Mercenaries in Cambodia

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

A rule to allow any player, with or without affinity, to represent a country on the basis of a passport has opened the floodgates for mercenaries to desecrate the spirit of sportsmanship at the ongoing SEA Games in Cambodia. The norm of enlisting only one naturalized player for a national basketball team is now out the window. The host country has spared no cost in trying to collect gold medals like they were for sale in the open market and foreign athletes who probably had never visited Cambodia before the SEA Games are shamelessly wearing the national colors for money.

Last January, POC president Mayor Bambol Tolentino disclosed Cambodias devious plan to recruit foreign athletes for the SEA Games. In the Philippines, its a process to naturalize anyone because the law requires approval from Congress and Senate. But in other countries, its like issuing a drivers license without a test and the wait could be overnight.

The downside of loading up on naturalized players is they dont compete for national pride. Take, for instance, Cambodias 3x3 womens squad of four American tourists – 5-7 Brittanny Dinkins of University of Southern Mississippi (played in seven countries before landing in Phnom Penh), 6-1 Mariah Cooks of Washington State University, 5-8 Kim Hanlon of Stony Brook University and 5-9 Meighan Simmons of University of Tennessee. Cooks and Hanlon are Womens Premier Basketball Association (WPBA) veterans while Simmons was New Yorks third-round pick in the 2014 WNBA draft. After the imports lost to the Philippines, 21-20 in the semis, they showed no heart in bowing to Indonesia, 21-15 in the playoff for third. The gold medal was lost and the bonus that wouldve come with it so who cared for third place? They didnt play for Cambodia, they played for themselves and a paycheck.

Cambodias 3x3 mens team, in contrast, got the job done. Three imports played the entire 10-minute final without rest, leaving the sole native Tep Chharath cooling his heels on the bench. The mercenaries were 6-2 Darrin Dorsey, 35, of NAIA school Dakota Wesleyan University, 6-8 Brandon Peterson, 32, of Arkansas State and 6-5 Sayeed Alkabir Pridgett, 24, of the University of Montana. When Dorsey and Peterson signed to play for a Jordan club team in the West Asia League last February, there was no indication they would suit up for Cambodia. Before playing in the SEA Games, the journeymen had seen action in 12 different countries.

The Philippines will play Cambodia 5x5 tomorrow and the word is the hosts wont only field Dorsey, Peterson and Pridgett but also 6-8 Dwayne Morgan, 27, of UNLV, 6-9 Darius Henderson, 25, of University of Massachusetts at Lowell and 6-4 Oscar Lopez, 26, of DePaul and Central Michigan University. Lopezmother Thon Khun is Cambodian so he passes as a heritage player. Morgan came from leagues in Hungary, North Macedonia and Mexico while Hendersons claim to linkage is Lowell was a settlement of Cambodian refugees in the 1970s and a Cambodian professor in school Hai Pho established the Indo-Chinese Refugee Fund with his wife Lan Tuyet Pho.

Cambodian Joshua Bo Noung, who played high school basketball in the US, couldnt land a spot on the national team because of the naturalized overload. “I am a little embarrassed for Cambodians,” he said. “Because this is not our way to resort to, not giving our own people a shot at competing. They resort to this for immediate success but they have to understand the pride in representing the people of Cambodia all around the world. Losing is part of learning to become better. Winning without integrity isnt winning.”

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