Tonga lose 71-70, but their presence alone is a win

The Tonga men’s national basketball team lost their opening game of the FIBA Polynesian Cup, but the greater victory was the fact they got on the court at all.

As of last week Tonga were going to have to pull out of the tournament, not having the funding to afford accommodation here in Samoa.

But a number of Pacific Rugby Player Welfare (P.R.P.W.) board members became aware of the situation through Facebook and acted quickly to donate the money required for Tonga’s trip.

Tonga lost their first game yesterday in heartbreaking fashion, losing 70-71 to American Samoa.

But captain/coach Aminiasi Malua said it’s bigger than just basketball for them at the moment.

“We’re so grateful to P.R.P.W., IPL Construction in New Zealand, and everyone who individually gave.”

Co-captain Siale Bain-Vete agreed.

“Its very special that we’re here in the first place,” he said

P.R.P.W. CEO Daniel Leo said once the news got around everyone was keen to approve the giving of funds.

“We thought it would be a shame if they couldn’t make it,” he said.

“A lot of our rugby guys have backgrounds in other sports.

“Plus we know rugby gets a pretty good deal compared to those other sports.

“This is a testament to sports and our Pacific culture.”

The most encouraging thing for Leo was that Tonga have already signalled their intention to pay it forward.

“This means the world to us and we hope we might be in a better position in the future to show the same kindness to someone else in need,” Malua said to Leo.

Tonga were down 16 at halftime of the game yesterday before roaring back.

Bain-Vete (15 points, 14 rebounds, 6 steals) said part of the slow start was the team still getting used to playing with each other.

“We were learning on the fly, we got more familiar with each other as the game went on.

“Everything starts on defence, then we can get out on the break, push the ball and have some fun.”

Tonga forced 18 steals to American Samoa’s six during the game, and had 12 more fast break points.

It was poor shooting from Tonga that kept the game close, with only 10% of their shots from 3 going in, dragging their overall field goal percentage down to 38%.

“We’ll live and die with it, we have complete confidence in our guys,” said Malua.

Both Malua and Bain-Vete spent the crucial final possession on the bench after fouling out.

“We need to be smarter about managing that and playing the full game,” Bain-Vete said

He and Malua both said the Tongan women’s team having to pull out of the tournament so late was a shame.

“They were in the same situation, we just got a bit luckier,” Malua said. 

He said the tournament will act as a springboard for the future of Tongan basketball, so national teams won’t struggle to attend events like this year.

“We’re learning, it’s hard to adjust when you haven’t been around for 18 years like everybody else.

“We’re putting things in place so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

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