Pinoy hoops alive and well in Toronto

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Jude P. Roque

Jude P. Roque

TORONTO, Canada: Part of my job as San Beda Red Lions team manager is to scout for potential recruits to ensure the team’s competitiveness each year. And since the shift to the K to 12 Program in the high school educational system in the country has resulted to an added two years of high school, the availability of most blue chip junior prospects was also pushed to 2018. This has compelled me to look for other sources of talent outside the country. And since the Red Lions will have their annual summer training in Las Vegas, the United States’ west coast would be an ideal place to hunt for prospects. After all, it’s no secret that there are over a million Pinoys in the state of California.

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But when the Durham Crossover Team of Canada saw action in the NBTC League at the Mall of Asia Arena last month and made a good showing, I thought the fourth largest country in the world (per land area) could be home to numerous untapped young Filipino basketball talents. Durham Crossover head coach Mike Cruz affirmed that Canada has a good number of promising ballers under the age of 20. His Durham Crossover team is one of the top Filipino high school basketball clubs in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where about half of the Pinoys in Canada reside. At least three of his boys have caught the eye of college coaches in Manila during the NBTC tournament. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. Among the young Filipino ballers from the GTA are 6’7” small forward Christian David and 6’3” point guard James Canlas, who are both prime targets of NCAA Division 1 teams in the States. Canlas was part of the Crossover team that played in the NBTC and he reminded me of a young Ray Parks. Anyway, Cruz suggested for me to have a look in Toronto and offered to assist in scouting for talents. So I gladly obliged.

It’s no wonder that the GTA is a wellspring of Pinoy talents as there are several Filipino basketball clubs and associations to accommodate all enthusiasts. So when Cruz organized a tryout for me on Saturday, I was amazed with the large turnout. It certainly helped a lot that my uncle’s close buddy Carlos Unas, whom I call Tito Caloy, is also the publisher of the Filipino Bulletin in GTA. With the help of some friends from the notable Filipino-American basketball group called the North American Basketball Association (NABA), the Durham Crossover group of Cruz was able to promote the tryout extensively as well.

The NABA is actually an excellent source of talents as it conducts several tournaments each year all over North America. At least 26 cities are represented in each NABA tournament including major Canadian cities Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg, and U.S. cities like Chicago, New York, Detroit and Philadelphia. Its tournaments are participated by over a thousand Filipinos living in the U.S., Canada and even the United Kingdom. NABA was founded by Angel Panganiban 29 years ago, and has been going strong since then. Among NABA’s top executives is former Letran coach Larry Albano.

In Toronto also I was able to hook up with my former player Jeff Bombeo, who migrated with his family in 2011. Jeff was the team captain of the Red Lions in 2004 under Nash Racela, which almost barged into the NCAA finals but fell short in the last few seconds of the semis knockout match against then top-ranked University of Perpetual Help. Jeff is now a successful financial consultant for a leading Canadian investment firm.

To cut the story short, I was more than satisfied with what I saw, and I’m flying to Los Angeles today with at least three potential recruits from my Toronto expedition. Although nothing is cast in stone yet as regards these prospects, I’m still delighted to have made the trip.

Seeing the majestic Niagara Falls was the cherry on the cake.

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