Tallest rookie learns PBA ropes
- Joaquin M. Henson () - January 24, 2004 - 12:00am
Joachim (Sonny) Thoss, the tallest rookie picked in this year’s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) draft, isn’t worried about playing behind Ali Peek and E. J. Feihl in Alaska’s center rotation.

"I’m not in a hurry," says the 6-7, 215-pound Thoss whose father Joachim, Sr. was an East German border guard patrolling the Berlin Wall before it crumbled. "I’m not concerned about playing time. I’m just hoping to gain experience–whether at practice or during games."

Described as an outstanding project by Aces team manager Joaqui Trillo, Thoss is getting more than he bargained for in coach Tim Cone’s twice a day workouts. But he doesn’t mind the baptism of fire. Thoss understands it comes with the territory.

"Yeah, I’m getting beat up at practice," he says. "It’s tough. Once in a while, I score or grab a rebound or get a stop, if Ali lets me. But it’s not too bad. I’m learning a lot from coach Tim. My teammates take me aside and give me pointers. I like Alaska’s system, the atmosphere and the organization. The guy I hang out with after practice is Stephen Padilla. I see my role as giving Ali and E. J. a quick break. I think I’ll be able to contribute more in offense than defense at the start."

Thoss, 22, says he’s comfortable playing the low block or the high post. "I can play with my back to the basket or face up," he notes. "Coach mixes it up at practice but majority of the time, I play low post. I know I’ve got to bulk up, add at least 10 more pounds. I think I’ll be doing weights starting next week. As for the triangle offense, I played a bit of it in Australia although coach Tim has different variations which we’re still breaking down."

Asked to single out the PBA player he respects most, Thoss points to Asi Taulava without hesitation. "He’s a monster," says Thoss.

Thoss didn’t take basketball seriously until five years ago. He was born in Papua New Guinea where his father, a carpenter, works in construction projects. His mother Jesusa Marticio is from Cebu. His parents met by mail and were pen pals until they got married. Thoss is their only child. His mother, a widow, was married previously.

"I speak Cebuano fluently but not Tagalog," says Thoss. "My mother shuttles back and forth from Cebu to Port Moresby and back. My father makes it a point to bring us together every Christmas in Cebu. He left for New Guinea four days before the draft but my mom is still in town."

Obviously, Thoss inherited his father’s height which is 6-6. His mother is 5-3. Coincidentally, Thoss’ girlfriend Kathleen Lim, a La Salle student, is 5-4.

It was destiny for Thoss to play for Alaska. And it’s not because there’s another Fil-German, Feihl, in the Aces lineup.

"Sonny was whom we wanted to pick first," reveals Trillo. "And Alaska was his choice from the beginning. We were jumping up and down when FedEx got Marc (Pingris) and Ranidel (de Ocampo) because that left Sonny for us."

Thoss says there is a dearth of basketball competition in New Guinea and only played in one-day tournaments for Port Moresby high school. He moved to James Cook University in Australia in 1999 and his eyes were opened to basketball.

Thoss trained under Aaron Fearne, the Cairns Taipans assistant coach in the National Basketball League (NBL), and made steady progress playing for the Marlins farm team in the Australian Basketball Association (ABA). The ABA is to the NBL what the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) is to the PBA. He was voted the ABA’s Most Improved Player in 2001 and named to the league’s under-23 squad.

"Coach Aaron taught me everything from scratch–how to shoot, footwork, defense, the fundamentals," says Thoss. "Then, he got me to play the Taipans at practice. I learned a lot playing with NBL guys like Anthony Stewart, Kane Oakley and Tony Rampton."

In the ABA, Thoss was introduced to a Fil-Am player Nate Tate, a 6-4 Townsville guard who was born in Cebu. "I reckon he could play easily in the PBL, maybe even in the PBA," says Thoss of the 28-year-old Tate.

"The Filipino style is different from the way the game is played in Australia," remarks Thoss. "It’s more physical here. There’s a lot more bumping and grinding."

Thoss–who idolizes Michael Jordan–says among his co-rookies, Yap is a cinch to make an immediate impact.

As for himself, Thoss isn’t selling himself short but realizes he’s got to do a lot more work to stick in the PBA. "I’m working on my post moves, positioning, timing, shooting and defense," he notes. "My assets? They tell me I’m quick for my size. I think I’m consistent from shooting 15 feet in. I’ve got a hook shot and a short jumper."

Thoss says he hopes to enjoy a long career here. "I’m looking forward to five to 10 years in the PBA," he adds. "My agent Mike Gonzalez wants me to go to the US for training. I’ve never been to the US. Outside of New Guinea, Australia and the Philippines, I’ve only been to Germany where my father took me when I was 10. Playing in Australia, in the NBL, is a possibility. Playing in the NBA (National Basketball Association) is a dream. But right now, my focus is on the PBA. I’ve done a year in the PBL and I think I’m ready for the PBA."

Thoss–this year’s fifth overall rookie pick–could turn out to be the steal of the draft.

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