Edu family connects with SBP
(The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – There’s a 6-9, 16-year-old Filipino-Nigerian basketball prospect who might just play for the Philippine U18 national team in the near future preparatory to joining the elite Gilas program. AJ Edu flew in from Swansea, Wales, via London with his Filipina mother Josie Litang last Tuesday to look over Manila’s basketball landscape and said he’s seriously considering transplanting to start a career with Gilas. Mother and son are scheduled to go back today to Swansea, where they’ve lived the last three years.

Edu isn’t the only discovery of Ateneo team manager Epok Quimpo who’s been tracking Fil-foreigners to recruit for the Blue Eagles varsity. Edu has three younger brothers and the Benjamin of the family, seven-year-old Ben, has been genetically projected to grow to seven-feet tall. His two other brothers are Femi, 11, and Toby, 8. Edu is the oldest of five children born to 6-8 Nigerian father Ayotunde, 48 and the 5-4 Litang, 44. Joana, 14, is the only girl. The Edu boys were found by Quimpo.

What makes Edu a fit for Gilas is his undoubtable eligibility for FIBA competitions because the only passport he’s ever owned is Filipino. His first visit to the Philippines was when he was 1 1/2 years old while his mother was pregnant with her second child. His second visit came last week.

Litang left her home in Surigao City over 25 years ago to find employment in Cyprus as an overseas worker. She met her husband, a math and physics college lecturer, abroad. Their whole family moved to London three years ago when employment opportunities dwindled for expats in Cyprus. Litang used to work for Amazon.com but is now a full-time mother of her five children.

Since leaving the country, Litang has returned thrice. The first trip was with AJ and the second was in 2010 when she visited her sick mother. Then, she came back last week to explore school and playing options for her son. Litang said Edu plans to enrol at the SGS Basketball Academy in Bristol, England, this schoolyear but moving to Ateneo is also a possibility. The SGS, formerly known as Filton College, is on its 10th year and is part of the Bristol Academy of Sport. Athletes in the SGS program receive 15 to 20 hours of professional coaching to hone their basketball skills.

“AJ learned to play basketball at an early age,” said Litang. “He was the MVP in the U16 leagues in Wales and England. AJ has also played in Filipino leagues. He’s been scouted by English coaches and that’s why he’s lined up for the SGS.” The Academy prepares student-athletes to play at the National League level in the U18 premier division or U23 Division 4 or the semi-pro Division I.

While watching the PBA games at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Wednesday, Edu said he’s excited to play in the Philippines because it’s a basketball-crazy country. “I like the basketball atmosphere,” he said. Asked about his style of play, Edu said he tries to emulate Kevin Durant on the floor. He said he’s often likened to long-limbed Greek national player and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Gilas logistics handler Andrew Teh said a world-wide search initiated by Quimpo brought out Edu’s name. “Both Mrs. Edu and AJ love the Philippines,” said Teh. “We’re hoping AJ decides to enrol in Manila and play for Gilas in the next FIBA Asia U18 Championships in 2018.”

The Philippines finished seventh of 12 at the FIBA Asia U18 Championships in Tehran last month. Coach Mike Oliver’s lineup included Joshua Sinclair, Jonas Tibayan, Jolo Mendoza, Gian Mamuyac, Kemark Carino, JV Gallego and Fran Yu. The U18 squad will likely be Edu’s break-in window with Gilas.

SBP executive director Sonny Barrios said the other day newly elected SBP president Al Panlilio is pushing for a coordinated and organized Fil-foreign players recruitment program. A comprehensive radar search could spot more players like Edu in different parts of the world.

The first step in the program is to start a global information drive with the SBP website as the launching pad. There will be an “eligibility info corner” in the website linked to other pertinent internet stations involving overseas Filipinos. The second step is to establish a network abroad. It will mean identifying foreign contacts, either individuals or organizations and designating point persons for a given area. Barrios cited as an example, former Letran coach Larry Albano who will be tapped to take charge of the North American front, including Toronto.

The third step is to produce a template that will detail documentary requirements. The SBP website will list the necessary documents for FIBA eligibility. Prospects will be asked to submit a short video showcasing their skills, preferably in a game situation. A referral system will also be put in place. Finally, the SBP will create a committee to shortlist prospects and candidates with the view of conducting camps overseas and inviting blue-chippers to Manila.

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