Fil-Am Jimmy Alapag: Big Little Man
- Joaquin M. Henson () - February 28, 2002 - 12:00am
Jimmy Alapag was scratched from the list of eligibles for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) draft this year because his Department of Justice (DOJ) clearance didn’t make the deadline.

Alapag, 24, was born in the US and needed the DOJ’s go-signal to play as a local in the PBA.

Despite the setback, Alapag was invited to join the national team tryouts by coach Joseph Uichico. Obviously, Uichico saw something in Alapag that he liked. Alapag was picked to play for the Selecta squad but PBA commissioner Jun Bernardino ruled that he wouldn’t be allowed to suit up without his DOJ clearance.

So far, Selecta has played three games in the Samsung Governors Cup without Alapag whose DOJ clearance remains pending. Selecta’s next game is against Hapee, the other national squad, at the PhilSports Arena this Sunday.

Alapag’s status is day-to-day and his agent Chiqui de la Rosa, a Filipino based in Los Angeles, doesn’t know what’s holding up the DOJ clearance.

A few weeks ago, Alapag was summoned to the DOJ office because insiders close to Secretary Nani Perez said they wanted to see what he looked like. Alapag was told his papers were on Perez’ desk for signing and the clearance would be issued after his personal appearance.

De la Rosa says Alapag was at the DOJ office from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., met Perez briefly, and was later told by the Secretary’s staff to be patient.

"We don’t know what’s going on," sighs de la Rosa. "Jimmy’s papers are in order. The DOJ rejected the applications of (Jeffrey) Flowers and (Chris) Clay because their papers were incomplete. But not Jimmy’s. Anyone can see he’s a full-blooded Filipino. His papers are supposed to be ready for the secretary’s signature. But I’m told the Secretary doesn’t want to be pressured. We’re not pressuring anybody. We’re just waiting. We’re being patient."

De la Rosa confides that Alapag has been invited to play in the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) but his priority is to play for the country. "This is not about money," says de la Rosa. "Jimmy wants to play for the Philippines. He was told last Thursday his clearance would be issued and when it wasn’t, he was almost in tears. He asked me what to do. I advised him to just hold on."

Uichico isn’t promising a slot for Alapag but doesn’t discount the possibility of the 5-9, 170-pound guard making it to the Asian Games in Busan. "Jong told me Jimmy can help the national team – that’s good enough for me," says de la Rosa.

Alapag says his chances to be named to the final 12 are as good as anybody’s. "I think I’m holding my own in the tryouts," he adds. "I hope I’ve earned my teammates’ respect. I’m just counting my blessings that I was given a chance to try out."

Alapag says being a rookie without PBA experience isn’t necessarily a handicap. "Coach Jong pushes us to work with different players," he continues. "The competition in the pool is intense but positive because we all want to achieve the same goal. We’re like a family. Even if I’m a rookie, all the guys are really supportive and I’m grateful to Asi (Taulava), Olsen (Racela), Johnny (Abarrientos), Eric (Menk), Boyet (Fernandez), Patrick (Fran), and the rest of the guys for that."

What caught his teammates’ attention was when he dunked with two hands on his first day of practice. Alapag, who boasts a 40-inch vertical leap, credits his incredible jumping ability to trainer Curtis Dodds. "I used to lift weights at Curtis’ gym, Iron Works, back in Los Angeles five to six days a week," he notes.

Although he’s usually the smallest man on the court, Alapag says his size isn’t a liability because of his quickness.

In the pro-am summer leagues at Carson City and Long Beach last year, Alapag proved he’s no pushover playing against National Basketball Association (NBA) stars. He quarterbacked a team called the NBA Pros whose mainstays included Penny Hardaway, Bo Outlaw, Shawn Marion, and Derek Strong. Alapag went up against the likes of Baron Davis and wasn’t embarrassed. In a game against UCLA alumni, Alapag compiled 15 points and 10 assists in 25 minutes. The UCLA stars included Toby Bailey, Jelani McCoy, and Tracy Murray. Another team that Alapag faced was an All-Star selection led by Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and Chris Mills.

De la Rosa says his protégé’s performance in the pro-am leagues was a revelation. "What I like about him is he plays without a wasted motion," notes de la Rosa. "He’s a natural point guard. He likes to pass but can also shoot the three – so you can’t leave him open. He can go to the basket, put the ball down, and drive strong. He’s disciplined and a really nice guy. He’s not a fancy player – he sticks to the basics."

Alapag, the youngest of eight children, started playing ball at the age of three. When he was six, Alapag joined leagues for eight-year-olds. He learned the game from older brothers George, 38, and Crispin, Jr., 30.

Alapag’s father Crispin, 62, was born in Southern Leyte and mother Aurora Olmedo, 56, is from Butuan City. They met and married in Quezon City. In 1969, his father migrated to the US, found work as an accountant, and later brought his family to settle in Upland City, about 45 minutes from Los Angeles.

Alapag averaged 15 points and nine assists as a senior at Upland High. He led the varsity to its first league title in 25 years. Alapag went on to play two years for California State at San Bernardino where he hit at a 14-point clip and dished off seven assists an outing. Two years ago, he graduated with a Liberal Studies degree.

Alapag was less than a year old when his parents brought him here for a visit. He returned six years ago to play for a Fil-Am touring team in the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) Vis-Min Cup. Then, he came back last year on San Miguel Beer consultant Ron Jacobs’ invitation to apply for the PBA draft.

Who helped in polishing his game? Alapag points to his high school coaches Jeff Klein and Derek Winn and San Bernardino mentor Larry Reynolds. As for his hoop idols, he singles out NBA stars Allen Iverson and John Stockton because "they’re fast, athletic – they make good decisions and can knock down the big shots."

Without a PBA mother team, Alapag relies on the P500 allowance he gets for every national team practice and de la Rosa’s generosity. To save on expenses, he rooms with Sta. Lucia Realty import Lelan McDougal whose agent is also de la Rosa.

Alapag will be eligible for the PBA draft next year. "I hope to play in the PBA as long as I can," he says. "My dream is to earn enough to give back to my family. I’d like my father to retire, come here, and watch me play. I’d like to send my nephew to a good school and get him to play serious ball. My nephew, Kevin White, is my sister’s son – he’s 6-1, 18, and a college freshman. My goal is to win as many championships for my team. Individual honors look good but a player is judged by the rings he’s earned."

Alapag says when he gets homesick, he calls long distance to talk to his family. He has no girlfriend – he just split up with his steady of three years. So there are no romantic ties that bind, for the moment.

Since joining the national team tryouts, Alapag says his biggest thrill was getting his uniform No. 21 his brother Crispin’s number. He would’ve preferred No. 3, his college number, but Chris Jackson had first crack at it.

What about playing in the NBA?

"That’s every player’s dream," he says. "Maybe, in due time."

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