MANILA, January 6, 2004  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - After a one-year hiatus, spitfirish guard Anthony (Jay-Jay) Helterbrand is back to play for Barangay Ginebra in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

Helterbrand, 27, arrived in Manila last Saturday and worked out in Ginebra’s first practice of the year at the Green Meadows gym yesterday. He surprised a lot of teammates who didn’t expect his unannounced comeback.

"It’s good to be back," said Helterbrand, Ginebra’s direct-hire pick from the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) in 2000. "I’ve missed the PBA. During the year I was gone, I couldn’t watch an entire game on the Filipino channel in South Carolina. I’d turn off the TV because I wished I was playing instead of watching at home."

Helterbrand explained he took a year off to get his family back on track. "I missed my wife and our two kids who live in South Carolina," said Helterbrand. "I had no problems with management–they’ve been fair and they’ve always treated me well. It was just that because of the decreasing value of the peso, I needed to think things over. You know, I send money every month for my family in the US."

While he was gone, Helterbrand and his wife Charlotte managed a 30-table Filipino-Chinese restaurant called the Oriental Cuisine in Charleston, South Carolina. Helterbrand also worked as a supervisor in an apartment building. He kept in shape playing in city leagues.

The vacation brought Helterbrand and his wife closer to their children–4-year-old Jalen and 9-year-old Gianna.

Helterbrand’s Los Angeles-based Filipino agent Chique de la Rosa negotiated his return to Ginebra. Helterbrand said he signed a fresh two-year contract.

"It felt good to be back," said Helterbrand after yesterday’s practice. "Of course, I got tired fast. I joked Bal (David) and the guys that I missed all their ugly faces. I don’t think they knew I was coming back until I showed up at the gym. There’s a lot of new guys I’ve never played with, like Sunday (Salvacion), Estong (Ballesteros) and Aris (Dimaunahan). I think the talent level in the PBA has really gone up several notches. I’m impressed with Sunday’s shooting ability. Jimmy (Alapag), I knew he was good but I didn’t think he was that good. And Asi (Taulava), he deserves to be the MVP–he’s tough, anyway you look at it."

Helterbrand said not all the Ginebra players were accounted for in yesterday’s practice. Missing were Eric Menk, Rob Johnson, Chester Tolomia and Mark Caguioa. Newcomers who showed up were draft prospect Nino Gelig and MBA veteran Kalani Ferreira.

"We did warm-ups at practice, some scrimmaging and drills for about two hours," said Helterbrand. "The guy who looked in good shape was Ferreira. As for me, I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself. I know I’m out of shape. I didn’t play PBA basketball at all last year. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I’m taking my time, taking it slow. We’ve got a lot of great scorers and shooters in the team now so I’m hoping I get a chance to run our plays and get the guys involved."

Helterbrand said for Ginebra to make it to the top of the PBA, "we’ve got to play together as a team." He added that "someone has to step up as our leader–Eric or Mark or Bal or Jun (Limpot) or any of the veterans."

Helterbrand said he missed his backcourt partner Caguioa the most. "I talked to Mark in the US and he thought I was joking when I told him I was coming back," he related. "I’m excited to play with Mark again. I know how the fans used to call us the Bandana Boys or the Kamikaze Kids." Helterbrand and Caguioa will room together during the season.

Helterbrand averaged 8.9 points as a Ginebra rookie, 7.8 as a sophomore and 4.6 in 2002.

Helterbrand was born in Manila to Lamberto Vicente and Melanie Romero. The name on his birth certificate was Lamberto Romero Vicente, Jr. His parents later separated and his mother took him, brother Francis and sister Rowena to the US when he was six. His mother remarried a US serviceman Ronald Helterbrand and changed his name to Anthony Helterbrand when he was 10.

The military life took the Helterbrand family to Germany and several bases in the US. Helterbrand played high school basketball in Oklahoma then saw action for Kentucky State–Billy Ray Bates’ alma mater–in Lexington before moving to South Carolina where he met his wife and settled down.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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