With only a few weeks to go prior to the start of the 2008 PBA Fiesta Cup (League opens on March 29 in Panabo City, Davao del Norte), teams are in frantic search to acquire highly-talented imports overseas to beef up their lineup. The height restrictions for foreign reinforcements have been scrapped to give way to mastodons such as ex-Red Bull and now Miami Heat cager 7’0″ Earl Barron to play in the league. Three years ago when the same system was implemented, Talk N Text’s 6’8″ Jerald Honeycutt stood tall against the giants and copped the PBA Best Import trophy, while leading the Phonepals to a second place finish.
In addition, the league also gave a concession to the Welcoat Dragons and the Coca-Cola Tigers (for finishing 9th and 10th at the end of the classification) to bring in another import standing not lower than 6’1″.
Two teams are enlisting balik-imports: ex-Shell import Wesley Wilson who will carry his rebounding and shotblocking prowess to 2007-08 Philippine Cup champions Sta. Lucia Realtors, and ex-Talk N Text import Randy Holcomb who will play for the Alaska Aces.
Wilson, a 6’11” standout from Georgetown University (the same school that produced Pat Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo), played for Shell back in 2005. He averaged a scintillating 28.6 ppg, and 13.9 rpg and 2.6 bpg (good for 4th overall) but got replaced after 10 games due rumored contractual dispute with management and possible injuries. Wilson will provide the Realtors an imposing presence inside the shaded lane in tandem with Marlou Aquino and Dennis Espino. Wilson’s presence will allow Kelly Williams to slide to the wings. He may be considered the yardstick for imports in the coming Fiesta Cup.
The 6’9″ 29-year-old Holcomb will be arriving on March 16 and is expected to be in tip-top shape as the Chicago, Illinois native is coming off a stint in Puerto Rico. Holcomb played in the PBA back in 2005 suiting up for Talk N Text averaging 25.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per contest in just six games before getting the axe (he was replaced by Jerald Honeycutt). He will be reunited with Alaska assistant coach Joel Banal, who was his coach at Talk â€™N Text. Holcomb was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, as the 57th overall pick in the 2002 draft. He never got to play with the Spurs as he was traded to Philadelphia. He last played in the NBA in the 2005-06 season after signing a 10-day contract with the Chicago Bulls.
Air21 Express was the first team to sign their import. The Express selected CBA veteran Steve Thomas over regular import Shawn Daniels. The 6’9″ 245-lb Thomas is the league-leading rebounder in the Continental Basketball Association with an 11.4 rpg average.
Thomas is expected to fly in by the middle of next month when the CBA ends. He is also putting up scores of 13.7 ppg for the East Kentucky Miners. He is also pacing the league in FG percentage with an awesome 62.5% clip from the field. He is also number 2 in shotblocks with a 1.8 bpg average. Thomas played three years for the University of Georgia then sat out the 2003-04 season to gain eligibility at Middle Tennessee State. In 2002, Thomas was accused of rape with varsity athletes Tony Cole and Brandon Williams but they were never indicted. He emerged from the incident more determined to make his mark as a player. As a senior in 2004-05, he averaged 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 24 minutes, shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 70.8 percent from the stripe in 24 games. Thomas was an All-Star in the Polish league as an import before signing up in the CBA this season. He is known as a defensive and physical specimen who loves to work down low, a presence that will surely be needed by the center-strapped Air21 Express team.
The Coca-Cola Tigers will bring in bruiser Jason Dixon, a regular fixture in the Chinese Leagues. The Tigers are still shopping for their other import as prospect Donald Copeland couldnâ€™t get his release papers from his current employer.
Jason Dixon is flying in Tuesday fresh from a stint with the Guandong Southern Tigers â€“ his team in the Chinese Basketball Association since 1998 or three years after ending his varsity stint with Liberty University. At 35, the Aurora, Colorado native also has had tours of duty in Turkey, Israel, Argentina, Sweden and Cyprus. But it is in China where Dixon has become a permanent basketball fixture. Dixon has won three championships with the Guandong team. Dixon averaged 13.1 points on .514 shooting plus 8.1 rebounds in 58 games with Liberty University in 1995. He was a transferee from Eastern Wyoming. Together with Nic Belasco, Mark Telan and Asi Taulava, the Tigers look very imposing in the frontline.
Copeland is a product of Seton Hall, putting in 16.1 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game for the school in the 2005-06 campaign.
The Welcoat Dragons decided not to suit up Assistant Coach Alex Compton as its 6’1″ reinforcement and instead hooked up with playmaker Cory Santee. They haven’t decided yet on their other reinforcement although they’re looking at Jason Keep and Sylvester Morgan.
Santee is a well-built 6’1″ 200-lb former Texas Christian University (TCU) star who last played for the Fort Worth Flyers in the NBA-Development League averaging 12.2 points, 1.5 assists and 1.0 steal a game.. Santee, a native of Flint, Michigan, starred for the TCU Frogs for three years, and in his senior season, he averaged 14.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He can play both guard spots. He’s expected to supplant Denver Lopez at the starting point guard spot or even play beside him when the Dragons elect to play two small guards in the backcourt.
Turning 30 on May 9, Keep was runner-up to Gonzaga’s Blake Stepp for the 2003 West Coast Conference Player of the Year. He earned all-tournament honors at the 2003 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament after averaging 16.3 points on 64.3 shooting percentage (third best in the tourney). The Bend, Oregon native played the final season of his collegiate career at San Diego after a one-year stay at North Idaho College in Coeur dâ€™Alene, Idaho and a two-year stint with Oklahoma State. He averaged 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds with the San Diego Toreros.
Morgan had mediocre stats with Atlanta Metropolitan College then Georgia State but had his experience playing abroad. He hooked up with the Caballeros de Sinalou team in Mexico with Georgia State teammate Cedric Patton at the end of their collegiate stint. Listed 6-foot-9, Morgan also had a tour of duty in Korea and played in the NBA Summer League last year.
Talk N Text, meanwhile, has reportedly come to terms with the 6’8″ 250-lb Aaron McGhee. McGhee played for the Oklahoma Sooners in the NCAA and gained a reputation as a big-time scorer and rebounder. In his last season with the Sooners, he averaged 16.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 0.8 bpg on 45.8% shooting from the field and 82.2% from the stripe. Despite his solid performance, he went undrafted in the 2003 NBA Draft. He will bring the much needed size to the Phonepals’ frontcourt after losing Asi Taulava (traded to Coca-Cola) last conference.
Purefoods is in the midst of finalizing contract details with the 6’10” 222-lb Darius Rice. Rice has gained reputation as a scorching scorer who makes a living from the perimeter. In the championship game in the NBDL last year, Rice carried the Dakota Wizards to an overtime win and the championship with a game-high 52 points sparked by 11 three pointers. In his four-year collegiate career with the University of Miami, Rice finished as the fourth all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,865 points. Rice is the only player in school history to lead the team in scoring in four consecutive seasons. He was named Second Team All-Big East and First Team All-District 6 by the NABC during his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. In his senior season, he averaged 16.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. NBADRAFT.NET describes Rice as a deadeye shooter with range out to pro 3. His super long arms and legs give him an advantage on offense and defense and moves very well for a 6-10 player. Not a freak athletically, but his run/jump ability is very good. Intelligent player. The nephew of NFL all-time-great receiver Jerry Rice. Not sure what the Giants are doing but Rice is a natural small forward and can’t bang bodies inside the shaded lane. He is reputed to be an explosive offensive player but with the lack of big men in the Giants’ line-up, it remains to be seen how will they be able to defend against the Wesley Wilsons of the PBA teams.
Brgy. Ginebra, Magnolia, and Red Bull (now known as BARAKO ENERGY COFFEE MIX) are still negotiating with their imports. They’re said to be looking for all-around imports who can be a go-to-guy when the need arises. Stay tuned.