Ex-import revisits Manila
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Former PBA reinforcement Donnie Ray Koonce is in town to celebrate the 30th anniversary of capturing the Best Import honors in the 1982 Open Conference where he led the Toyota SuperCorollas to the championship with Andy Fields.

Koonce arrived two weeks ago with wife Masherrill and son Rhett to visit daughter Amber who is ending her six-month Manila assignment with the Henry Luce Foundation. The family spent the Christmas and New Year holidays here.

Koonce, 53, watched three PBA games during his visit. Yesterday, he was at the Cuneta Astrodome for Game 6 of the semifinal series between Talk ‘N’ Text and Alaska. Koonce was impressed by the development of Filipino players since he left the PBA in 1986. He played for Toyota in 1982, San Miguel Beer in 1983 and Alaska in 1986.

“My fondest memory of the PBA was playing on two Toyota championship teams,” said Koonce. “I’ll always be grateful to my teammates and management for welcoming me with open arms. It was my first time to play overseas. There wasn’t too much pressure on me to score because we had a lot of great scorers. My Toyota teammates included Robert Jaworski, Francis Arnaiz, Ramon Fernandez, Abe King, Danny Florencio, Emer Legaspi and Nic Bulaong. Then I played with San Miguel. My experience was just as memorable with teammates like Manny Paner and Marte Saldana. Finally, I played with Alaska in 1986.”

In his last season of PBA duty, Koonce suffered a bad fall and hurt his hip and leg during the Reinforced Conference where his import teammate was NBA veteran Jerry Eaves. He was never the same again after the fall that was a result of a mid-air nudge by Vic Sanchez. Koonce returned for the Open Conference with Alaska but was cut after five games and replaced by Keith Morrison. His last import partner was Norman Black.

“My wife visited when I played in the PBA but we hadn’t been back for close to 30 years,” he said. “So we decided to spend our holidays in Manila since Amber was doing work in the Philippines. I also wanted my son, who plays basketball for Washington University in St. Louis, to see where I once played. We’re enjoying our vacation, doing a lot of shopping, sightseeing, meeting old friends and just relaxing. I got to talk to Sonny (Jaworski), Norman and Tommy Manotoc.”

Koonce also reconnected with former MICAA cager Tom Randall, a Christian minister who lived in the country from 1979 to1996. The other day, he visited the Sankey Samaritan Orphanage that Randall and his wife Karen established in Lucena, Quezon. Although Randall now lives in Oklahoma, he continues to be active in Christian work in the country. “I met Tom when I was playing in the PBA and we’ve been friends a long time,” said Koonce. “We visit each other in the US. I visited his orphanage in Quezon and played basketball and volleyball with the 31 kids there. Tom has done a wonderful job in spreading the Word of God through sports.”

Koonce said during his heyday, the PBA had outstanding shooters in Atoy Co and Bogs Adornado. “The PBA players are now bigger, they jump higher and I’ve seen some excellent ballhandlers although I thought we had terrific distributors like Sonny, Frankie Lim and Bernie Fabiosa during my time.”

For Koonce, Black was both an adversary and ally. “When I first played in the PBA, I went up against Norman then we became teammates at Alaska,” he said. “There were lots of good players in the PBA like Ricardo Brown of Great Taste. After playing two years in the PBA, I tried out for the NBA and in 1984, was the Detroit Pistons’ last cut the day before the season began. It was the closest I was to making it to the NBA but it was tough cracking the lineup with guards like Isiah Thomas and Vinnie Johnson.”

Koonce said he’s proud of his wife and their children Amber, 23, and Rhett, 18. His wife is a practicing doctor in optometry. Amber attended the University of North Carolina and studied government at Princeton. She was featured in Glamour Magazine as a social entrepreneur with a double major in public policy and African and Afro-American studies. Amber has worked in juvenile detention centers in Ghana and Scotland and after her stay in Manila, will be posted to Indonesia and China. His son is following in his footsteps to pursue a basketball career.

Koonce earned his economics degree at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and an MBA at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He is now a senior vice president in charge of custom mortgage underwriting with Bank of America in Charlotte. Koonce does volunteer work as a coach in recreational basketball, soccer and baseball and is an adjunct professor at Johnson C. Smith University. He is a former president of the UNC Charlotte Alumni Board of Governors and 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte. Koonce’s father Isaac died when he was only three and was raised by his mother Bertha who made sure her seven children were provided for and worked until she was 80.


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