I remember growing up when the tall- est basketball talents in the country were Romy Mamaril, Abet Guidaben, Manny Victorino and Ramon Fernandez. None of them stood taller than 6’6”. Some years later, 7’0” EJ Feihl and 6’9” Marlou Aquino entered the picture and they obviously stood out in every Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) game. But it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that 6’10” Greg Slaugh-ter and 6’9” Japeth Aguilar came to form the present-day skyscrapers in local hoops.
Now we hear of very young talents that have already grown to astounding heights, and they continue to grow. 14-year old Ethan Kirkness and 13-year old Kai Sotto are already 6’9” and could grow a few inches more. Both are also heavily into basketball, which should improve their skills tremendously over the next few years. Sotto, the son of former pro Erwin, is currently playing for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets varsity squad in the summer league Fil-Oil Cup. On the other hand, Australian-born Ethan is chiseling his craft under former Aussie pro Greg Fox in Australia. Ethan’s father Michael has invested a lot in his development to hopefully crack the Batang Gilas’ line-up soon. His mother Dinah is from Dumaguete.
In perhaps a one or two years, Kirkness and Sotto could be ready to represent the country in FIBA competitions. The Philippines has now emerged as a Top 3 contender in Asia and is beginning to gain a lot of respect from the rest of the globe. Just recently, the Under-18 Batang Gilas National Team of Coach Mike Oliver captured the Southeast Asian Basketball (SEABA) tournament held in Indonesia.
With upcoming talents like Sotto and Kirkness, the state of Philippine basketball may be headed to an even brighter future. It’s no secret that height is the biggest disadvantage of Filipinos in international play. Our guards can compete very well with the best in the world. Jimmy Alapag and Jayson Castro have been impressive in several international tournaments. And we have a ton of future Jimmies and Jaysons all over the islands. All we really need is more size in the forward and center positions.
So keep these kids growing.
Speaking of Pinoy basketball, anywhere in the world you go, you will find Filipinos still playing the sport. And with a passion.
Just last week, the Pinoy Basketball of Qatar (PIBAQ) opened the 2016 Ooredoo-PIBAQ Ambassador’s Cup at the Al Gharafa Training Gym in Doha, Qatar. Doha is home to hundreds of thousands of Filipino overseas workers. Of course, they brought with them their love for the sport. Today, basketball is among the most popular sports in Qatar because of the year-round tournaments organized by various Filipino groups. But PIBAQ is undoubtedly the biggest Filipino basketball organization in Qatar and is headed by Pat Carido, who is recognized by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), the Philippines’ National Federation in basketball. Carido has been actively promoting the sport to Filipinos in Qatar through the PIBAQ. Two years ago, the group sent former PBA star Renren Ritualo and myself to Doha to conduct a two-day basketball clinic for kids. We were joined by then SBP Deputy Director Bernie Atienza to grace the events.
The PIBAQ tournaments are so competitive that former pros like Nino Gelig, Marvin Ortiguerra and Francis Mercado are regular participants. Mercado also finds time to teach the fundamentals of the game to young Filipino ballers in Qatar during PIBAQ’s quarterly hoops camps.
The 2016 Ambassador’s Cup has three divisions namely the Regional, Seniors and Aspirants. No less than Philippine Ambassador to Qatar Wilfredo Santos declared the games open. Joining the ambassa-dor was Ed Anami, president of United Filipino Organizations in Qatar (UFOQ) and Antonio Valdez Cruz, protocol and board affairs head of Ooredoo, the tournament’s chief sponsor. The event is also fully supported by the Qatar Basketball Federation.
In the opening game, Alicafe Pampanga edged Windmills Ilocos, 78-76.
The PIBAQ is also gearing up for an even bigger event in June where Filipino clubs from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will be coming to Doha for a tournament. This Gulf-wide tourney will be one of the highlights of the celebration of the 118th Philippine Independence Day in Doha next month.