Filipinos find refuge in ABL tilt

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Asean Basketball League (ABL) opened its sixth campaign in Bangkok the other day with Filipino coaches calling the shots for three of the six teams battling for supremacy in a home-and-away format from the regular season all the way to the finals.

The Filipino coaches are Ariel Vanguardia of the Westsports Malaysia Dragons, Raha Mortel of defending champion Hi Tech Bangkok City and former PBA center Zaldy Realubit of the Pacquiao Powervit Pilipinas Aguilas. The other ABL coaches are Prasert Siripojanakun of the Mono Vampire Club of Thailand, Englishman Anthony Garbelotto of the Saigon Heat and Beng Siang Neo of the Singapore Slingers.

Hi Tech played Singapore in the season inaugural in Bangkok last Tuesday. Tonight, the Aguilas make their ABL debut against Mono Vampire at the University of Southeastern Philippines gym in Davao City.

Racal Motors was initially pencilled to join the league this season but backed out over a month ago to concentrate on its two squads in the Pilipinas Commercial Basketball League (PCBL). Racal is also represented in the PBA D-League and plans to join the PBA.

Through the years, the ABL has become a stepping stone for Filipino and Fil-foreign players intending to return to or apply for the draft in the PBA. Players who’ve gone from the PBA to the ABL and back to the PBA include Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Nic Belasco and Paolo Hubalde. Those who moved from the ABL to the PBA include JuneMar Fajardo, Chris Banchero, Stanley Pringle, Jeric Fortuna and Moala Tautuaa.

This season, former PBA players Willie Miller, Jondan Salvador, Chad Alonzo, Carlo Sharma, Val Acuna, Leo Najorda, Sunday Salvacion, Emmerson Oreta, Sam Marata and Eric Salamat have found a refuge with the Aguilas in the ABL. Rep. Manny Pacquiao conspired with Powervit’s Dick Balajadia to form the Aguilas and bring the Philippines back to the ABL fold. The Philippines had no team in the ABL last season.

Aside from the ex-pros, the Aguilas are enlisting three players who were picked but unsigned in the last PBA draft. They are Nico Elorde of Ateneo (third round, Alaska), Jerramy King of California State at Long Beach (fourth round, NLEX) and Alli Austria of San Francisco State (fifth round, Mahindra). Two others in the lineup are Ken Acibar of UE (second round, Barako Bull, 2011) and Mike Gamboa of UP (second round, Rain Or Shine, 2014). The Aguilas’ imports are two-time PBA Best Import awardee Arizona Reid of High Point University in North Carolina and Sierra Leone native Charles Mammie of UE.

Vanguardia, a former assistant coach with Talk ‘N’ Text, Barako Bull and Blackwater in the PBA, has tapped Fil-Am point guard Jason Brickman of Long Island University and Fil-Canadian Matthew Wright of St. Bonaventure University as Westsports’ Asean imports. Brickman, 23, is one of only four US NCAA Division I players to compile at least 1,000 assists in a college career, joining Bobby Hurley of Duke, Chris Corchiani of North Carolina State and Ed Cota of North Carolina in the elite circle. He led the NCAA in assists with 8.5 a game in 2012-13 and 10 in 2013-14. Additionally, Brickman averaged 11.3 points and shot 40.2 percent from beyond the arc and 86.4 percent from the line as a Long Island senior. He has played as an import in Russia and Germany.

In 2008, Wright was on coach Franz Pumaren’s Philippine team that finished seventh at the FIBA Asia U18 Championships in Tehran. Among his U18 teammates were Ian Sangalang, R. R. Garcia, Norbert Torres and Sam Marata. Wright, 24, played four years at St. Bonaventure whose most outstanding basketball star was NBA legend Bob Lanier. As a senior in 2013-14, Wright averaged 16.3 points. Westsports’ non-Asean imports are 6-8 Calvin Godfrey of Memphis and 6-10 Reginald Johnson of Miami.

Mortel’s non-Asean reinforcements with Hi Tech are two-time ABL Best Import awardee 6-10 Chris Charles of Villanova and 6-9 Steve Thomas of Middle Tennessee State. Charles was in Manila to play for Blackwater in the PBA last season but backed out because of injury. In the PBA, Thomas played as an import for Air21 in 2008-09 and Globalport last season. He was on two ABL title teams with the Thailand Slammers in 2010-11 and the Indonesia Warriors in 2012.

The Slingers’ imports are 6-6 Xavier Alexander of Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City and 6-10 Justin Howard of Mercer. Also in the roster is 6-foot Fil-Am guard Kris Rosales who was one of two Barako Bull second round picks in the last PBA draft. The team includes eight players who suited up for Singapore at the recent FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha. Among the eight national players are deadshot Wei Long Wong known as the Long Ranger, Hanbin Ng, Delvin Goh, Leon Kwek and Desmond Oh. Wong, 27, fired 33 points in Singapore’s 70-53 loss to Jordan at the FIBA Asia Cup last year.

The Philippines has won two ABL titles with the Patriots in 2009-10 and San Miguel Beer in 2013. The other championships were claimed by Thailand in 2010-11, Indonesia in 2012 and Hi Tech Bangkok City last year.

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