited to go to the gym every day and get ready for these games and eventually play some really important games.”
Guam is missing a few of their big-name players because of the pandemic and club commitments but they have been boosted by the return of some of their top young talent.
“Several guys were working out for their college teams in the US mainland and they came back weeks ago,” Calvo explained.
“Because it’s summer time they had the ability to come back and they’ve been on-island for over a month but they’re going to return back to being a student right after this and then of course a couple that were playing professionally abroad that flew to Guam last week in order to join us.”
This is the first time Guam has been eligible to compete in the Asia Cup after the international governing body revamped the qualification process, Calvo said.
“It wasn’t but a couple of years ago that playing in the Pacific and playing just in our region was really the highest level that we had the opportunity to play in.
“FIBA’s given this pathway to get to these games and obviously our guys have worked hard to earn our advancement.”
He said the Pacific Games gold medallists were excited to test themselves against new opposition as they look to break new ground.
“It’s all we can talk about,” Calvo enthused.
“Every meal we’re just kind of going through the routine and I often have to just remind the guys to take care of business this week or it’s all hypothetical, but we’re just really excited to be playing at this level.”
The two-game series was meant to take place in Indonesia this month, before the start of the Asia Cup main draw. However, that has now been postponed until July next year because of ongoing Covid restrictions.
Chinese Taipei arrived in Guam on Sunday and both teams have come through various Covid tests with flying colours.
Close to 50 players, staff and match officials have all been in a bubble environment since Monday and are adhering to strict Covid protocols in the countdown to tip-off on Thursday evening.
“We stay in an isolated area, we have an isolated hotel, isolated restaurant where we eat our meals and dedicated buses that take us to the dedicated arena, where we’re going to be playing at the university, for our practice every day and then on Thursday we do the same routine and we go to play our game.”
The aggregate winner over the two games will qualify for the Asia Cup main draw….PACNEWS