Accepting the offer from Toyama Grouses was not an easy decision to make for Dwight Ramos.
But with the worsening COVID-19 situation here in the Philippines – and the uncertainty it brings to athletes like him – the 23-year-old made the decision to turn professional elsewhere.
“I just think that the basketball scene in Japan is a little bit more stable right now compared to the Philippines and the PBA,” said Ramos on Radyo 5’s Power and Play.
The PBA is in Bacolor, Pampanga staging its 46th season, still in a bubble setup. Meanwhile, Japan B. League has been doing its home-and-away format tournament normally, as if there’s no pandemic.
On the other hand, the UAAP – where Ramos would have played for Ateneo – still hasn’t returned. It targets February next year to resume action.
“It’s really hard here with the situation, you’ll never know when you can practice when you can play games,” said Ramos.
“I talked to the coaches, I talked to my agent PJ [Pilares], I talked to the people at Ateneo, to Boss Al [Panlilio], Boss MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan), and I just let them know the situation,” bared Ramos about the meetings he had with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas before committing to Toyama. “They sort of gave me their advice and their tips on what they thought I should do. But it just came down to what I felt was inside my heart, too.
“Of course, Ateneo wanted me to stay because I came here to play for Ateneo. That was my priority and coming to the Philippines. But they really understand the situation here and how I was feeling, and how I’m not getting any younger. I’ll be probably the oldest one in college by then.”
Ramos also bared he received offers from Taiwan and other teams from Japan but Toyama was the obvious choice.
Last season, the Grouses finished fourth in the East District with a 43-16 record after the elimination round. However, Toyama bowed to Ryukyu in the quarterfinals.
The team coached by Honoo Hamaguchi is headlined by a familiar name to Filipinos in former TNT import Joshua Smith. Toyama’s second import is Julian Mavunga, a Zimbabwean-American who normed 20.7 points, 7.4 assists, and 7.3 rebounds a season ago.
Besides Ramos, other newcomers to the Grouses are Keijuro Matsui (Kyoto), Yuta Okada (Mikawa), Ryumo Ono (Shinshu), and Kevin Hareyama (Shiga). The team lost Keishi Matsuwaki, Yuta Okada, Kosuke Hashimoto, Masashi Joho, and Satoru Maeda during the off-season.
Yes, Nagoya still has its core intact while adding Ramos.
“They were in the playoffs last year and that’s what I was kind of looking for so I can play in the playoffs with a professional team and hopefully make a championship run with them.”
And as a cherry on top, when he met with the executives of Toyama via Zoom, it felt like family.
“It was a pretty easy decision. When I met with the GM (Kaeda Ueda) and all their staff there, they were really friendly and welcoming. That’s why I felt at ease on making that decision.”
Still, Ramos is not closing his doors on possible playing in the PBA one day.
“Of course, I’ve always wanted to play in the PBA,” he said. “And just like the locals in Japan, they want to stay in Japan play there. I think the same thing goes for us Filipinos. So we’re just hoping that opportunity comes again, that after we’re all done with our stints overseas, we could come back and play in the PBA.
“My mind is on this next season coming up for me, because that’s obviously what’s next,” he continued. “But then after this season, that’s when I’ll start thinking about what’s going to happen for me after that. Whether that’s the PBA or it’s another league, I’ll just have to weigh my options again.
“Usually I’ll take it a year at a time. I’m the journeyman, so after this year, I’ll re-evaluate, see what options I have coming in, and then I’ll make a decision again when the time comes.”