Filipino basketball players

Basketball report card: Grading the Filipino imports

Ariel Ian Clarito
Basketball report card: Grading the Filipino imports

STAR-STUDDED. Imports (from left) Thirdy Ravena, Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras, and Jack Animam made the country proud.

Several Filipino basketball players took the international floor over the weekend, and one shone the brightest

Five basketball imports from the Philippines saw action over the weekend for their respective ballclubs in the Japan B. League and in the First Women’s Basketball League of Serbia. 

Of the eight Filipinos signed up this season in Japan, four did not suit up just yet either due to quarantine protocols or injuries. 

Ray Parks of the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins missed the Japan B. League opening weekend due to a muscle injury, while fellow Division I sign-ups Dwight Ramos of the Toyama Grouses and Javi Gomez de Liaño of the Ibaraki Robots, along with Division II reinforcement Kemark Cariño of the Aomori Wat’s remain in quarantine

Here’s a look at how the Filipinos who took the international floor fared this past weekend.

Thirdy Ravena, San-en NeoPhoenix

The San-en NeoPhoenix opened the 2020-2021 season with nine straight losses. This time around, the squad notched their first win of the season in their second game versus the Shiga Lakestars. 

They could have been 2-0 in the standings if only they managed to hold on to their huge lead in the game last Saturday. Still, things appear to be looking up for coach Branislav Vicentic’s troops.

Thirdy Ravena has seemingly acclimatized himself to his new role as one of Vicentic’s go-to guys compared to last season when he did not figure prominently in the team’s offensive schemes. 

In Sunday’s game, Vicentic even designed the last play for Ravena to have the ball in the closing seconds of regulation. 

Ravena is posting averages of 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in their first two games, including a 21-point explosion in their victory over the Lakestars. 

These numbers are up from his production the previous season of 9.1 points and 3.6 boards. He is the second-leading scorer of the team next to German import Elias Harris (18.5 points) and is San-en’s third-leading rebounder. 

Grade: Outstanding

Kiefer Ravena, Shiga Lakestars

Japanese fans have reportedly become enamored with The Phenom. 

For good reason. Kiefer Ravena has displayed basketball IQ that is off the charts. He has also shown he could impact and control a game with his playmaking. 

In their opening game win over the San-en NeoPhoenix, Ravena dished out 8 assists, a number of which helped the Lakestar wrest the lead and create some separation between them and his younger brother’s team. 

He dished out 7 more in their second game. He could have just as easily ended with more than 10 assists if only his teammates connected on the open looks from Ravena’s pinpoint passing in the crucial stages of the ballgame. 

Ravena’s average of 7.5 assists in two games ties him for third among the league leaders. He trails only Thirdy’s former teammate Tatsuya Suzuki of Kyoto Hannaryz (8 per game) and Chiba Jets’ Yuki Togashi (9.5 per game), the former B. League MVP who has played for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Summer League.

Ravena is also averaging 15.5 points, third-highest in the team. He and British import Ovi Soko lead the Lakestars in steals with 2 a game.

Grade: Outstanding

Kobe Paras, Niigata Albirex

Kobe Paras had one of the most explosive debuts in the entire B. League. He dropped 25 points in a losing effort versus Kyoto Hannaryz last Saturday. Only five players scored more in the B. League opening weekend, four of them American imports and one Czech import. Paras also had 4 assists and 2 steals.

He cooled down in their second game with just 10 points, but 4 of these came in the closing minutes of the rematch versus Kyoto on Sunday which Niigata won, 76-75.

With his length and athleticism, Paras is proving to be a nightmare matchup at the 3 spot. He will have to do some heavy lifting, though, on offense for Niigata which finished last season in ninth place in the East district and 17th among 20 teams in the B.League. He and Hungarian import Rosco Allen currently lead the squad in scoring with 17.5 points per outing. 

Niigata coach Fujitaka Hiraoko has inserted former Japan Under-17 national team member Yuto Nomo in the starting lineup. 

Nomo is contributing 11 points this season to backstop Paras and Allen. Niigata’s other imports, NBA veteran Jeff Ayres and Tshilidzi Nephawe, are both scoring below double digits.

Grade: Outstanding

Juan Gomez de Liaño, Earthfriends Tokyo Z

Coming off an injury, Juan Gomez de Liaño saw limited floor time in the first game of the Earthfriends Tokyo Z in Division II action last Saturday. He was fielded in for just three minutes and attempted thrice, sinking a single basket. 

Gomez de Liaño did much better in their second game. Coach Hugo Lopez, the former Coach of the Year of the Canadian National Basketball League who has also coached in the Spanish Liga ACB, played Gomez de Liaño for 16 minutes. 

The former UP Maroons star repaid Lopez’s trust as he pumped in 10 points and had 1 steal. He had zero assists, though. The Earthfriends Tokyo Z lost both games to the Kagawa Five Arrows.

Lopez’s deep backcourt rotation features three other crack point guards – team captain Kotaro Hisaoka and Japanese-American Mark Burton, who are both averaging in 10.5 points per game, and backup Tsubasa Kurihara. 

Burton played US NCAA Division II basketball before moving to Japan to turn pro. Kurihara, meanwhile, is registering 3.5 assists per 21 minutes of play thus far. 

Moving forward, Gomez de Liaño will need to find a complementary role in Lopez’s scheme of things to gain more playing time.

Grade: Average

Jack Animam, Radnicki Kragujevac

Jack Animam, hands down, shone the brightest among the five Filipino imports who played over the weekend. 

Animam sizzled on both ends of the floor with 20 points on 72% shooting, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals to help lead the Radnicki Kragujevac to a one-point victory over Proleter Zrenjanin, 78-77, in the opening playdate of the First Women’s Basketball League of Serbia.

There were questions whether Animam could sustain her level of dominance when ranged against players who matched her length and skills. Serbia is one of the top basketball countries in the world. In the Tokyo Olympics, Serbia made the semifinals of women’s basketball and eventually finished fourth.

Animam immediately dispelled all doubts in her history-making debut last Saturday which saw her become the first ever Philippine-born player to suit up in a professional league in Europe. 

What made her feat even more remarkable was her offensive output came mostly from her own efforts as plays were rarely called or set up for her. 

Still, coach Nenad Milovanovic gave Animam plenty of opportunities as he kept her on the floor for 34 minutes, the longest among all the players in the squad.

Grade: Outstanding