No luck with naturalized imports
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – Of the 32 national teams in this year’s FIBA World Cup, only 14 availed of the rule allowing each country to enlist one naturalized player. Of the 14 that availed, only three advanced to the second round and only two made it to the knockout quarterfinals. Not an encouraging performance at all. Spain, Australia and even the US employed naturalized players in the past but this year, they’ve all gone local.

Of the 14 naturalized imports, only three were below 30, meaning a higher demand for experienced veterans. Six were 6-8 and above. The shortest import was 5-11 Derek Needham of Montenegro whose national team averaged 6-7 in height. There was no shortage of tall Montenegrin players so it made sense to recruit a “small” point guard.

Here’s the list of naturalized players who were all born in the US – 6-11 Andray Blatche of the Philippines, 6-6 Dwight Lewis of Venezuela, 6-3 A. J. Slaughter of Poland, 6-11 Nick Fazekas of Japan, 6-6 Ricardo Ratliffe now known as Ra Gun-ah of South Korea, 6-8 Deon Thompson of Ivory Coast, 6-11 Mike Rostampour of Iran, 6-5 Michael Roll of Tunisia, 6-2 Scott Wilbekin of Turkey, 6-3 Dar Tucker of Jordan, Needham, 6-6 Blake Schlib of the Czech Republic, 6-8 Jeff Brooks of Italy and 6-8 Reggie Moore of Angola.

Of the 14 countries with naturalized players, three didn’t win a single game with the Philippines showing the worst point differential of -147 points. The other winless teams were Ivory Coast (-74) and Japan (-130). Teams that won just one game were Jordan (over Senegal, 79-77), Angola (over the Philippines, 84-81 in overtime), South Korea (over Ivory Coast, 80-71) and Montenegro (over Japan, 80-65). Teams that won two contests were Iran and Turkey. The teams that made it to the quarterfinals were Poland and Czech Republic.

Of the 14 naturalized recruits, two were former PBA imports Fazekas (Petron in 2012) and Ratliffe (Star in 2016 and 2017). Only Blatche didn’t play in college as he went straight from high school to the NBA. Blatche saw action in nine NBA seasons with Washington and Brooklyn. He played five seasons in China when not suiting up for the Philippines since the 2014 World Cup in Spain.

Lewis, 31, went to the University of Southern California and has been with the Venezuelan squad for nine years. Last season, he played in the Argentinian league as an import. Slaughter, 32, was Japeth Aguilar’s teammate with the Western Kentucky varsity and has played in Italy, Belgium, France, Greece and Turkey but never in the Polish league where he’s considered a local. Next season, he’ll play for Seville in Spain. Fazekas, 34, was the Dallas Mavericks’ second round pick in the 2007 NBA draft and joins Blatche as the only NBA veterans among the imports. The former University of Nevada center played 26 games for Dallas and the L. A. Clippers in 2007-08. He’s in the US NCAA record books as one of only 115 players ever to compile at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in their collegiate career. The cast includes legends like Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Pat Ewing, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Rick Barry and Alonzo Mourning and former PBA imports LaDontae Henton, Arizona Reid, Mike Harris, Byron Houston, Daren Queenan, Joe Binion, Harry Kelly and Rudy Macklin.

Ratliffe, 30, attended the University of Missouri while Thompson, 30, went to the University of North Carolina, Michael Jordan’s alma mater. Ratliffe was the leading import scorer (23.0) and rebounder (12.8) in the World Cup. Thompson played in Greece, Slovenia, Germany, China, Israel, Serbia, Spain and Lithuania before he signed a contract with Ivory Coast. Rostampour, 27, is of Iranian descent but received his Iranian passport after turning 16 so he’s classified as a naturalized player. He was born in Minnesota and attended the University of Omaha. Roll, 32, played in three Final Fours with UCLA. Wilbekin, 26, was in the 2014 Final Four with the University of Florida and received his Turkish passport last year in time for the FIBA Europe World Cup Qualifiers. He averaged 10.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists in the World Cup.

Tucker, 31, was the second most productive import, averaging 21 points. Born in Michigan, Tucker attended DePaul University and played in France, Bahrain and Venezuela before deciding to play for Jordan. Needham, 28, is from Illinois and played at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Schlib, 35, went to Loyola University at Illinois and has played in France, Serbia, Turkey and Spain. He was issued his Czech passport in 2015. Brooks, 30, had the second lowest scoring average of the 14 imports – 4.4 points a game. But he was named Best Player in Italy’s first round 92-61 win over Angola with 11 points and 11 boards. Brooks attended Penn State, Stanley Pringle’s alma mater. Moore, 38, is an Oral Roberts University (Oklahoma) graduate and only the second person to receive Angolan citizenship by naturalization after diamond mining executive Andre Jackson. Moore was one of six imports who didn’t average in double figure points. He averaged 5.4 points while Brooks (4.4), Schlib (9.8), Needham (9.0), Rostampour (4.0) and Lewis (8.0) were the others.

Blatche was the third leading scorer and second leading rebounder among the imports. He averaged 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. Twice, Blatche failed to deliver a double-double, collecting five points and four rebounds against Serbia in the first round and 12 points and five rebounds against Iran before his ejection on two technical fouls in the classifiers. His streak of six consecutive World Cup double-double stats dating back to 2014 was snapped in the Philippines’ loss to Serbia. His record now shows eight double-doubles in 10 World Cup appearances.

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