Missing persons
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2015 - 10:00am

CHANGSHA – Make no mistake about it, FIBA Asia executives keep tabs on what’s going on in Philippine basketball and are aware that several players in Gilas coach Tab Baldwin’s wish list for the national team were unavailable.

The players whom FIBA Asia executives remember from previous Gilas rosters include JuneMar Fajardo, L. A. Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Jeff Chan, Jared Dillinger and Paul Lee. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, they couldn’t make it here. Fajardo and Aguilar are nursing injuries. Tenorio begged off after a long tour of duty with Gilas to focus on his PBA career because he felt he had a sub-par performance last season and his contract is expiring. L. A., however, said when tapped again, he’ll be ready to answer the call and if he isn’t tapped, he’ll even try out for a spot. Chan has health issues like Fajardo and Aguilar while Lee’s mother club gave Baldwin the option of choosing only one Rain Or Shine player who turned out to be Gabe Norwood.

A FIBA Asia executive said a mother club stands to benefit from a player who is exposed to international competition. “First, it’s a matter of pride for a player to represent his country and that has an impact on his mother club,” the executive said. “And second, when the player returns to his club, he will be more experienced and more confident to play at a higher level. It’s a win-win situation.”

Chan is remembered by FIBA Asia executives as a left-handed deadshot who knocked down key triples at the FIBA Asia Championships in Manila in 2013 and the FIBA World Cup in Spain last year. “Jeff was close to being named to the 2013 FIBA Asia mythical five, he was that good,” said one FIBA Asia executive.

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But the Philippines wasn’t the only country to play here with missing ingredients. Lebanon, for instance, showed up without star Fadi El Khatib who recently signed to play for Fujian Qaunzhou Bank in the Chinese league reportedly for $45,000 a month. An insurance issue prevented El Khatib from suiting up for Lebanon at the FIBA Asia Championships. Another key Lebanese player absent here was Ali Mahmoud. Naturalized player Loren Woods, an NBA veteran, was also missing in action because of injuries and his spot was taken over by Jay Youngblood.

Japan was struck hard by missing players. Only five were held over from the 2013 cast that played in Manila. Among the top Japanese players who didn’t make the trip here were Yuta Watanabe, Yuki Togashi, Kosuke Kanamaru and Joji Takeuchi’s twin brother Kosuke. Watanabe is playing with the George Washington University varsity while Togashi is an import in the Italian league. Kanamaru and Kosuke Takeuchi are injured. Despite the absent pieces, Japan created a stir by barging into the semifinals for its first Final Four appearance since 1997.

 Also feeling the pinch of absentees was South Korea. Park Chan Hee has a dislocated finger, the same injury as Aguilar, and showed up for the games here in civvies. Yoon Ho Young and NBA veteran Ha Seung Jin are down with injuries. Yang Hee Jong wasn’t released by his mother club to recover from a knee issue. Oh Se Keun and Kim Sun Hyang were struck out for one reason or another. At the Asian Games in Incheon last year, South Korea beat Iran, 79-77, for the gold medal but only six players from that lineup were carried over. Even the Asian Games coach Yoo Jae Hak was replaced by Kim Dong Kwang.

The depletion was so severe that three players were drafted to play here at short notice. They were Moon Seonggon, 22, Kang Sang Jae, 20, and Choi Jun Young, 21 – all from the youth brigade.

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With a cast that appeared to lack chemistry, Korea couldn’t make it out of the quarterfinals and was bundled out by Iran. Entering the playoffs, Korea was led in scoring, rebounding and assists by just one man, 5-11 Donggeun Yang who almost skipped the tournament with an Achilles problem. Korea finished the competition in last place in rebounding. It was a sad ending for the proud national team that won the FIBA Asia title in 1969 and 1997.

Palestine, the tournament’s Cinderella squad, also arrived with missing elements. Guard Omar Krayem would’ve added depth to a short rotation but couldn’t settle his FIBA clearance on time. The one-time PBA Asian import lives in Sweden and plays in the Swedish league. Another player in Palestine coach Jerry Steele’s wish list was 6-9 center Dan Alexander who played at Texas A&M and Grand Canyon College in the US NCAA. Alexander, 24, would’ve been Palestine’s naturalized player. He averaged 12.7 points in 2013-14 and 9 points in 2014-15 with the Grand Canyon squad under coach Dan Majerle, the former NBA player.

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