7-1 Austin to reinforce Chooks?
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — There are plans to sign up 7-1 Isaiah (Zeke) Austin to play for Chooks To Go as an import at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Chenzhou, China, on Sept. 22-30 with the Philippine squad to exclude PBA pros for the annual club competition now on its 26th staging since its inaugural in 1981.

SBP deputy executive director for international affairs Butch Antonio said yesterday negotiations are now in progress to recruit Austin who’s playing for the Gungxi Rhinos in the Chinese minor league. Austin, 23, played two years with the Baylor University varsity then was diagnosed with Marfan Sydrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissues, and enlarged arteries in the heart. Austin, who’s been blind in the right eye because of a detached retina since middle school, would’ve been a first round selection in the 2014 NBA draft but because of his disorder, was pulled out of the pool. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, however, paid tribute to Austin by making him a ceremonial draft choice, announcing his name between the 15th and 16th picks.

Last November, Austin was cleared to continue playing after a two-year layoff. He joined a club in Serbia before moving to China. In his second year at Baylor in 2013-14, Austin averaged 11.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocked shots and 28 minutes. With Gungxi, Austin is averaging 34.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 4.3 blocked shots and 45.1 minutes in 16 games. He scored at least 40 points, including a 50-point explosion, in six outings.

Antonio said the SBP is aware of Austin’s health condition. Under tournament rules, each club is allowed to enlist two imports. Antonio said the SBP has invited Fil-German Christian Standhardinger, now in Berlin, to join Chooks. The SBP has also invited Kobe Paras, now in the US, to play. The only non-PBA players on the Gilas squad that recently took the gold medal at the SEA Games were Kiefer Ravena, Ray Ray Parks, Almond Vosotros, Toto Jose, Paras and Standhardinger. 

“We’re still putting together the line-up,” said Reyes. “But Chris and Kobe are doubtful. Right now, we’re looking at our non-PBA cadets like Kief, Ray, Almond and Toto plus others we’ll invite to practice like Jeron Teng. We should know better by Monday.” Reyes said nothing is final on the imports who’ll reinforce Chooks, if ever.

The Philippines hosted the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in 1996, 2005 and 2011 and won titles in 1984 with Northern Cement, 1988 with Swift, 1995 with Andok’s and 1996 with Hapee Toothpaste. Defending champion China Kashgar, also known as the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, will be back in Chenzhou for the tournament which was held in the same Chinese city last year. Chenzhou is about 1,600 kilometers away from Beijing and 270 kilometers from Changsha where the FIBA Asia Cup was staged in 2015. Chooks is slated to leave Manila for Chenzhou on Sept. 20 and the bus ride from the airport to the city will take anywhere between four to six hours depending on which terminal to land.

Chooks will be in Group A with Astana of Kazakhstan, Mono Vampire of Thailand, Sareyyet Ramallah of Palestine and Petrochimi of Iran. Group B will be made up of China Kashgar, Al Riyadi of Lebanon, Dacin Tigers of Chinese-Taipei, ONGC of India and Al Shabab Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates. Chooks was a late replacement for Shibuya Sun Rockers who backed out because of a conflict in playing schedules with the Japanese league. Another team that withdrew was the Singapore Slingers.

Gilas’ naturalized import Andray Blatche led Xinjiang to the Chinese Basketball Association championship last year but is not sure to play for the Flying Tigers in Chenzhou. Antonio said Blatche’s US representative couldn’t confirm whether he’ll play or not.

In Chooks’ bracket, Petrochimi looms as the early favorite with former Meralco PBA Asian import Mohammad Jamshidi leading the charge. The Iran club will likely be reinforced by NBA veteran Joseph Forte and Jiri Hubalek of the Czech Republic. Astana will be led by Kazakh star Anton Ponomarev and rugged center Aleksandr Zhigulin and imports Justin Carter of Creighton and Larry Gordon of California Poly at Pomona. Mono Vampire is expected to bring in Fil-Am Jason Brickman, Thai-American Tyler Lamb, SEABA Cup top scorer Chatchai Ananti and two imports, probably Michael Singletary and Reggie Johnson. Sareyyet is bannered by former PBA player Yousef Taha and 6-7 Salim Sakanini who was on the Palestine squad that upset Gilas at the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup in Changsha.

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