MANILA, Philippines—Kiefer Ravena tried to temper expectations for his competitive return to basketball, even as people around him — including his own coach — expressed their confidence that the "Phenom" will shine immediately.
"Ako, kahit ako, hindi ko rin alam kung anong ie-expect ko sa sarili ko," Ravena said last week, as he continued to count down the days left in his FIBA-mandated suspension. "Siguro ’yung gigil na nasa loob ko after 18 months, hindi ko din alam kung anong kalalabasan nito."
"So I just have to find the balance, na ’yung intensity pati ’yung pagiging kalma pa din," he added.
Yeng Guiao, who coaches Ravena in both the national team and in NLEX in the PBA, had no such qualms.
"Ako, sa tingin ko, siguro mangangapa siya, first few minutes, or for a few minutes, but he'll get his game back. So, I have high confidence that he can do that," he predicted.
Guiao had every reason to be confident. Ravena had been hard at work ever since he was allowed to practice with Gilas Pilipinas back in June, and the coach saw firsthand that the guard had kept himself in shape even while he was away from basketball.
On Sunday, Ravena paid back his coach's trust with a solid performance. In his first game back since getting suspended in May 2018, the NLEX guard put up 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, along with 2 rebounds, in just over 17 minutes of action against the Adelaide 36ers in a tune-up game.
He entered the game with 3:15 left in the first quarter, but it was not until the second period that Ravena made his impact. In the very first possession of the frame, Ravena stripped Adelaide's Kevin White of the ball and went all the way for a lay-up. He added a 3-pointer in Gilas' next trip down, then his patented midrange jumper in their next possession.
Adelaide won, 85-75, but Ravena's strong showing delighted Guiao.
"I'm happy, I'm satisfied. I'm impressed, actually. It's his first game but it was already impressive," said the coach. "Actually, I was thinking of putting him back in the end game but sabi ko, ise-save ko na lang muna 'yun, because I was already happy with what I saw."
The coach of the 36ers, former PBA import Joey Wright, did not know Ravena's name, but could not help but admire his performance nevertheless.
"I think it was No. 4, the guy with the headband that played very smart," said Wright, when asked who among the Gilas players impressed him. "He's extremely smart, he can shoot the ball very well."
Also impressed with Ravena's performance is his younger brother, Thirdy, who watched the game with their parents at Meralco Gym.
"Sobrang saya na makita siya ulit na ganoon siya naglalaro. And ’yung moves niya, parang walang kupas," said Thirdy. "It's nice to see him still play the way he did noong bago siya ma-suspend. So, ayun, just very happy for him."
Even as Thirdy acknowledged that his brother's return to the game is an on-going process, he also made it clear that he was far from surprised that Kiefer already made a strong impact.
"He's one of those players na parang natural ’yung basketball sa kanya, na hindi nawawala sa sistema niya, kahit gaano katagal siya hindi maglaro, ’yung moves niya parang parehas pa rin. So not that surprised, to be honest," Thirdy explained.
Kiefer will play in another tune-up game on Wednesday, this time with the NLEX Road Warriors who will take on the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters.
"He will still get better," Guiao said of the guard. "The good thing about Kiefer is, he's not just contributing on the floor, he also contributes off the floor. Because even as young as he is, he is well-respected and considered as a leader of this team already."
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