Taiwan hoops on the rise

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 7, 2021 - 12:00am

There are two ongoing basketball leagues in Taiwan and next season, a third might emerge. Doug Creighton, a 6-5 Taiwanese-American, said yesterday it’s a positive sign of growth with more players getting the opportunity to land a job but at some point, the SBL, P-League and the third entity might need to come together, merge and consolidate.

Creighton, 36, was born in Taiwan to an American father and Taiwanese mother. He played two years of junior college basketball in the US then transferred to an NAIA school Madonna University in Michigan before starting a career in the Taiwan league in 2007. Creighton found his calling in the space-and-pace game, playing stretch four. As a Taiwan national player, Creighton said his most memorable moments came when the team made it to the semifinals of both the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup in Manila and the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

In 2013, Chinese-Taipei upset the Philippines, 84-79 and China, 96-78 but bowed to Iran, 79-60 in the semifinals and to South Korea, 75-57 in the battle for third. “Filipinos are the most passionate fans you’ll ever run into,” said Creighton during the EASL Clubhouse platform yesterday. “It was intimidating playing before a packed house in 2013 and a learning experience for me because I was just on my second year with the national team. When we played China, they put up a big screen in the middle of the streets for fans to watch in Taiwan. China had stars like Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi. We were down 10 at the half but fought back to win by 18. We came home like heroes.”

At the 2018 Asian Games, Chinese-Taipei reached the semifinals only to lose to China, 86-63 then to South Korea, 89-81, in the playoff for the bronze. Because of the draw, Taiwan didn’t end up playing Jordan Clarkson who made his Gilas debut. “It would’ve been an honor to get my ankles broken by Clarkson if we had played the Philippines,” said Creighton. “I remember our team stayed to watch the Philippines play China because we wanted to see Clarkson. He’s such a smooth and skilled guy who plays at a high level.”

Creighton said Gabe Norwood is his favorite Filipino player but also made special mention of Calvin Abueva. “Gabe’s super athletic, super skilled, can defend anyone from one to five and a great guy to meet,” he said. With five SBL championships under his belt, Creighton said he’s become a vocal leader on and off the floor, mentoring young players while still contributing as a player. He said Taiwan’s future as an Asian contender is secure with the likes of 6-4 Benson Lin and 6-2 Oscar Kao blossoming. The national team has also employed naturalized players like Quincy Davis and Dexter Pittman to boost its competitiveness. Taiwanese-American Kenny Chien is another prospect. Creighton noted that former Pepperdine player Rex Manu, a 6-8 American-Tongan, played as an import in the Taiwan league from 1992 to 2000 and has settled in the country, coaching high school kids. A Taiwan player whom Creighton singled out as a local legend is Tien Lei who recently retired. He said it’s unfair that Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin, one of the top 10 scorers in the G-League, isn’t back in the NBA. “It wears on your game if you’re in your 30s and you’re not playing,” he said. “Jeremy’s like a god in Taiwan and if he ever plays in our league, he’ll pack the building wherever he plays. His brother plays in Taiwan and Jeremy once mentioned he’d like to play with his brother. Another player who’s like a god in Taiwan is Kobe Bryant.”

Creighton said he predicts basketball to grow exponentially in East Asia with EASL at the forefront. “I think it’ll be more fun playing in EASL than a national team event,” he said. “That’s because EASL is a five-month season so it’s like a chess match deal unlike with the national team, you play games within a short period. It’ll be a different kind of game in EASL with two imports each team, the best of the best battling for the championship.” Taiwan will be represented in EASL through Greater China which encompasses Chinese-Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China.

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