All's Not Well With Barracudas

CHAOTIC and no, we are not referring to Britney Spears's reality television series rather describing the Brunei Barracudas' sophomore season in the Asean Basketball League (ABL).

Loss of fans, mass exodus of local players and a match that did not even reach the final buzzer are among the highlights of their season and it is not even over yet.

How did Brunei's first professional basketball team manage to attract so many negative headlines?

Perhaps the Barracudas' problem lies far below the surface, or more appropriately off the court rather than on it.

Remember Mike Pilgrim, who was sacked by the team because of "disciplinary issues"last season?

The Barracudas literally pushed the self-destruct button when they let the American go because it came just three days before a do-or-die battle against then league leaders, the Philippine Patriots.

The fans cried foul over his exit and they were justified when the Barracudas lost 87-65 to the hosts at the Ynares Sports Arena in the Philippines. The defeat dashed the Bruneians' play-off chances.

A day after the defeat team manager Benny Ang announced that all the imports were released, adding that the team would spend the off season trying to whip their local players into shape.

Esmond Tan was the only local player to be used regularly last season.

But, the "plan" never materialised.

Now, fast forward to September 2010. With just two weeks to go before their 2010/11 season opener, the Barracudas had only held two training sessions under newly appointed head coach Ozell Wells.

It was an omen of disaster and an uphill task from the start considering that the rival teams were already into their pre-season training.

Not surprisingly, the Barracudas suffered a 71-62 defeat in their season opener against the Patriots and that was all it took for Asean import, Filipino-American Kevin White, to get the axe.

Ramsey Williams was brought in to replace White.

Despite this the Barracudas still struggled losing their next two matches against the Thailand Slammers (76-59) and the Patriots (72-67) to place last in the six-team league.

In a complete turn-a-round ex-head coach Bong Ramos was recalled to guide the team and Wells was made the assistant.

After only three days at the helm, Ramos proved he was the right man for the job by guiding the Bruneians to an 87-70 victory over Satria Muda in Jakarta on Oct 23. It was the Barracudas' first victory of the 2010/11 season.

But it was a false dawn for the Barracudas. Merely a week after that victory, the local outfit were again in the limelight for the wrong reason.

Without the services of Ramos, American import Chris Commons and Filipino Chester Tolomia who were all out due to a red eye infection the Barracudas were humiliated 87-48 by the KL Dragons in a game that never reached the final buzzer. The fans turned on the ABL, crying foul that the game was over by default after the Brunei team were left with insufficient number of players to continue playing with under eight minutes left in regulation.

However, it is clearly stated in the Fiba rules that games will continue unless there are less than two players on the court.

Still the worst was far from over for the Barracudas. Nothing could have prepared the fans for the black day of Dec 13 when the team's local players Tan, Benjamin Lim, Hj Md Badri Hj Suhaili and Lim Aik Hock quit en masse.

The four, who had been with the team since the start of the ABL in 2009, said they decided to quit the team so that the Barracudas could improve after the management had labelled them "a disappointment to the country".

Branded "unprofessional", the local players then revealed that they never signed any contract for the 2010/11 season so by rights they were able to leave.

Reserves Ahmad Termizi Hj Nordeen, Md Rahmat Hj Suhaili, Afif Khalidi and Jamri Ramlee were promoted from the reserve team to minimise the damage and, more importantly, to fulfil the ABL requirement of having at least one local cager on a team's roster.

Their inclusion changed nothing, with the Barracudas losing 72-65 to then-leaders, the Slammers, and more recently on Sunday falling 97-70 to Satria Muda at home.

The defeat condemns the Barracudas to the bottom of the six-team ABL table, with six points and a 3-10 win-loss record killing their hopes of a play-off spot once and for all.

With nothing left to fight for, the Barracudas will travel to the Singapore Indoor Stadium this Sunday to take on hosts the Slingers before ending their regular season on Jan 15 when they face the KL Dragons at home.

Satria Muda may have just done the Barracudas a favour by fishing them out of troubled waters and, thus, ending their very painful season. (Assuming that they have learnt their lesson) may be now the Barracudas would start and prepare early.

Source: Amir Amin, All's not well with Barracudas, The Brunei Times, 4 January 2010