Christian Standhardinger may be a new face in the Philippine basketball scene, but it's obvious he's not one to shy away from any challenge.
Take the case of the recent tune-up game between Gilas Pilipinas and the Alaska Aces, when Standhardinger became a picture of defiance after engaging in a series of exchanges with Calvin Abueva, a master at playing mind games.
The 6-foot-8 refused to be intimidated by "The Beast" for most of their matchup, even going the full mile and trading barbs with Abueva at centercourt during a break in the action. They made like cowboys on the verge of an epic showdown in high noon.
Standhardinger would have the last laugh over Abueva as Gilas prevailed, 120-117, in one of its scheduled tune-up games for the 39th William Jones Cup. The two later played down their heated battle, with Abueva praising his foe's composure.
"May konting pikon lang siya na nangyari, pero hindi nawawala game niya," Abueva acknowledged.
The exchange highlighted an impressive string of tune-ups for Standhardinger, the 28-year-old Fil-German who was tapped to become part of the Gilas pool for international tournaments, beginning with the said prestigious tournament in Taiwan.
New main man?
While some may expect him to be Gilas' new go-to-guy, Standhardinger's play speaks otherwise. He seems at ease with Gilas' dribble-drive offense, scoring off pick-and-rolls and displaying hustle and physicality on both ends.
"It's my Filipino mentality," Standhardinger tells old FHM when asked of his playing style. "It's the fire, it's the Filipino fire, puso."
Standhardinger was born July 4, 1989 to German father Gunter and Filipino mother Liz Hermoso. As a youngster, he was into a variety of sports, playing football until age 12, while trying other disciplines such as swimming, bowling, and tennis.
His Filipino grandfather Pablo Hermoso influenced him to give basketball a go—and, not long after, the game became the apple of Standhardinger's eyes. The two bonded so well on the hardcourt that they played almost everyday, with Lolo Pablo teaching his grandson basic hoops skills.
"I played many sports, but basketball was my favorite," he says. "I think it's the most beautiful game there is."
This love for the game started a journey that would lead him to his mother's homeland, though not right way. He signed a professional contract in 2006 as a teenager for Ehingen Urspring, a German second division club. Standhardinger also represented Germany in the 2007 European U-18 Championship, with one scouting report noting his 16-point showing against Israel, and 15-point, five-rebound outing versus Russia.
It was those stints that opportunities for him to go to America, where he played for Nebraska in the US NCAA beginning in 2009. His stint with the Cornhuskers lasted two seasons. He then moved to Hawaii after his initial transfer to La Salle had been rescinded because of a police citation for public indecency.
He had his best collegiate seasons at University of Hawaii, averaging 15.8 points and 7.9 rebounds in his junior season in 2013, followed by a career-best 18.1 points and 5.5 rebounds in his final year of eligibility in 2014.
In 2015, he returned to Germany to resume his pro career, suiting up for Mitteldeutscher in 2015 before signing with his current team SC Rasta Vechta. Behind the scenes, Gilas was setting its sights on making him don the national team uniform. That came to fruition months earlier when national coach Chot Reyes announced his inclusion in the roster for next month's Southeast Asian Games.
Standhardinger arrived late last month, the first time he's been to the country since he was a little kid. He slowly familiarized himself with the system while trying to mesh with the likes of PBA rookies Roger Pogoy and Matthew Wright, and amateur standouts such as Kiefer Ravena and Ray Parks Jr., among others.
It didn't take long for him to make an impact. He played a key part in Gilas' come-from-behind win over the NLEX Road Warrios in its first tune-up game last July 5. Standhardinger received a pass from Ravena and converted the go-ahead basket that completed Gilas' 25-point comeback to win, 113-112.
Two days later, Standhardinger was active on both ends of the floor, benefiting from entry passes and crashing the boards to help Gilas beat the Blackwater Elite, 105-101. Few days after the Alaska scrimmage, Gilas had an impromptu tune-up with the Phoenix Fuel Masters, where he had an interesting battle with resident bruiser Doug Kramer.
Kramer scored a three-point play off Standhardinger, punctuating his and-1 with a few choice words for the new big man on the block. He then countered with his own three-point play off Kramer, much to the delight of the Gilas players and a few observers.
"The guy's tough, he's not gonna backoff from everyone, and that's what we like about him," said Reyes.
His performances have led to speculation about his potential entry in the PBA. Observers see him as a potential high-draft choice should he decide to place his name in the hat. But while rave reviews are nice and neat, how Standhardinger will measure up against some of the world's best is the climax everyone's excited to see.
He'll face stiff competition in the Jones Cup where teams from Canada, Lithuania and the traditional Asian contenders Iran, Japan, and South Korea are participating. Then there's next month's FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon where he could be tapped in case some PBA owners keep their Gilas pros from joining the international meet. The SEA Games will also test his resolve, but not that much; experts say Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia could spring a surprise or two, but not enough to disrupt the country's bid for a 12th consecutive gold medal.
Minutes after the game against the Aces ended, Standhardinger was mobbed by fans at the lobby of the Gatorade Hoops Center, granting as many photo requests as he could. Those same fans were perhaps impressed with his stellar play that Saturday afternoon. Many more will get a chance to see what kind of a player he is when Gilas finally plays in the Jones Cups today.
They're hoping he'll be a perfect fit.