Overseas leagues siphoning off our basketball talent

June Mar Fajardo scored 20 points in the game against Indonesia but even his towering presence was not enough to win the gold medal for Gilas Pilipinas in the 31st Southeast Asian Games on Sunday in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Philippines surrendered the gold medal to Indonesia as the Filipinos settled for the silver. CONTRIBUTED FILE PHOTO

June Mar Fajardo scored 20 points in the game against Indonesia but even his towering presence was not enough to win the gold medal for Gilas Pilipinas in the 31st Southeast Asian Games on Sunday in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Philippines surrendered the gold medal to Indonesia as the Filipinos settled for the silver. CONTRIBUTED FILE PHOTO

OUR national basketball officials continue to wax disconsolate about the growing number of collegiate stars who have signed up to play in professional leagues abroad.

Just this week, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) Executive Director Sonny Barrios said the federation has begun to take “moving forward initiatives” to stem the outflow of young basketball talents.

It used to be that every Filipino basketball player's holy grail was to make it to a team in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the pioneer pro cage league in Asia. Many still cherish this dream, and the PBA continues to offer collegiate standouts a chance 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 one Asian “import” to its lineup, and the Philippines — with its deep pool of superstars — became the natural hunting ground for recruitment.

Kiefer Ravena blazed the trail for Filipinos in the B. League, but only after the PBA put him through a wringer before allowing his mother team to release him.

Since then, a slew of college stars has followed Ravena to Japan, notably his brother Thirdy, Dwight Ramos, Kobe Paras, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and the Gomez de Liano brothers. The list is still growing.

But the B. League is not the only foreign league scouting Filipino talent. Pro tournaments in Korea and Taiwan have also started to tap Filipino players.

Barrios said player poaching has the SBP worried enough to discuss with major basketball stakeholders like the PBA and the collegiate sports organizations, the UAAP and NCAA, how to deal with the “juicy offers being forwarded to our potential national players.”

The siphoning of Filipino talent to play overseas came to the fore after the shock loss of Gilas Pilipinas to Indonesia in last month's Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam. Giving up the SEA Games men's basketball crown after 33 years snapped many sports aficionados out of the fantasy that the Philippines will forever reign dominant in basketball, at least in the region.

The dethronement has been partly blamed on the unavailability of key players to join the Gilas squad, leaving the SBP scrounging around for replacement players.

In the fallout from the Humiliation in Hanoi, Chot Reyes, who has described himself as “the most hated man” in Philippine basketball, resigned as Gilas coach, and the SBP will go full blast into preparations for the FIBA World Cup next year.

Barrios said it will be difficult to form a competitive team for the World Cup because the mainstays of the national pool have commitments with their teams abroad.

But building a team good enough to go against the world's best does not rest on player availability alone. If we are bent on assembling a “dream team,” our officials would stop at nothing to get Fil-American Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz to don the Gilas colors. Then they must bring in 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto, who is awaiting draft calls from the NBA 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 hand and make the most of the remaining time into shaping them into a primed, cohesive, fighting unit.

The SBP should not stop young players from improving their skills by taking their act overseas. It's the best proof that Filipinos can hold their own against other standouts from the region, and yes, even excel.

Faced with competition from foreign leagues, the PBA needs to make adjustments if it expects to attract up-and-coming players to its fold.

Perhaps, it's time for the league to expand beyond our shores. It could arrange regional conferences with the pro leagues in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, traditional football powers where basketball is gaining more followers.

Barrios didn't reveal the “initiatives” the SBP plans to stop the draining of basketball talent, but we hope it will not include efforts to make it more difficult for Filipino cagers who are trying to carve their destiny overseas.

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