Slingers' Mandani makes his mark
Slingers point guard hits form as Singapore outfit host China's Chongson Kung Fu on Sunday
In last week's encounter with Vietnam's Saigon Heat, Singapore Slingers point guard A.J. Mandani made sure he left his mark.
The Filipino-Canadian scored a season-high 25 points, topping the Slingers' scoresheet in the process, as they won 94-76 to consolidate their fifth position in the nine-team table.
Running tirelessly to help at both ends of the courts, Mandani displayed a remarkable versatility that left Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang beaming.
Neo's smile is set to get wider if Mandani, who turned 31 three days ago, can maintain his form against fourth-placed Chongson Kung Fu at the OCBC Arena this Sunday.
Despite a spectacular showing against Saigon Heat, Mandani told The New Paper it was just another game to him.
I want to help them reach the targets that they've almost achieved previously. I'm willing to do whatever I can.A.J. Mandani on his target with the Singapore Slingers
He said: "It wasn't anything special because like every other game, I came in wanting to win.
"We've got to pick up as many games at home, so I'd do anything to get that win. If it wasn't scoring, then I would've tried my best to get as many rebounds and assists. At that time, I was just scoring and the team were looking out for me."
Mandani, who joined the Slingers late last year, started his professional career in 2012, when he was selected 14th overall in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) draft by the GlobalPort Batang Pier.
He was traded to Meralco Bolts after one season, before finding himself in the amateur leagues in 2015 and 2016.
Recalling the drop, he said: "It was definitely hard to swallow and the transition was hard, but it's also part of the grind.
"A lot of people tend to just give up when one door closes but, for me, I kept seeing it as an opportunity to just prove myself again and again to whoever, until I can get to the top level."
His persistence paid off when he earned a spot back in the PBA with Mahindra Floodbuster (now known as Kia Picanto).
He then ventured to the Thailand Basketball League where he played for Provincial Electricity Authority and Madgoat clubs.
It was not till last October that former Slingers forward Ryan Wright introduced Mandani to Slingers coach Neo.
Mandani was invited for trials with the Singapore outfit and, within one week, it was a done deal.
Neo said: "A.J. suits our style of play because he strikes a good balance in both attack and defence. We were quite impressed with him in the first few training sessions, which was why we offered him the contract soon after."
While it took time for him to adjust to the Asean Basketball League, Mandani admitted that it could be the closest to his childhood dream of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
"Unlike the PBA, where everyone usually plays in the same arena in Manila, there are lots of home and away games in the ABL.
"It's kind of like the NBA feel where you get on the plane and you've got a game the next day," he said with a laugh.
With the team gelling in time for the play-offs, Mandani is also eyeing the first championship of his career.
He said: "The team's been to the Finals for two seasons in a row and I just want to be a part of that.
"I want to help them reach the targets that they've almost achieved previously. I'm willing to do whatever I can to help the team get there."
Against Chongson, Mandani believes that the Slingers can overwrite last November's 59-83 loss in China and get closer to their target of a top-four finish.
He said: "What happened in the beginning of the season, that's out of the window. They're going to see a whole new Slingers team come Sunday."