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A basketball story of old

June 19, 2023 People's Tonight 275 views

Lito CincoIT is about a month ago when the Philippines reclaimed its South East Asian Games( SEAG) men’s basketball crown in Cambodia, beating the latter in the finals.

This was after we lost the crown to a reinforced Indonesian team a year earlier in Vietnam, unfortunately, our women’s team in turn, lost its title in Cambodia.

Last week, the Denver Nuggets, after a 47 year wait, finally tasted its first NBA championship, beating the gutsy and overachieving Miami Heat.

Two months from now, the Philippines will co-host the FIBA World Cup with top teams, including the NBA- led USA team, supposedly Nikola Jokic will be playing for Serbia.

Now why am I talking all about basketball?

Simply because I will be dwelling on the sport for this piece, specifically about the widely accepted practice of naturalizing imports for national teams.

Remember in the 32nd SEAG, there was an uproar about the way Cambodia took advantage of being the host, fielding five American players as naturalized players, leaving the local players on the bench as a cheering team.

It was legal but considered unethical by the other countries, of course our vasjetvall fans were the most vocal, though we did field a naturalized import, Justine Brownlee and a bevy of Fil-Ams, albeit, with Filipino blood, which was the point of contention by our fans against Cambodia.

But then, what currents fans may not be aware of but older fans will remember, 42 years ago, 1981 to be exact, we fielded a team in the Jones Cup composed of 10 Americans and only two locals, and swept the field.

Now thanks to my sports magazine collector Aris Garcia who sent me background materials on this team, and Frankie Lim, one of the two local players in the Jones Cup with whom I had a long chat, , I was able to get the story behind this.

Powerful business tycoon Danding Cojuangco, then the basketball czar in the country, with his desire to win in anything he enters, recruited initially eight players from the USA and added eight locals to form a national training team.

For the record, aside from Frankie, the other locals were JB Yango, who was the other Filipino in the Jones Cup team, Joel Banal, Manny Victorino, Ricky Relosa, Bokio Lauchengco, Ed Cordero, and Itoy Esguerra.

They were joined by Dennis Still, Jeff Moore, Ricky Brown, Edy Chavez, Bruce Collins, Robert Worthy, Steve Lingenfelter, and Hawaii Fil-Am player Willie Pearson.

Chip Engelland was added later, but together with Still and Moore, remained to team up with a new core of local players when the original locals went up to the PBA, same with Brown.

Among the new locals were Hector Calma, Alfie Almario, Franz Pumaren, Tonichi Yturri, and Louie Brill.

Anyway, back to the training team, even as it triumphed in Taipei, local fans were not happy at all about this development and Danding ended up fielding an All Filipino team in the 1981 SEA Games, which included Pearson.

Ron Jacobs, who started as a team consultant eventually took over the team and to his credit, revolutionized to a certain extent Philippine basketball.

Looking back at this, we can say we were way ahead with naturalizing foreign players for our national team, it just did not work out that tine, and I guess will still not work out now if half of the team will be foreign players.

Put in a few and it will be acceptable, the way Northern Consolidated, with its trio of Moore, Still, and Engelland, was eventually embraced by basketball fans.

Right now, we have Brownlee abd Ange Kouame as naturalized players in the Gilas pool, while before, Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche donned the Philippine colors as naturalized imports. By Lito Cinco

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Hope to see you people today at the Hobby Coliseum at Dona Hemady in New Manila, Quezon City for the first Hoopcon PH, a convention for basketball enthusiasts, among others, PBA’s Willie Marcial, former PBA players Vergel Meneses, Dodot Jaworski, abd Gil Cortez will be there, same with coach Joe Lipa.

I will be the facilitator in some of the sessions, should be interesting.

For comments and suggestions, email to [email protected]

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