SEA Games 2023

Cambodia coach Harry Savaya defends reliance on naturalized players

JR Isaga

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Cambodia coach Harry Savaya defends reliance on naturalized players

FINALS MATCH. Cambodia's Sayeed Pridgett (right) in action with Philippines' Jaymar Perez.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Outspoken Cambodia basketball coach Harry Savaya proudly defends the SEA Games host's decision to heavily lean on naturalized players to massively boost its medal chances

MANILA, Philippines – Cambodia head coach Harry Savaya found absolutely no problem with the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games host leaning heavily on naturalized players on the way to its historic 5-on-5 basketball silver-medal finish.

The simple reason? Everybody does it.

Speaking to reporters following Cambodia’s gold-medal match loss to vengeful Gilas Pilipinas, Savaya brushed off the criticism his team was getting after fielding no less than five American players to massively boost its medal hopes.

“We are doing the same like they did 10 years ago,” said the outspoken Armenian-Lebanese mentor. “Thailand, everybody. Philippines, everybody have naturalized [players], it’s okay. I’m not even going to talk about it.”

To Savaya’s credit, Cambodia did not place any limits on naturalized players playing in any sport, which tremendously helped the first-time SEA Games host reach an 81-gold medal finish at fourth overall, a stratospheric increase from its previous gold record of 17 way back in the 1971 Kuala Lumpur Games.

This naturalization spree, however, came at the cost of widespread public scrutiny, as players and spectators publicly questioned the integrity of future SEA Games as a means to celebrate the region’s best homegrown athletes.

The Philippine 5-on-5 men’s basketball team, for its part, only had one naturalized Filipino in longtime PBA import Justin Brownlee, while the rest of the squad were mostly homegrown players and Filipino-foreigner standouts.

Other basketball teams like Indonesia and Thailand also stuck with minimal reinforcements, opting to also mostly field homegrown talent.

Regardless of what the public thought about his team, Savaya is fully proud of what it has accomplished in this recently concluded SEA Games, and had no problem soaking up the jeers that came along the way.

“My guys did everything. I’m proud of them,” he said. “Thank you to the Cambodia fans. They were here, they supported us. Win or lose, they’re with us. I love Cambodia and I’m so proud to fight for Cambodia.” –

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