Starweek Magazine

The good from the bad

- Maria Jorica B. Pamintuan -

MANILA, Philippines –  To say that Compton, Los Angeles is a rough neighborhood would be an understatement. Notorious for gang activity and drug problems, the city was ranked the 8th most dangerous in America by the CQ Press in 2010.

But for lifelong Compton resident Sudan Daniel, the city is home. The 22-year-old center for the San Beda Red Lions grew up seeing the violence in his neighborhood and vowed never to become part of it.

Instead, he turned to basketball as an escape from the hostile environment. He had long been playing for fun with family or friends but didn’t really take the sport seriously. It wasn’t until he started playing for the Reaching More Foundation, a summer league that helped kids go to college, that playing in a formal basketball association became an option. The organization would invite scouts to watch the games and draft players for their teams, enabling the lucky talented few to go to school on sports scholarships and funding.

It was through the foundation’s owner that Sudan met Lions coach Frankie Lim, who was in the States with the team training in Los Angeles. The coach was looking for guys who were 6’7” and above and interested in going to Manila to study and play for the school. Sudan, along with a few others from his league, was invited to join them. After a day’s work, he received a ticket to the Philippines.

“He was the type of player we were looking for. He was tall. He had long arms and legs. He could run with us,” Coach Frankie says, explaining why he chose Sudan out of the seven he had seen.

When he received the call, the 6’7” player chose to accept Coach Frankie’s offer to go to Manila and play for San Beda because he had long been yearning for a better life outside California.

“It was nothing but perfect timing. I felt like it was the right thing, that God showed me the right path to take – so, I chose the Philippines. I knew it would be a great decision and a great experience,” the 2010 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Most Valuable Player says.

Since arriving three years ago, Sudan says he hasn’t been wrong in expecting amazing experiences in the country. When not on the hard court or in class working towards his degree in Marketing, he’s out and about immersing himself in the Philippine culture.

But even though he’s open-minded about most of the traditions, customs and food, he draws the line at one particularly infamous part of Philippine cuisine: balut (fertilized duck egg). Definitely not alone in his aversion to the delicacy, Sudan says, “I saw it on Fear Factor before I came here. And now, I keep telling myself, I’m not on Fear Factor, I don’t have to eat it.”

Apart from his struggles with balut, the basketball champ says he’s been making the most of what he calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He has traveled to more places around the archipelago than some Filipinos, reaching as far as Cebu, Bulacan, Cavite, Tagaytay, Subic and of course, Boracay, which he cites as his hands-down favorite local destination.

However, more than the places, it is the faces of the Philippines that have really endeared the country to him. In school, Sudan seems to know everyone in the San Beda community. He high-fives – or rather, low-fives – practically all the people he passes, from security guards and custodians to fellow students and teammates.

“They took me in with open arms. I know that everyone here in the Bedan community, even our alumni supporters, are all family,” he says, adding, “The people here are very hospitable, very nice and loving.”

Loving, indeed – Sudan admits to having a Filipina girlfriend, an intern for a company whose products he is endorsing. Ironically, his lady love, though Pinas-born, now lives in the United States. The two met while she was in the Philippines on a summer internship. They see each other a few times a year, whenever Sudan takes a trip to the motherland.

Sudan Daniel celebrates San Beda’s historic 18-0 record on their way to the NCAA championship. STAR photos by JUN MENDOZA

Fortunately, though many miles stand between him and his girlfriend, another love is close by to fill the gap: basketball. Filipino basketball players are very passionate, he says.

“By any means, they want to win. I mean, so does everyone, but they’re willing to lay it all on the floor, leave it all on the court, give their 110 percent,” Sudan says, adding that the teamwork practiced by Filipino players is something he admires.

What he seems most impressed with, however, are the Filipino basketball coaches. He loves the way they use their brains and use a lot of different strategies in the games – even calling some coaches “geniuses.”

The feeling is mutual. Coach Frankie is impressed with him too, even giving Sudan’s performance in the latest season a perfect 10. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, though. When the California native first came here, he couldn’t adjust to the nuances of playing basketball Philippine-style, says his coach.

“He was almost a complete failure. That was the time we lost the championship to San Sebastian,” says Frankie, but adds that rather than give up on their new recruit, he and the rest of the Lions devoted time to helping Sudan. After months of training, the team headed into the NCAA games anew and Coach Frankie could only describe Sudan’s performance as a “complete turnaround.”

Sudan not only helped the San Beda Red Lions regain the NCAA basketball championship (not to mention the historic 18-0 sweep), but was also the MVP, one of the Critical Five, and one of the press corps’ choices for 2010’s top five college basketball players.

The coach attributes the change to Sudan’s willingness to be coached, to improve. “It was just making him realize his value in the team for us to be successful.”

For his part, Sudan says that his first year was a pivotal point in his career that made him recheck his values and flaws and motivated him to do better for the team.

With only two years left in school, Sudan is already thinking of pursuing a professional career in basketball once he graduates.

“My first option is to apply for dual citizenship. If they would have me, I would love to play in the PBA,” he says, adding that going back to the States and playing for the NBA was only his last option.

However, he hasn’t turned his back on his home country. He still visits as often as he can and tries to talk to the kids in Compton, encouraging them to keep trying. He also promotes Philippine tourism while in America, always telling his friends “at least just to visit, if not to stay.”

Perhaps the Philippines’ biggest fan, Sudan has already mastered a bit of Tagalog (he can’t speak it with the accent, though!), and seems dead set on making the 7,107 islands his permanent home.

An American expat once said that nothing good comes out Compton. Well, Sudan Daniel is proof that that isn’t true – because he certainly has brought a bit of good to the Philippines.

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