|Rain or Shine's Alex McLean finds his path blocked by San Mig Coffee's Ian Sangalang and Mark Barroca.|
Whatever happened to the high scoring import?
by rick olivares
Watching the recent match between Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Talk ‘N Text, there was a sequence when the Tropang Texters’ Kelly Williams was guarding opposing import Leon Rodgers.
The former Northern Illinois Husky tried his best to spin around Williams who gave him no quarter. The 6’5” Rodgers forced up a shot against Williams who is two inches taller.
Brick. Talk ‘N Text rebound and fastbreak. Bucket on the opposite end.
Imagine that. A local two inches taller getting the better of an import. Even Talk ‘N Text’s 6’8” Richard Howell was bothered by the height of Ginebra’s seven-foot center Greg Slaughter. In one instance, the former North Carolina State Wolfpack had his jumper sent back to him by Slaughter after being unable to get around the rookie.
A look at the current PBA Annual, in the top scoring matches in league history, only two locals have cracked a list that has exclusively been for imports – Allan Caidic (then with Tivoli) and Paul Alvarez (Alaska).
In the same list, only two imports have scored 60 points or more since the start of the new millennium – Talk ‘N Text’s Jerod Ward and Shell’s Askia Jones. Both feats were accomplished in 2001. The most recent player to average over 40-points per game was Sta. Lucia’s Derek Brown who chalked up 40.4 during the 2004 Fiesta Conference.
Why haven’t we seen scoring machines like Swift’s Tony Harris, Ginebra’s Carlos Briggs, or Hills Brothers’ Jose Slaughter?
Air21’s head coach (and former San Miguel Beerman) Franz Pumaren points out to two factors: one, the local players are now bigger, taller, and more athletic; and two, the coaching is more sophisticated. “The competence and knowledge about the game has gone up. The scouting reports help you a lot in planning how to stop these imports.”
Luigi Trillo, Alaska’s youthful head coach, agrees with Pumaren. “The players are better today but you have to give a lot of credit to team defense and the double teaming schemes and zone ups. Coaches are very crafty in taking away imports’ comfort zones or go-to shots. Coaches find ways to take away an import’s shot opportunities and get him out of his comfort level.”
But sometimes, even that isn’t enough. Despite Kelly’s heroic stand, Rodgers still managed to score 33 points with quite a few coming in barreling drives.
“A lot of these imports are young, tall as trees, and strong like anything,” related the recently retired Talk ‘N Text forward-center Ali Peek. “When you’re 23, you’ve got spring in your legs and can jump out of a gym. If I were younger, I would be able to match up with these younger imports. When you’re older, it becomes a test of stamina, conditioning, and of course, wits or game smarts. As you get older and you’re nursing all these injuries, it’s harder to stop them so you rely on experience and of course, the help defense.”
Yet for all the science behind the games, imports are still capable of explosions.
In the highest import score this Commissioner’s Cup, Barako Bull’s Joshua Dollar erupted for 46 in a losing effort to San Miguel, 106-100.
Meralco’s crowd favorite, former Wisconsin Badger Brian Butch has had two 40-point efforts this conference. Each time the 6’11” center pours in that many points, the Bolts get a win. Butch first scored 40 against Air21 in a 109-98 and 42 in a 104-99 victory over GlobalPort.
PBA Commissioner Chito Salud weighed in his thoughts about the matter, “The PBA is different now from what it was two decades ago. The style of play and the quality of players is different. Better. Much better. It’s harder for players, imports to produce the output that their forerunners did. But that doesn’t change expectations. The imports are still expected to carry their teams.”
Added Peek, “Teams are more prepared now defensively. Players’ tendencies are really scouted.”
“If you look at the recent FIBA Asia Championships,” pointed out Pumaren. “The Gilas players showed that they can guard some of the best in the world. And some of these players are naturalized players. That was one of the keys in the success of the national team.”
So have we really seen the last of the Jose Slaughters, Carlos Briggses, and Tony Harrises?
Closed out San Mig Coffee team manager Alvin Patrimonio, “Some of the best imports kasi are playing in other leagues where the pay is much higher.”