Ex-import found dead

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - October 5, 2003 - 12:00am
Former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) import Ronnie Thompkins, who once considered settling down here until he was banned from playing for drug use in 1996, is dead.

Thompkins, 36, was found lifeless in a New York hotel room last week and his mother Carla said, "Everybody is devastated." He succumbed to a suspected heart attack although cause of death was not confirmed pending the results of an autopsy.

Thompkins, a southpaw, earned a reputation as a volatile import in three PBA seasons. He once chased Ricky Relosa around the court, engaged Benny Cheng in a trash-talking match and brawled with the late Rey Cuenco in the corridor outside the dressing room at the Cuneta Astrodome.

But despite his flare-ups, Thompkins was a heckuva player. He led Swift to the Commissioner’s Cup championship in 1993 and won Best Import honors in the process. Thompkins returned to play for coach Yeng Guiao in 1994. After a one-year absence from the PBA, he was back in a Purefoods uniform in 1996. Thompkins tested positive for drugs in his third season and was kicked out of the league for good.

According to writer David Mayo, Thompkins decided to retire from basketball this year and planned to move back to his Grand Rapids hometown with his wife and child. Mayo described Thompkins as Grand Rapids’ "finest homegrown talent."

Thompkins went to the Philippines after a disagreement with his Continental Basketball Association (CBA) coach Bruce Stewart. A report alleged that Thompkins threatened to burn Stewart’s house down in a message left on a telephone answering machine after they had a disagreement.

Before flying to Manila, Thompkins was charged in court for destruction of property. The talk was Thompkins surprised his girlfriend in her home one day and found her in bed with another man. Thompkins reportedly went into a rage and destroyed furniture and appliances in his two-timing girlfriend’s house. Thompkins had just flown back into town after playing in South America and wanted to surprise his girlfriend by arriving without prior notice. But it was Thompkins, not his girlfriend, who got a big surprise.

I remember asking Thompkins about the incident and he insisted someone was out to smear his name. He told me he was seriously thinking of living here permanently and he wouldn’t allow anyone to taint his reputation. He also told me his social life had nothing to do with basketball and I should stick to writing about the game. I explained that as a celebrity import, his life was–whether he liked it or not–an open book.

Thompkins toured the world playing the game he loved. He saw action in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Poland, Venezuela and the Philippines.

The 6-7 forward was cut thrice in tryouts for the Creston High varsity team. But he never gave up. He grew seven inches before his senior year and transferred to Lansing Sexton High. Thompkins made it to the Lansing team and in a tournament during his senior season, scored 34 points against Creston in a vengeful showing. He went on to play at Mott Community College and Kellogg Community College then suited up a year at Fort Hays State, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) powerhouse, in 1987-88. Thompkins was Fort Hays’ leading scorer and rebounder that campaign.

Thompkins was listed in Golden State coach Eric Mussellman’s cast of the best cagers never to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Other ex-PBA imports who have passed

away were George Trapp, Danny Knight, Bruce (Sky) King, Anthony Roberts and Jim Bradley.
* * *
Arthur (Chip) Engelland, who played two years in the PBA for the Northern Cement guest squad in 1984-85, was recently hired as an assistant coach for player development by the Denver Nuggets in the NBA.

Engelland, 42, would’ve played for the Philippines as a naturalized citizen but never got the chance. Because the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) allowed only two naturalized players per country, the Philippines suited up Jeff Moore and Dennis Still in the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) championships in Kuala Lumpur in 1986. The ex-Duke University guard saw action for San Miguel Corp. in the World Clubs Championships in Spain and Northern Cement in the Jones Cup in 1985. The Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) did not bring Engelland back to play for the country after 1986.

Today, the FIBA permits only one naturalized player per country. In the recent ABC championships in Harbin, Lebanon suited up naturalized citizen Joe Vogel of Colorado State. Vogel, a 6-11 center, was one of four Seattle SuperSonics second round picks in the 1996 NBA draft.

Engelland joins a coaching staff headed by Jeff Bzdelik. The other Denver assistant coaches are John MacLeod, T. R. Dunn, Adrian Dantley, Scott Brooks and Mandarin-speaking Hawaiian Jarrin Akana who sat on the Chinese bench at the World Championships in Indianapolis last year.

Engelland, known as "The Shooting Doctor," was hired to improve Juwan Howard’s shooting in Denver last season. Thanks to Chip, Howard raised his free throw clip to a career-high .803–the first time in his long career he went over the .800 mark. Apparently, Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe was so impressed that he offered Engelland a contract. Vandeweghe, however, let Howard go and the 6-9 forward was signed up by Orlando as a free agent.

Engelland has also worked on the shooting of Steve Kerr, Grant Hill and Chamique Holdsclaw. His focus of attention is now on 7-1 Nuggets sophomore Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

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