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Riven Ma: Being teammates with Kai Sotto and taking inspiration from KD, Lin Chih-Chieh
TAPEI (Chinese Taipei) - Over the past year, there was an Asian prospect playing at The Skill Factory (TSF) Prep School in Atlanta, Georgia. While most will be quick to name Filipino prodigy Kai Sotto as that player, he wasn't the only up-and-coming Asian player there.
Playing side by side, Sotto at TSF was Ma Chien-Hao or Riven Ma, a forward from Chinese Taipei.
Ma Chien-Hao, FIBA U18 Asian Championship 2018
Ma joined the Atlanta-based prep school in 2019, following a busy 2018 calendar year. He was a key scoring option for the youth teams in both the U16 and U18 Asian Championships squads, highlighted by a 25-point outing against Korea in the U18 competition. Though they never got the chance to play against each other in those tournaments, Ma and Sotto got to get glimpses of each other before they became teammates at TSF.
"In the beginning, I just chatted with him. He told me that we could finally become teammates," said Ma of their relationship in an exclusive interview with DongTW. "We have been in different positions, but now he was looking forward to being my teammate. We became good friends."
Before Ma returned to Taipei, he recalls that Sotto expressed some slight disappointment that they had to become opponents once again.
"Right," Ma replied in friendly banter. "And I will definitely find a way to defeat you and the Philippines!"
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Ma's decision to go for a year at prep school in the US after his youth national team duties were to improve himself further and prepare for a bright future ahead. Not only did he get to improve skills, but he was also groomed to develop a psychological edge on the court.
"The most important thing [I learned] in the US is the competitive mentality," said Ma. "Our coach said that when the ball is loose, we must pounce before the opposition to grab it. I didn't know that at first, and he would scold me."
Ma recalls being inspired, leading him to start diving for loose balls that were only centimeters from going out of bounds.
"When I came back [to Taipei], I felt that kind of basketball was very enthusiastic and had a fierce, competitive feeling. For example, when you are defending and someone goes past you, they will say that you are very slow and very weak. You can't let them say that. Next time, you have to stop him."
It definitely wasn't easy for Ma to go through the process. Even before he left Taipei, he had to take an online class three times a week to improve his English level. Once he arrived in the US, he had to deal with the fact that he was nearly 13,000 kilometers away from home.
"I was homesick," Ma admitted. "I had to tell myself that I'm not at home right now. Just told myself I have to hone my game. I had more time, so I'd go to the gym at night, and I'd practice shooting or do some weight training."
All of this effort is so that Ma can follow through towards his expected achievements in his basketball career. Ma is focused on getting to play in the NCAA and, of course, playing for the Chinese Taipei national team in the future.
Throughout his time overseas, Ma has also gotten the advice from guys like "James" Sun Szu-Yao and "Oscar" Kao Kuo-Hao. These two players not only embarked on the same path of playing at the collegiate level in the US, but they also graduated from the same high school - Song Shan Senior High (SSSH) - as Ma.
"[Oscar] told me I really have to try my best and don't think about anything else," said Ma. "He told me if I wanted to play in the US, it would be very difficult. I told him in the beginning that even though I played well, I can't score. He told me not to think about it. He said if I want to make some college coaches recruit me, then I had to play like this."
Like many in his generation, Ma's first inspiration to pick up the sport was watching Jeremy Lin. From there, Ma discovered the joy of basketball and decided he would keep on playing. Disappointment in a Junior High tournament further added fuel Ma's to his fiery passion towards basketball.
"We were a good team, but in the last few games, we didn't play well. We hoped that we could get to the Semi-Finals or even win it all, but in the end we only finished at 6th place. At the time, I felt that I needed a lot more practice and wanted to have more success in the future."
He continued to work and develop into becoming one of the top youth talents in the country. With his combined skill set as a scorer and lanky size, Ma started getting compared to another player with similar qualities: Kevin Durant.
From that point on, Ma has put in the work to model his game after the 2-time Olympics gold medalist and FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010 MVP.
Kevin Durant, FIBA Basketball World Cup 2010
"I think it was in high school when my coach would often ask me to learn from [Durant], whether it's his crossover or his jumper," Ma said. "He thinks my body is similar to KD. I hope I can be as good as him. Sometimes when I watch the highlights of his game, I will analyze his steps, movements, and shot selection. Then I will go over and over again to learn from it repeatedly."
Aside from stars like Durant, Ma also takes inspiration from stars closer to home in "The Beast" Lin Chih-Chieh. Unsurprisingly, his favorite game-watching Lin play, was from their memorable Asia Cup run.
"Of course, it was Asia Cup 2013," said Ma. "At the time, I watched the live broadcast at home. At first, we were still quite behind and I thought we would definitely lose. Then, I watched patiently and the seniors were very tough and united. In the end, we defeated the China. That game was the most impressive game I had seen of my life."
"[Lin Chih-Chieh's] style of play, his efforts, his technique, he looks like his nickname. Like "The Beast." I was very motivated, and I wanted to learn to be like this."
Lin Chih-Chieh, FIBA Asia Cup 2013
Their styles of play may be different, but Ma is doing as much as he can to improve himself so that he, too, can contribute to the success of Chinese Taipei basketball at the international level just like Lin. Not only does he have high hopes for him, but he's also confident of how his generation will step up to the challenge.
"I hope, and I also feel that whenever we represent Chinese Taipei next time, we can help the national team fight back to come powers in the Asia Cup once again."