The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas feels extremely proud now that Filipino players have been making waves overseas, as it shows how much Philippine basketball has grown over the years.
“It’s an honor,” said SBP Director of Operations Butch Antonio in Tuesday’s PSA Forum via Zoom. “We should be honored and flattered that our players are being considered as imports now in our region.
“Ang respeto sa atin ng ating mga neighbors in other countries, nakikita nila na pwedeng lumahok at mag-participate ang ating mga players in their respective leagues.”
This 2020, homegrown Filipino cagers have been making headlines for spreading their wings overseas.
That began in May with Kai Sotto, when the 7-foot-2 wunderkind decided to skip college and join the NBA G-League’s select program for top prospects in his bid to make it all the way to the NBA.
Last June, Ateneo product and the UAAP’s only three-time Finals Most Valuable Player Thirdy Ravena signed with San-en NeoPhoenix in the Japan B.League, becoming the first Filipino to play there.
Ravena’s signing came days after Far Eastern University’s Ken Tuffin was drafted by Taranaki in New Zealand’s National Basketball League. He has been a consistent cog for the Mountainairs in the semi-pro league since.
Then just this month, five-time UAAP champion and Season 80 Women’s Basketball MVP Jack Animam joined Shih Hsin University in Taiwan as a foreign student-athlete.
For Antonio, such stints would benefit not just the individual players, but Philippine basketball as well.
“As far as developing is concerned, being exposed to different kinds of basketball in whatever level is supposed to make the player better as long as sineseyoro niya ang practice,” expressed SBP Executive Director Sonny Barrios, on the other hand.
“As they always say, if you want to improve in team sports, you play against those better than you.
“Kaya nga ‘yang mga nabibigyan ng oportunidad maglaro abroad — where they can learn and develop their skills and talents at a different level — maganda ‘yang opportunity,” he added.
The SBP has always prioritized player growth, and Barrios wants to see more young cagers develop to further enrich the Gilas talent pool.
The former PBA commissioner even recalled a past conversation he had with arguably the PBA’s greatest, four-time MVP Mon Fernandez, where they discussed the development of the young bigs Gilas has.
Aside from Sotto, Gilas has at its disposal Fil-Nigerian AJ Edu, who stands 6-foot-9. And more may join the program in the future, including the 16-year-old Fil-Am Sage Tolentino, who stands at seven feet tall.
“I remember one time, Mon Fernandez, bumisita sa opisina namin sa SBP. Kaka-announce lang ni Chot Reyes ng 23 for 2023 — sila Kai Sotto, sila AJ Edu, puro malalaki, And I was saying na sana naman matuto ng ball-handling skills ‘yang matatangkad natin, katulad ni Don Ramon. Lo and behold, one day, he popped in the SBP office at sinabi ko sa kanya ‘yung observation ko.
“Sabi ko, ‘Mon, paano ka ba gumaling sa dribbling sa tangkad mong ‘yan?’ Sabi niya, ‘Alam mo Sonny, ‘yang playing against those better than you, nung high school ako, ‘di ako pinalaro ng pari namin sa high school. Sa college ako naglalaro, point guard ako sa college pero high school ako. Kaya ako gumaling sa ball-handling.’ It’s the principle of playing against those better than you if you want to improve,” he shared.