By RUSSELL BENNETT
BASKETBALL has always ignored the borders that define one country from the next – one culture from the next.
It doesn’t matter where players are from, what they believe in, or what their backgrounds are – all that matters is their passion for the game.
Savin Lopez and Jim Viray are both originally from the Philippines and it was basketball that first united them – but in Australia at a tournament in Hampton Park.
And now they’re set to continue their friendship on-court for the first time in an organised basketball environment – with the revamped Pakenham Warriors’ Big V side.
The soon to be 30-year-old Lopez is about to enter into his second season with the Warriors, having previously played with the Hampton Park Pioneers.
But despite his seemingly veteran status, he is still getting used to playing structured basketball.
By his own admission, he really only fully switched on halfway through last season – with the help of his team mates, led by star duo James Topp and Jay Ferriere.
In many ways, Lopez is still new to the game and, therefore, both mentally and physically fresh.
The 180-centimetre guard expects his role this season to be the same as it was last year, only this time he’s looking forward to the prospect of mentoring the likes of Lee Belton and Matt D’Arcy in their first Big V seasons.
“It’s definitely an exciting team to be a part of,” he said.
“Last season we finished third, which was a massive improvement, but we have to move forward from there,” he said decisively.
Lopez believes his biggest on-court strength is his leadership and his ability to motivate his team mates. He wants to set the example for others to follow.
“If I’m open I’ll get the shot up, and I’ll give it 110 per cent – whether I’m on the floor for 10 minutes or just five,” he said.
“I wasn’t expecting anything big (personally) last season – just to play a role for the team – and this season is the same.”
Lopez lined up alongside Viray for the Philippines at the ASEAN Games at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC) earlier this year. They played against teams including Hong Kong and Malaysia in the two-day tournament.
His personal goals for the new Big V season revolve around improving his all-around skills and he sees Warriors coach Ryan Rogers as the perfect mentor to make that happen.
“He’s very impressive,” he said of Rogers.
“He’s the type of guy who tells you if he doesn’t like what he sees – he won’t shout, but he wants the job done right.”
For 28-year-old Pakenham resident Viray, the Warriors have given him the chance to start another chapter in an already impressive basketball journey.
He played at college level in the Philippines before a two-year professional career in the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) saw him line-up against some former NBA players.
Family saw him move to Pakenham three-years-ago, and his discovery of the Colosseum at Cardinia Life looks to be a godsend for the Warriors.
The 192-centimetre athlete looks set to see minutes at the small forward, power forward and even shooting guard spots at times this season.
His biggest offensive strengths include his three-point shooting and his ability to finish on the fastbreak. On the defensive end, he prides himself in his rebounding.
Viray’s goal, like his new team mates, is nothing short of a championship.
And his impressions of the Warriors so far have been nothing but positive. He already admires the work ethic of Topp and Bill Winder and is just keen to learn as much as possible from them.