Ex-import now bank executive
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - October 26, 2011 - 12:00am

Not too many fans know that former PBA import Donnie Ray Koonce, who played on two Toyota title teams in 1982, is now a senior vice president in charge of custom mortgage underwriting with Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Koonce, 52, played three seasons in the PBA with Toyota in 1982, San Miguel Beer in 1983 and Alaska in 1986. He initially came as a replacement for original import Arnold Dugger and led Toyota to the Reinforced crown, edging San Miguel, 4-3, in the best-of-seven finals under coach Ed Ocampo in 1982. Then, Koonce teamed with Andy Fields to power Toyota to the Open title, blanking Gilbey’s Gin, 3-0, in the best-of-five finals under Ocampo once more. Koonce was named the PBA’s Best Import in the Open conference.

In his final PBA season, Koonce suited up for Alaska in the Reinforced and Open conferences. The 6-3 guard from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte combined with Jerry Eaves for Alaska in the Reinforced conference. He took a bad fall on a Vic (Rambo) Sanchez nudge during the tournament and was never the same again. Still, Alaska wound up fourth in a creditable finish with Koonce averaging 27.5 points. 

Koonce returned to join Norman Black as Alaska’s twin imports in the Open conference but was cut after five games to make room for Keith Morrison. In all, Koonce played in 136 PBA games, averaging 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He shot 52 percent from the field and 80.7 percent from the line.

Koonce is remembered by PBA old-time fans as a smooth operator and cool backcourt orchestrator. He was a picture of poise. He was a class act from his first PBA game to his last.

PBA fan Jimmy Fojas, who is based in San Francisco, recently sent word that Koonce is reaching out to his Filipino friends. Fojas was chiefly responsible for reconnecting Billy Ray Bates to the PBA and paving the way for his return to Manila. 

“Donnie Ray just wants to share his experience in life after basketball and his daughter’s achievements and goals,” said Fojas. “His daughter (Amber) is really doing well. Of course, Donnie Ray’s doing very well, too.”

* * * *

Amber, 21, is one of Koonce’s two children. She is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and according to her proud father, is featured in the current issue of Glamour Magazine as a social entrepreneur. Amber’s dream is to be an international children’s rights attorney for UNICEF. She studied government at Princeton’s summer school to prepare for her future career.

Glamour Magazine wrote about Amber and explained why she’s amazing: “Two years ago, Amber, a public policy and African and Afro-American studies double major, volunteered in Ghana. ‘I’d be excited to go to a place where my natural hair and features would be embraced,’ she says. But there, she found women who were unhappy with their looks. ‘One told me that she aspired to marry a white man so her kids wouldn’t look like her.’ Amber had a theory why. ‘Ghanaian girls had blond-haired, blue-eyed dolls that didn’t resemble them at all,’ she says. So when she returned to the States, Amber founded BeautyGap which ships black dolls to Ghana and Kenya to show children a new beauty idea. She’s also supporting young people in another way – by working in juvenile detention centers as far away as Ghana and Scotland and as close to home as Durham, North Carolina, where she spends Saturday afternoons helping young offenders envision a future without crime.”

How does Amber unwind? “I listen to musical soundtracks – they energize me,” she was quoted as revealing in Glamour Magazine.

As for Koonce, he was born the fifth of seven children to the late Isaac and Bertha Koonce. His father died in 1962 when he was only three. Koonce was raised by a single mother with his brothers and sisters. His mother made sure her seven children were provided for and worked until she was 80.

“Having witnessed his mother’s determination to provide for her family, her life-long work in the community and caring ways, Donnie learned many of life’s lessons at an early age,” said a bioprofile on Koonce. “He took life’s challenges head-on and with the support of a loving family set out to accomplish his goals. As a result of his love of basketball and athleticism, Donnie had the good fortune of attending UNC Charlotte on a basketball scholarship. At UNC Charlotte, not only did he earn a B.A. in Economics but he won several academic awards as well as having a distinguished basketball career. He was elected co-captain his senior year and had the privilege of being drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1981. Upon his release by the Pistons, Donnie’s pursuit of his dream of playing professional basketball took him to places such as Atlantic City, Manila and Evansville.”

* * * *

After hanging up his sneakers, Koonce decided to return to school and earned an MBA at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His wife Masherrill, also an achiever, finished with a doctorate in optometry.

In 1993, Koonce and his wife went back to Charlotte where they still live with Amber and son Rhett, 16, a South Mecklenburg High School junior. Today, Koonce is a Bank of America executive and a community leader. He does volunteer work as a coach in recreational basketball, soccer and baseball leagues, is involved with an area Boy Scout Troop where his son is a Life Scout and is an adjunct professor at Johnson C. Smith University. Koonce has served on the boards of the Hornet’s Nest Girl Scouts Council, the Alumni Board of Governors of UNC Charlotte where he was a former president and the 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte as president.

Several other former imports have become celebrities in their own right. Norman Black and Bobby Parks settled in Manila and are enjoying successful coaching careers. Leon Wood became an NBA referee and Keith Smart, an NBA head coach. Dell Demps is an executive with the San Antonio Spurs. Glenn McDonald is the director of intramural sports at Long Beach State and was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA. Michael Young is the director of basketball operations and performance enhancement at the University of Houston. Sean Chambers is coach of the Antelope High School girls varsity in Sacramento and owns the Just Believe Sports uniform manufacturing company. Lamont Strothers is the coach of the Warwick high school boys varsity in Newport News, Virginia. And of course, Bates is back in town. Some ex-imports who have passed away are Carlos Terry, Anthony Roberts, George Trapp, Bruce (Sky) King, Ronnie Thompkins, Jim Bradley and James Lister.

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