To naturalize or not?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson -
Here’s an intriguing question: Should the Philippine national basketball team recruit a naturalized player for the Asian Games in Pusan next year?

International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rules allow a member country to draft a single naturalized citizen – without the necessity of residence – on condition the player has never suited up for another national team. The previous rules stipulated a maximum of two naturalized players with a three-year prior notice to FIBA.

Now, let’s set the record straight. A Fil-Am isn’t a naturalized player. He enjoys the benefits and privileges of a Filipino citizen because one of his parents is or was Filipino. To obtain a Philippine passport, a Fil-Am doesn’t undergo a naturalization process which involves a court hearing or a presidential decree (if that’s still a legal option) to facilitate it. He only has to be cleared by the Bureau of Immigration.

A naturalized citizen is a foreigner who acquires the citizenship of his adopted country.

Naturalization and citizenship rules vary from country to country. In Germany, a foreigner born there automatically gains German citizenship. Take the case of National Basketball Association (NBA) center Shawn Bradley, who’s a full-blooded American. A Mormon, he was born in Landstuhl, West Germany. Bradley, 29, was allowed to play for Germany at the recent European championships because he is German-born. He was frank enough to admit that if he qualified to play for the US team, he wouldn’t even think of suiting up for Germany.

Unfortunately, the born-to-citizenship rule doesn’t apply to Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) star Alex Compton, a full-blooded American who was born here. Unless the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) makes an exception (which it should in his case), Compton will never be able to play in the league as a local – only as an import. And unless he swears in to change his citizenship, Compton will never be eligible to play for the Philippine team.

If foreigners born here automatically gain Filipino citizenship like Bradley in Germany, two NCAA Division I players (aside from Compton who played at Cornell) would be eligible for the national team – 6-2 point guard Tony Rutland of Wake Forest University and 6-6 forward Phil Rodman of Boise State. Both Rutland and Rodman (Dennis’ half-brother) were born in the Philippines. Rutland, incidentally, played with Tim Duncan at Wake Forest and earned a reputation as a heady playmaker and deadly three-point shooter. Rodman has played several years in the Australian minor league.

The practice of enlisting a naturalized player to boost the stock of a national team is common and isn’t considered an embarrassment to the flag. The US – powerful as it is in international hoops – didn’t hesitate to recruit Panamanian Rolando Blackman, Jamaican Pat Ewing, and Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon as naturalized players in previous national squads. Japan drafted 6-9 center Dan Weiss of Santa Clara as a naturalized player to combine with Jap-Am Michael Dorsey, who was renamed Maikeru Takahashi, in its national team.

Australia has made it a habit to pick a naturalized player for each international competition in the recent past, whether the Olympics or the World Championships or the Oceania zonal qualifications. Ricky Grace, an NBA veteran, saw action for Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. At the Oceania zonal qualifications for the World Championships two months ago, Darryl McDonald played for Australia as a naturalized citizen.

Spain drafts foreigners married to locals as naturalized players for its national team. Mike Smith of South Carolina is a prime example of an American who gained Spanish citizenship by marrying a Spaniard. Pioneers of this naturalization route were Cliff Luyk of South Florida, Antonio Sibilio of the Dominican Republic, Juan Domingo de la Cruz of Argentina, and Walter Szczerbiak of George Washington.

You’d be surprised at how many ex-PBA imports are naturalized citizens of adopted countries. The list includes Daren Queenan (Belgium), Jeff Wilkins (Belgium), Jeff Taylor (Sweden), Ron Davis (Belgium), Bernard Harris (Finland), Larry Pounds (Finland), Derrick Taylor (Germany), and Derek Rucker (Australia).

Then, there is Lebanon –second only to China at the recent Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) joust in Shanghai. Lebanon’s coach is former NBA gunner Johnny Neumann of Mississippi. Lebanon recruited 6-11 Joe Vogel of Colorado State as its naturalized player at the ABC tilt in Shanghai and is likely to bring the burly, 240-pound center to the World Championships in Indianapolis next year. Vogel played as an import in Japan before becoming a Lebanese citizen. He played four years for coach Stew Morrill at Colorado State and as a senior in 1995-96, averaged 10.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocked shots (tops in the Western Athletic Conference) a game. Vogel shot 48.9 percent from the field and 72.3 percent from the line that season.

In 1985-86, the Philippines suited up a pair of naturalized players – Jeff Moore of Loyola at Marymount and Dennis Still of South Alabama – for the ABC tournament in Kuala Lumpur. Coach Ron Jacobs piloted the nationals to an 82-72 decision over China in the championship game. Allan Caidic shot 22 points to lead the Filipino attack. Samboy Lim added 16, Still 14, and Moore 13. Franz Pumaren hit 8, Elmer Reyes 5, Hector Calma 2, and Yves Dignadice 2. Others in the lineup were Tonichi Yturri, Alfie Almario, Jerry Codinera, and Pido Jarencio.

So, under FIBA rules, the Philippines may enlist a naturalized player. If the national coach – whoever he is – takes that option, who will that naturalized player be? Long-time local residents Norman Black, Bobby Parks, and Darryl Smith immediately come to mind. But are they Philippine passport holders? Besides, Black and Smith are now 44 and Parks just turned 40. What about Sonny Alvarado? Ah, but naturalization won’t solve his eligibility problem in the PBA because the league doesn’t consider a naturalized player as a local.

Readers, speak out. Do you think the national team should enlist a naturalized player for the Asian Games next year? And if yes, who should be recruited as a naturalized player? Leave out Michael Jordan from your list. He’s too busy trying to make the Washington Wizards a contender in the NBA.

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