MANILA, December 6, 2004 (STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - It has been said that there are three things a visitor to the Philippines will always be likely to see: a barangay hall, a statue of Jose Rizal, and a basketball court where kids are always playing. Unfortunately, Filipinos who are forced by circumstance to work overseas do not see any of those touchstones of our culture, especially in the Middle East.

The city of Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven Emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its Federal capital. Its long, shallow coastline ˆ extending from the western base of the Qatar Peninsula to the border of Dubai on the northeast - was once the world’s best environment for culturing and harvesting pearls. When the pearling industry declined, oil discovery in the oilfields off its shores revived the economy of Abu Dhabi, which has a population of over 900,000.

Contrary to our archaic vision of the Middle East as being one vast desert, Abu Dhabi is one of the most modern cities in the world, and is often compared to Singapore in terms of its planning and development. Abu Dhabi is a gleaming testament to its own prosperity, and has been the home of Filipinos who have been drawn to its oil industry and construction since it first started exporting oil in the early 1960’s.

But there are still no barangay halls, statues of Rizal or basketball courts where their kids could find a game.

In May of this year, Beaujing Acot, an assistant coach and scout for the RP-Cebuana Lhuillier basketball team, flew to Sharjah (about a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi) to check out some of its teams. Alex Ricalde, the sports and events adviser of the Samahang Batangueño and a pillar of the Filipino community there, recognized Acot from his appearances on The Basketball Show, which is syndicated throughout the Middle East through The Filipino Channel. His 16-year old son, Ian, loved the game, and wanted to go back home to play it, if he could.

"Mr. Ricalde approached me and asked if there was a way his son could play in the Philippines," recalls Acot, who is also head coach of the Benedictine International School Tiger Sharks, a perennial contender in the tough National Capitol Region Athletic Association (NCRAA) basketball tournament. "We found a way for Ian to come back to the Philippines, and he is now part of our team."

Recalling Acot’s instructional portions on The Basketball Show, Ricalde inquired if there was any way he could organize a basketball clinic for the Filipino kids in the Emirate. Parents wanted their offspring to have an outlet, and preferred something close to their hearts. Basketball was the logical choice.

Ricalde wrote the Basketball Association of the Philippines if there was a way to send expert instructors for a four- or five-day clinic. With the permission of RP team manager and patron Jean Henri Lhuillier, national team assistant coach Boycie Zamar will serve as camp director, while Acot will be the drillmaster at the first-ever basketball camp for kids in Abu Dhabi. The small contingent leaves tomorrow, while the clinic runs from December 8 to 14 at the Al Wahdah Sports Club.

"We’re very excited, especially since we know how much Filipino there have missed the game so much," Acot says. "All they get is what they see on TFC, but there’s really no place where their children can learn about the game."

The coaches are expecting between 50 to 100 participants, possibly more, should the word spread in the last few days before the team arrives. There are still no barangay halls or statues of Rizal. But for the Filipinos in Abu Dhabi, one out of three ain’t bad.

Those who have relatives and friends that may be interested in joining the clinic may contact Alex Ricalde through +971505267217.

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You can still join The Basketball Challenge and win jerseys of your favorite basketball teams every day. Simply text "BC" to 2989 to register. Winners will be announced on The Basketball Show every Saturday at 3 p.m. over ABC 5.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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