SINGAPORE – Before every game, the Singapore Slingers will huddle in a circle for a team talk before performing their pre-game ritual designed to channel their aggression for the match and also focus their minds.
At the centre, both literally and metaphorically, of this is American John Fields, who usually stands in the middle and leads the routine.
“Getting together like this to play around, it relaxes everybody before we go out and play,” he said. “We’re close and real goofy. Getting everyone hyped – that’s my role because I play the game with a lot of emotion and I want to win.”
It is hard not to notice the 2.06m Fields,who is in his first season with the Slingers and is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 22.9 points and 12.5 boards per game.
The 31-year-old is often the most demonstrative player on court, waving at the crowd after a big dunk and shouting encouragements at his teammates.
“I love the game and I play with passion. Sometimes I’m misunderstood but that’s just who I am and I’m not going to change. I’m going to play the game with passion and emotion.”
His presence will be key as the Slingers host Hong Kong Eastern in Game 1 of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) playoffs semi-finals on Friday (April 12) at the OCBC Arena. Game 2 is on April 17 in Hong Kong and Game 3, if needed, is on April 21 back in Singapore.
Slingers guard Xavier Alexander said his fellow American has given the team a boost. He added: “With someone like John, you just have to let him go. His antics get the crowd going and they get us going too when we need it.
“Sometimes you have to tell him to relax but for the most part that’s what gets him going and that’s his game.
“He a run protector and he’s strong inside. He’s also expanding his game by hitting mid-range jump shots. He’s a veteran player and he knows exactly what to do to help the team win.”
Fields’ temperament has its downsides though, said coach Neo Beng Siang.
In Game 1 of the quarter-finals against Macau Black Bears, Fields picked up a technical foul for appearing to taunt the opponents by putting his hands on his ears.
Alexander explained it was a misunderstanding and that the gesture was directed at him, not the opponents.
But Neo said: “It affects the whole team’s performance if someone picks up an early foul. The three (foreign) imports are very important because if they get into foul trouble, I have to bring him out and it’s really tough to have a local defend an import.”
Despite finishing seventh in the regular season of the 10-team ABL, Eastern (champions in the 2016-17 season) showed their calibre by eliminating defending champions Alab Pilipinas in the previous round.
The Slingers narrowly lost both regular season games to Eastern, by three and seven points respectively but Fields was confident his team can reach their third ABL finals.
He said: “We have to contain (imports O’Darien) Bassett and (Marcus) Elliott on their dribbles and also limit their locals because their locals can really step up with key big shots.
“We’ve got a good chance of making the finals and we just have to focus. We traditionally win by playing great defence so first we have to do that, then make some great plays and shots on offence.”
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