Overseas leagues are siphoning off our basketball talent

June Mar Fajardo scored 20 points in the game against Indonesia but even his commanding presence wasn’t enough to win gold for Gilas Pilipinas at the 31st Southeast Asian Games on Sunday in Hanoi, In Vietnam. The Philippines handed over the gold medal to Indonesia while the Filipinos settled for silver. CONTRIBUTED FILE PHOTO

OUR national basketball officials continue to bemoan the growing number of college stars who have signed up to play in professional leagues overseas.

Just this week, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) executive director Sonny Barrios said the federation had started taking “steps forward” to stem the exodus of young talent from the basketball.

Previously, the holy grail of every Filipino basketball player was to join a team in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the pioneering professional cage league in Asia. Many still cherish that dream, and the PBA continues to offer collegiate personalities a shot at fame and fortune.

The emergence of the B. League in Japan in 2016 gave Filipino players an opportunity to aim higher. The league allowed each of its teams to add an Asian “import” to its roster, and the Philippines – with its pool of superstars – became the natural hunting ground for recruitment.

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Kiefer Ravena paved the way for the Filipinos in League B, but only after the PBA put him through a spin before allowing his parent team to release him.

Since then, a host of college stars have followed Ravena to Japan, including her brother Thirdy, Dwight Ramos, Kobe Paras, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and the Gomez de Liano brothers. The list keeps growing.

But League B is not the only foreign league to recruit Filipino talent. Professional tournaments in Korea and Taiwan have also started to attract Filipino players.

Barrios said player poaching worries the SBP enough to talk with major basketball players like the PBA and collegiate athletic organizations, the UAAP and NCAA, about how to handle the “juicy deals being passed on to our potential national players”.

The diversion of Filipino talent to play abroad came to the fore after Gilas Pilipinas’ shock loss to Indonesia at the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam last month. Relinquishing the SEA Games men’s basketball crown after 33 years has shaken many sports enthusiasts out of the fantasy that the Philippines will forever dominate basketball, at least in the region.

The dethronement was partly blamed on the unavailability of key players to join Gilas’ squad, leaving the SBP to search for replacement players.

In the fallout from The Humiliation in Hanoi, Chot Reyes, who has described himself as ‘the most hated man’ in Filipino basketball, has resigned as coach of Gilas, and the SBP will embark on a background in the preparations for the FIBA ​​World Cup next year.

Barrios said it will be difficult to put together a competitive squad for the World Cup as the stalwarts of the domestic pool have commitments with their teams abroad.

But building a team good enough to take on the world’s best isn’t just about player availability. If we want to form a “dream team”, our officials will stop at nothing to ensure that the Fil-American Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz puts on the colors of Gilas. Next, they need to bring in 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto, who is awaiting NBA draft calls after a season with the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian pro league.

Instead of daydreaming about a dream team, our officials should focus on the talents at their fingertips and make the most of the time remaining to mold them into a primed, cohesive, and fighting unit.

The SBP should not prevent young players from improving their skills by playing abroad. This is the best proof that the Filipinos can hold their own against other stars in the region, and yes, even excel.

Faced with competition from foreign leagues, the PBA must make adjustments if it hopes to attract promising players into its fold.

It may be time for the league to expand beyond our shores. He could organize regional conferences with the professional leagues of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, traditional powers of football where basketball is gaining more and more followers.

Barrios didn’t reveal what “initiatives” the SBP plans to stop draining basketball talent, but hopefully he won’t include efforts to make it harder for Filipino cagers trying to forge their destiny abroad.

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