Making it into the PBA isn’t easy. There’s always the more common route of playing collegiate ball in the Philippines. If you herald from another country, you could always spend a couple of conferences in the PBA D-League.
Heck, you could even buy your own franchise and make yourself the team’s first ever draft pick if you really, REALLY, wanted to make it that badly. More recently, there’s been the rise of the Philippines Commercial Basketball League (PCBL) to give the millions of aspirants in the nation a chance at exposure and drawing attention to themselves for a shot at the big dream.
Quietly in the shadows lurks the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) route, which has been around for its 6th Season boasting a pretty impressive roster of alumni who make it to the PBA.
The ASEAN Basketball League is a competition between various teams in the ASEAN region. Because this is basketball and this is the ASEAN Region, Filipinos have made a dent in every instance of success in the league. This is quite impressive considering that there were even some seasons where there even wasn’t a representative team from the Philippines.
The Philippines’ biggest impact on the league has always been the juicy “ASEAN Import” rule which allows teams to have an extra roster slot for a player of “ASEAN” heritage to raise the level of talent in countries where basketball is still in development. Filipinos ballers have always been the main target to fill up that import slot and it’s proven to be able to at least make the level of competition a bit more entertaining. We’ve seen representatives from Indonesia and Thailand winning the league title, no doubt with the help of their Filipino imports.
Not only does this quirky rule help develop basketball in those lesser developed basketball countries, it can also serve as an alternative platform for Filipino ballers before hitting the PBA.
Let’s take a quick look at the ABL Alumni in the PBA.
Stating the obvious first. For the past 4 years, the ABL has sent over 3 first overall draft picks.
2015 Top pick: Moala Tautua’a, Talk ‘N Text (played for Malaysian Team, KL Dragons)
2014 Top pick: Stanley Pringle, Global Port Batang Pier (played for the Indonesia Warriors)
2012 Top pick: Jumar Fajardo, San Miguel Beermen (played for the ABL team of the same namesake)
Then there were plenty of other players scattered across the draft boards after spending time in the ABL. Sparkplug Justin Melton of Star Hotshots played for the KL Dragons. Hearthrob Chris Banchero of the Alaska Aces played for the ABL San Miguel Beermen.
And those are just the guys who played in the ABL before they were drafted. There are also a slew of other players who were drafted, never got signed, and had to ply their trades in the ABL before getting another chance. Guys like Blackwater’s Jerick Canada (who was a Finals MVP for a Thailand team) and Mahindra’s Karl Dehesa (who played for the Vietnam-based Saigon Heat).
I haven’t even mentioned the veterans who found a fountain of youth in the ABL like Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Leo Avenido, Froilan Baguion, among others.
The ABL might not be as illustrious in history and the competition might pale in comparison, but judging by track record, its not a bad place to look for legit players to make a next step in the PBA.
Let’s take a look at who might be on your favorite team’s radars this year.
Update: As this article was being written, another ABL alumni got a break in the PBA and played his first game. It is none other than ex-Ateneo Blue Eagle, Nico Elorde, who played for the Pilipinas MX3 Kings. He was picked up as a free agent by the Mahindra Enforcers and played his first game against Rain or Shine.
Prospect No.1: Matthew Wright
The Malaysia Basketball Association (MABA) Stadium in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia might not be a tiptop, state-of-the-art venue like Mall Of Asia, but it felt like it was packed up for this night. The gym is estimated to seat around 700-800 people and you could barely see a vacant spot.
It’s not usually this packed though. Basketball is not Malaysia’s first sport (football), nor is it it’s second (badminton)…and maybe not even it’s third. But this was the ASEAN Basketball League Finals and the few Malaysian basketball fans were here to show love for their team this night.
After all, it might be the last time they see them again until next season. The Dragons had lost the first game of a best of 5 series to the visiting Singapore Slingers two nights before. If they lost here in game 2, It would take a historical comeback to bring the series back to Kuala Lumpar to play in front of their fans.
Before the game, the League was announcing the league’s Regular season awards. Once the announcer started to announce the ASEAN Import Most Valuable Player of the Year, you could feel the crowd start to fidget a little bit.
“This man is from Toronto! He is a big fan of Char Kuey Teow [a Malaysian delicacy]! He’s making Malaysia his very own home. Give it up for the sharpshooter, MATTHEWWWWWWW WRIGHT!”
The fans roared in agreement with the recognition of the performance of their Half-Filipino star and it was quite well deserved. Wright had gone through the entire year lighting up every single team along the way. His 23.1 points per game led the league in scoring. A lot of those points came from beyond the three point line where he also led the league in three-point shots made (71) and attempted (170). He would finish second in three-point percentage (41.8%).
Of all perimeter players in the past 4 PBA seasons, only 6 players have topped the 40% three point shooting mark while playing more than 70% of the games and taking at least 5 threes per game: Josh Urbiztondo, Sunday Salvacion, Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Stanley Pringle, and Marcio Lassiter. None of them had consecutive conferences (20-22 games) of achieving the feat. Wright did it for a course of 20 games.
You might say that the defense of the ABL is on a different standard than that of the PBA (which is a solid claim) but if you get a chance to look at how Wright plays in every game, you won’t have much concern of how that shooting might translate once he decides to make the jump. He even had a 41 point performance (10 made three pointers) late in the ABL season.
Wright just knows the right spots (pun intended, sorry) he needs to be at a precise moment to get open for his shot. Combine that with his quick release and athleticism and you feel that Wright might at least be able to give star shooter Marcio Lassiter a run for his money.
Shooting is a skill that can translate well between different competition levels and because of the elite level of shooting that Wright has, it shouldn’t be hard for him to put up relatively similar production in the PBA.
Optimistic Potential Comparison: More Athletic Marcio Lassiter
Prospect No.2: Jason Brickman
While Wright is excepting his award, you can catch a glimpse of this team mates on the bench applauding his team mates accomplishments. Somewhere in the middle of the pack is 6’0″ half-Filipino point guard, Jason Brickman, quietly concentrating on the game ahead of him.
After the awards are all given out, the announcer starts announcing the rosters of both teams. As he starts with the starting line up of the home crowd, it might have been Brickman who got the loudest cheers.
Wright might have been the one who put up the points for the Dragons, but it was arguably Brickman who was the choreographer who set the tone. A true point guard by almost any definition, you could make a pretty solid argument that Brickman was the most important player on any team in the ABL.
The sturdy-framed guard played in 91% of the minutes available and he barely seemed to look like he was ever tired. Brickman is known for his passing first and foremost, dating back to his NCAA Division 1 days where he is only one of the four players ever to have dished out at least 1000 dimes throughout his entire career.
Those pass-first habits didn’t go anywhere once he made his way to the ABL. Brickman easily led the league with 10.5 assists per game, notching two 20 assists games the entire year. His 37.7 AST% is so ridiculous, that it’s a rate that has only been topped by LA Tenorio, Jospeh Yeo, Sol Mercado and Chris Ross in PBA during the past four years. Again, the stats aren’t a perfect transition between leagues, but they do speak to some volume about what Brickman brings to the game. Brickman makes sure that all of his team mates get a fair share of the ball and he makes the craziest of passes seem so easy to pull off.
And despite that being his calling card, that’s not all that Brickman has to offer. He averaged a solid 13.2 points per game off of 47.1 eFG%. Brickman can score if the team needs him to and he can do it pretty well, too.
This is without even starting to mention Brickman’s defense and the other intangibles that he can offer. Brickman is known around the league as one of the nicest guys around the league. Any team would be pleased to have him on the team.
As Brickman jogs away from the bench to midcourt line up, he’s greeted playfully by team mates who look ecstatic to be playing on the same team with him. Honestly, I would be pretty glad to have him on my team as well.
Optimistic Potential Comparison: Filipino Jason Kidd
Prospect No.3: Kris Rosales
Wright and Brickman are going up against the Singapore Slingers and the Slingers ASEAN Import and fellow Filipino prospect, Kris Rosales. The American raised Filipino couldn’t be more in contrast with the other two he was going up against. Wright and Brickman are products of playing NCAA Division 1 schools while Rosales played at Hope International College of the NAIA. While Wright and Brickman are playing professionally in the region for the first time, Rosales has already spent a year playing in the PBA D-League. Rosales had already been drafted into the PBA earlier, but never signed a contract unlike Wright/Brickman who are still ineligible to enter.
While Wright and Brickman are the shining stars putting up ridiculous numbers on their teams, Rosales seems more to be a player who fits himself into a role that is needed in a well oiled machine.
Rosales rarely starts games for the Singapore Slingers and he wasn’t starting this one as well. However, that has never stopped him from making an impact every time he makes the court. He might only be averaging a pedestrian 10.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game but he’s made himself a dangerous player with his fundamentally sound play and exceptionally accurate midrange shooting.
You don’t have to look back for for evidence of Rosales’ contribution. The smooth operator scored only 13 points, but he scored a crucial jumpshot with less than one minute left to steal Game 1 for the Slingers.
Rosales might not be as flashy as the other prospects here, but don’t let that cloak the impact he has on every game.
Optimistic Potential Comparison: Filipino Kyle Anderson
Brickman would finish Game 2 of the ABL Finals flirting with a triple-double (13 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists). That performance would be enough to bring the KL Dragons back into a tie with the Singapore Slingers at one game a piece. The series would go to Singapore next week for another two games. If the teams split the next two games again, the series will go back to finish everything once and for all in Kuala Lumpar.
Whatever the outcome, the ABL will once again have at least one Filipino who made his mark as league champions. For the past two seasons, the ASEAN Basketball League has been considered more of an overthought by the Filipino fanbase mainly because of the lack of a representative team from the Philippines.
But if you are able to take a deeper look into the league, the Filipino craze for basketball is evident all over the place. Not only is it the players mentioned above, the league has two Filipino Head Coaches (Ariel Vanguardia & Jing Ruiz) and is run by a Filipino Chief Operations Officer, Jericho Ilagan.
Maybe it’s time that we started paying more attention to the ASEAN Basketball League. Maybe then, Filipinos might be able to use the ASEAN Basketball League as another effective platform to hone their talents.