Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exclusive interview with Leo Avenido, the floor-leader of the Singapore Slingers in the ABL: "I never give up. In every practice, in every game I give everything I got. And I always want to improve and win"

Leonidaz Avenido (born on September 25, 1978) is arguably the best South-East Asian player in the ABL, the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Basketball League. This Year the 5'10" Filipino superstar joined fellow countryman Al Vergara to lead the Singapore Slingers, after running the offense for the Barracudas of Brunei last season. Leo talked to BT columnist Dr FingerRoll about growing up playing basketball in the Philippines, the Pinoy basketball movement, the ABL and his career so far.

To better understand basketball in this area:
ASEAN is the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
ABL, the ASEAN Basketball League is a collaboration between Dato Toni Fernandes, entrepreneur and the founder of  Air Asia, Indonesian media giant E-Live Entertainment and the South East Asian Basketball Association (SEABA).
PBA is the Philippine Basketball Association

Leo, according to ABL analysts you're the best ASEAN born player currently playing in the ABL? How does that feel?

Well, I don't think so, but I would lie if I say I'm not happy to hear that, on the other end I don't want to think too much about it! I'm just a player who works hard everyday and at 32 still needs to improve!

Can you tell us how and when you fell in love with the game?

I started playing basketball late in my high school years: I used to watch some Filipino basketball idols playing and I said to myself that I wanted to be like them someday.

Are there many opportunities to get in touch with the game in the Philippines?

Yes, the Philippines is a basketball country: every sidewalk, every street, almost every house has a basketball court and even if you don't like the game, you're gonna learn to love it eventually!

Who was your basketball role model while growing up? And would you describe yourself as a player to the readers who have yet to see you play?

Just like anyone else I think, Micheal Jordan was my role model while growing up: I particularly liked his attitude on the court; like I said, I had Filipino idols as well, players like Kenneth Duremdes, Vergel Meneses, Jeff Cariaso and Johnny Abbarientos: they were very good. To answer the second part of your questions, I never give up: in every practice, in every game, I give everything I got and I always want to improve, but if I have to choose one thing that describes me is that I play my heart out!

For those who are not familiar with the basketball movement in the Philippines, can you tell us how important is bball in your country?

Basketball is huge in my country and luckily if you become a pro player you get paid good money and you can help your family financially. But, besides that, basketball, together with other sports, is also a tool to keep kids off the streets and away from drugs and crime.

Just like in the NBA, the PBA, the Filipino national league, has a draft in which players are selected from college. You were selected number 10 in 2002 Draft. Is this draft any close, even in terms of media coverage, to the NBA's one?

The draft is televised so there's a lot of media coverage and attention. I was lucky to be selected together with some senior teammates; I remember being so nervous and sweaty even though the room was ice cold. When they called my name I was so happy: a nice feeling indeed.

Can you tell us a bit about your career?

My career is like a rollercoaster, but I always say to myself to hold on and just believe in myself and have faith in God! So far I've been blessed.

ABL was born last year and you played in Brunei before joining Singapore Slingers this year. How important is the development of ABL for the growth of basketball in South-East Asia?

Compared to last year, the League is more mature, all teams improved the quality of their rosters, the supporters keep on coming to the arenas and I personally hope the ABL can improve its status and will have more and more followers in the future, maybe even beyond South-East Asia.

This year the Singapore Slingers opted for a full Pinoy backcourt with Al Vergara and yourself. Is it special for you and Al to play against the favourites, the Philippines Patriots?

I'm happy to play alongside Al this year, also because I can play more the 2 spot than last year when I ran the offense as a playmaker in Brunei. Well, this is my job, so nothing personal, I'm a Filipino but I play here in Singapore and we just need to do our job when we face the Patriots! On the court I hate them, off the court I love them.

Can you describe the style of play in the ABL?

In the ABL you need to be in top shape because all the teams like to run: you need to be strong physically and mentally ready because so many players play rough and talk trash. As for the fans, I like my home crowd, they make us feel like we are playing in a NBA arena.

At 32 you're at the peak of your career and you're going to play for many years to come. Once your playing days will be over, are you gonna still be in the bball world with another role (coach, manager, owner)?

I really don't know, I'm too busy enjoying the remaining years of my career!

What type of person is Leo Avenido when he doesn't wear a basketball uniform?

I'm a comedian, always smiling, but when it's time to get serious, don't count on me for laughter! I'm kidding, of course!

Best of luck for your season and career, Leo!

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