LAS VEGAS: It’s springtime in Vegas and “Sin City” is bustling with life. The weather here now is ideal for tourists with the temperature ranging from 12 degrees to 22 degrees Celsius. The past few days have been cooler because of occasional rain showers. But the city is also bracing for the coming summer when the temperature can be too hot even for Filipinos.
Anyway, the sport of basketball is also very much alive here. I came here last week with the San Beda Red Lions for a two-week training at the Impact Basketball Academy of notable NBA trainer Joe Abunassar and drillmaster Andrew Moore. The first week had been both fun and formidable for the team, especially for the seven first-timers. The Impact camp gave them drills on individual offensive and defensive skills, transition attacks, and strength and conditioning. It’s part of the build up for the coming NCAA season when the Red Lions are eyeing to regain the title they lost last year.
But the Lions are not alone in Abunassar’s camp. 2013 NBA top overall pick Anthony Bennett is also currently polishing his craft in the same camp, hoping to make a comeback in the NBA after being demoted by the Toronto Raptors to its D-League squad. Also training with San Beda are some of the aspiring NBA draftees next season like St. Joseph’s DeAndre Bembry, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins, along with four players from the Korean Basketball League team Changwon LG Sakers that include 6’10” national player Kim Jong-kyu. And guess who else came to town to train under the Impact Academy – Ateneo star and top PBA draft prospect Kiefer Ravena. The two-time UAAP MVP is staying in his granduncle’s home in Las Vegas, who happens to be former University of the East (UE) star Victor Villarias. Kiefer is also preparing for the next PBA Rookie Draft where he is expected to be one of the top three first round picks. His father Ferdinand was a former PBA Rookie of the Year winner.
This weekend, the Red Lions will also participate in a two-day tournament featuring Fil-Ams and other Asians from different parts of the States like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Florida and Honolulu. The Asian-American Philippine Basketball Association (AAPBA) will be held in Las Vegas for the third straight year and is organized by retired U.S. Postal Service officer Manny Umali. Umali has been organizing and managing basketball tournaments for Asians since 1999 and has had tremendous success in producing future hoops stars in the Philippines. Among the prominent ballers who once played in Umali’s tournaments are PBA icons Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, and Alex Cabagnot, and legends Abe King, Manny Victorino, and Ponky Alolor. Other PBA alumni that saw action in the AAPBA are Elmer Lago, Lowell Briones, Dennis Harrison and brothers Derrick and Ronnie Bughao. Over 90% of the AAPBA’s participants are Pinoys. It was also a pleasant reunion for myself and Ronnie Bughao, who once donned the colors of San Beda in the NCAA.
Umali migrated to America in 1971 after finishing his Business Administration degree at UE. Among his schoolmates then was Philippine basketball luminary Robert Jaworski. He lived in Seattle for 22 years before finally settling in Las Vegas with wife Beth and children Marilou, Jo and Mae.
Las Vegas is also the favorite venue for renowned basketball coaching seminar Nike Championship Basketball Clinics. This year, the clinic was held at The Orleans Resort and Casino from April 29 to May 1. Among the illustrious speakers this year were Basketball Hall of Famer Bobby Knight, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, former NBA and UCLA player Swen Nater, Baylor’s Scott Drew, California’s Cuonzo Martin, Depaul’s Doug Bruno and Abunassar. It is a popular coaching clinic that’s attended regularly by Filipino coaches. This year, San Beda coaches Ford Arao and Christien Dela Cruz, former University of San Carlos and San Beda high school coach Britt Reroma, and former St. Benilde player Jacob Manlapaz were among the attendees.
Las Vegas may be known as an entertainment and gambling place but it’s also an excellent venue for sports activities.