NOVEMBER 27, 2006
(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - There is a global trend that has gradually swept into our part of the globe, and it is the recruitment of more and more foreign athletes to see action in commercial, amateur and even college athletic teams.

Of course, the most recent evidence of this would be the Philippines’ making it into the ASEAN Football Cup, thanks to seven Fil-foreign players seeing action in last week’s elimination tournament in Bacolod. The two most prominent, of course, were SEA Games veterans, the brothers Philip and James Younghusband, whose abilities were compounded by their looks and attracted a lot of attention. Phil, a reserve on English Premier League, and James, now a free agent, were torn when interviewed about playing for Chelsea or the Philippines, in the event that the two opportunities were available.

"It would be a dream come true to play for the first team of Chelsea. That’s what I’ve been waiting for for years," said the younger Younghusband, who learned the sport with his brother growing up in London. "But I would love to play for the Philippines. No question about it."

Meanwhile, the trend is even more pronounced in basketball. We’ve gotten used to players from Europe (and now Asia) making the rosters of NBA and NBDL teams. Dirk Nowitzki made headlines when he poured in 31 points — with a 14-point exclamation — against San Antonio on the Spurs’ home floor. And of course, Yao Ming is the league’s leading All-Star Game vote-getter. But the NBA is not the only place that overseas talent is making a mark.

It has been a common practice in Australia’s National Basketball League, for example, to naturalize American players to allow them to hire an extra import. Former Crispa import Al Green reportedly became a citizen after his playing days in the PBA, setting an NBL record 71 points in one game. Former Pepsi reinforcement Lanard Copeland was among at least half a dozen PBA imports to live and play Down Under. But, unlike here, the Australian pro league only recruits players for specific talent. If a team needs a point guard, they don’t hire a do-it-all big man.

Closer to home, Singapore, which, along with Brunei and Vietnam has been the low man on the totem pole in basketball in Southeast Asia, has started taking a shortcut to success. Burdened by a small population (and hence, a small talent pool), the small city-state has reportedly taken in at least three mainland Chinese to increase their size and talent level. This has become a problem for at least one Filipino who was targeting Singapore in the next SEA Games.

"Our goal was to win one game in the SEA Games," revealed Vietnam national men’s basketball coach Riki Magallanes, a Filipino. "But, since they’ve brought in Chinese players, it will be more difficult. Like the Malaysians, the Vietnamese are proud people. They wouldn’t want to use foreigners on their national team."

On our own shores, it has been increasingly common for students of American, European and even African extraction to matriculate here. Three years ago, De La Salle University brought in two Yugoslavians, with only one of them, Marko Batricevic, staying on. Some Koreans are starting to penetrate the varsity basketball teams of their schools. Benedictine International School of Quezon City has even formed an all-Korean training team to accommodate all the students who want to learn the sport.

And of course, we all know Sam Ekwe, the 6’8" Nigerian scholastic who helped San Beda College win its first NCAA seniors title in 28 years. There are reports that Ekwe has a younger brother who may fly over for the Red Lions to give him a once-over for a tryout. Although the Philippine Basketball League has a rule disallowing foreign players from seeing action, the loophole allows foreigners if they are part of the core of a school team that has a corporate sponsor that has a franchise in the league.

With the success of San Beda, other schools are following suit. University of Perpetual Help has supposedly brought in 6’8" and 6’6" Indonesian student-athletes to help in next year’s NCAA campaign. The Altas were severely handicapped the last two seasons because of injuries to center Vladymir Joe.

There has already been a furor over Fil-foreign players dominating the PBA. But college basketball is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Having foreign players there may kill the dreams of many future national team members and aspiring pros. In the US, the Department of Education has already reviewed and trimmed down the scholarships of foreign (especially Asian) students because they are so dominant. If the current trend keeps up, the Philippines may just end up a guard factory in college basketball.

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Reader Joe Ocampo sent this e-mail from Bahrain:

"The proliferation of various basketball leagues in the Philippines is a healthy sign. If there are more basketball leagues, there are also more teams joining and if there are a lot of basketball teams, more players will be needed. The bigger picture will be a wide player base serving as a pool for local and international competitions. With this, the level of a player’s individual skill should be progressing too.

"We can compare players with competing consumer products, whereby one product would like to outdo the other in terms of a better composition that will benefit mostly the end-users. The same applies with the game with some extra skills in a player’s arsenal makes him a step ahead with another who has nothing more to give. It’s survival of the fittest. Only the good man will remain standing. The other one eats the dust."

Thanks, Joe.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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