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Sports

Why Cebu for EASL Final Four

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

No PBA team advanced to the EASL Final Four with both TNT and Meralco finishing at the bottom of their group standings but Cebu will host the two-day race to the throne just the same.

EASL CEO Henry Kerins fell in love with Cebu at first sight and knew from when he set foot on the Queen City of the South, it was the perfect setting for the league’s Final Four. “Cebu has some of the most passionate basketball fans in the Philippines,” he said. “The Hoops Dome is a great arena that will be packed with local and travelling fans. And this is an amazing tourist destination.”

Cebu is neutral territory for the Final Four squads which are Chiba Jets of Japan, Anyang Jung Kwan Jang Red Boosters of Korea, Seoul SK Knights of Korea and New Taipei Kings of Taiwan. Chiba was the only team to finish the regular season unscathed with a 6-0 record. The Jets posted an incredible +96 factor with twin wins over Anyang, Taipei Fubon and TNT. Chiba’s imports are 6-9 John Mooney and 6-8 Xavier Cooks. Under EASL rules, two imports are allowed to play together but the Jets may also bring in naturalized Ira Brown to form a tough threesome. Adding flair to the mix is Japanese B-League legend Yuki Togashi, a 5-6 dynamo with a remarkable three-point shooting touch. Cooks, by the way, is an Australian who has played for the Washington Wizards.

Seoul is powered by 6-8 Leon Williams and 6-8 Jameel Warney. The SK Knights’ ace locals are 6-2 Kim Sung Hyun and 6-5 An Young Jun. Kim is a two-time FIBA World Cupper, four-time Asian Gamer and two-time FIBA Asia Cup veteran while An shot 44.4 percent from beyond the arc with the Korean national squad at the FIBA World Cup 2019 Asia qualifiers. Williams, 37, is a grizzled warrior who is in his ninth Korean tour of duty and Warney, 30, played with Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry on the Dallas Mavericks’ 2017-18 team.

Anyang’s imports are 6-9 Robert Carter and 6-7 Jamil Wilson. Both are journeymen who’ve traveled the world. Carter has played in Italy, Lithuania, Turkey, Japan and Israel while Wilson has seen action in Puerto Rico, Israel, Lithuania, Venezuela, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Russia and the PBA. Wilson suited up for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017-18. Korean national players Byung Jun Bae and Ji Hoon Park lead the locals’ charge.

New Taipei is paced by nine-year NBA veteran Jeremy Lin and his brother Joseph. The Kings draw additional firepower from naturalized Quincy Davis and Asian heritage import Hayden Blankley, formerly of the Bay Area Dragons. Then, they rotate imports 6-5 Kenny Manigault, 6-9 Christian Anigwe and 6-8 Tony Mitchell, formerly of the Detroit Pistons, choosing any two to play every game.

The semifinals will be played on March 8 and the championship game plus the battle for third on March 10, both days at the Hoop Dome in Lapu-Lapu City. Beyond the contests, EASL will unravel a load of activities including a coaching clinic by Australian national coach Brian Goorjian and appearances by NBA legends. Baron Davis, who played for Charlotte, New Orleans, Golden State, LA Clippers, Cleveland and New York in a 14-year NBA career, has confirmed his attendance. Up for grabs in the Final Four is the $1 million first prize. Runner-up takes home $500,000 and the third placer, $250,000. “We’re gonna make it special,” said Kerins, referring to the Final Four festivities.

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