A growing exodus of top Filipino basketball talents towards a new competitive arena in the Japan B. League is setting fan bases abuzz with excitement unlike anything ever seen in recent years.
What started out with one player testing the waters has ballooned to eight so far, with the notable keywords being “so far,” as more prospects are rumored to be gauging their chances as well on foreign shores.
Also, most of these new Filipino imports signed through the league’s Asian Player Quota are no ordinary role players, which is why it is high time to introduce them to a wider base to garner much-needed support in their respective endeavors.
Thirdy Ravena, San-en NeoPhoenix
The pioneer who started the historic journey to Japan in the roughest way imaginable, Thirdy Ravena is now back for a second season with the rebuilding San-en NeoPhoenix, and is most likely hoping for way smoother sailing this time around.
In his first professional stint since leaving the Ateneo Blue Eagles dynasty, the three-time UAAP Finals MVP looked quite lost in the shuffle as he battled a series of injuries, and even a bout with COVID-19 just as the virus was ramping up its global destruction.
The bruising 6-foot-3 guard averaged 9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in just 18 out of a possible 59 games as San-en sunk to a 12-47 record, good for 19th place out of 20 B. League Division I teams.
Kiefer Ravena, Shiga Lakestars
After seeing his brother represent the Ravena name abroad, kuya Kiefer now wants in on the B. League action as well, as he signed a deal with the Shiga Lakestars while still having a live contract with the PBA’s NLEX Road Warriors.
The signing, although approved by the team’s top brass, unsurprisingly caused a big stir in Asia’s oldest professional league that led to a one-season compromise with Shiga, and a revision of existing PBA contract rules.
In Ravena’s last full conference with NLEX last year, the 27-year-old averaged 19.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and a steal as the Road Warriors barely missed the playoffs with a 5-6 record.
Bobby Ray Parks Jr., Nagoya Diamond Dolphins
Another superstar guard with franchise-changing potential, Ray Parks Jr. is the second PBA player to take his talents away from home after signing with the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.
The son of Hall of Fame PBA import Bobby Parks, the 28-year-old guard is no stranger to international competition as he tried his luck with the NBA D-League (now G League) before collecting two MVP awards and a championship in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).
The former NU Bulldogs star averaged 22.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.5 steals in his last stint with the TNT Tropang Giga before succumbing to an untimely injury in the Philippine Cup finals, which was eventually won by Barangay Ginebra.
Kobe Paras, Niigata Albirex BB
From one internationally-known player to another, Kobe Paras is a high-potential prospect aiming to start his professional career on the right track with the Niigata Albirex BB.
The 6-foot-6 high-flyer last electrified crowds with his raw athleticism in the UAAP with the UP Fighting Maroons, the team his father and PBA legend Benjie Paras won a championship with back in 1986.
In what would be his last season as an amateur, the 23-year-old former US NCAA recruit led the Maroons in scoring and blocks with 16.4 points and 1.2 rejections to go with 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.1 steals.
Dwight Ramos, Toyama Grouses
One of the brightest young stars of the Gilas Pilipinas program, Dwight Ramos is likewise forgoing his collegiate eligibility to go pro with the Toyama Grouses.
Despite not playing a single minute with Ateneo due to the pandemic, the 6-foot-4 guard showcased his pro-ready skills with the national team as he led the young Gilas team in multiple high-level FIBA tournaments.
At just 23 years old with four years of US NCAA experience under his belt, Ramos displayed maturity and innate leadership skills as he anchored the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers roster with averages of 13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists.
Juan Gomez de Liaño, Earthfriends Tokyo Z
While Paras and Ramos had just fleeting moments with their respective schools in Katipunan, Juan Gomez de Liaño on the other hand is a longtime homegrown product of UP now going pro with Earthfriends Tokyo Z in the B. League Division II.
The 21-year-old dynamo burst onto the scene after winning the UAAP Season 80 Rookie of the Year back in 2017, then catapulting to Mythical Team status the following year as the Maroons clinched their first finals appearance in 33 years.
That season in 2018, the 6-foot-1 guard led UP with 17.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists, and finished third in the MVP race.
Javi Gomez de Liaño, Ibaraki Robots
Not to be outdone by the Ravena family affair in the B. League, Javi Gomez de Liaño is also joining his younger brother in Japan, albeit in a different division, as a member of the newly promoted Division I team Ibaraki Robots.
Long known as a steady role player in college, the elder GDL brother continually improved his shooting and conditioning in his latter years with UP before finally cracking the Gilas roster last year alongside his brother Juan.
In his final year with the Maroons in 2019, the 6-foot-4 forward finished third in team scoring with 9.4 points while connecting on a 35% clip from downtown, the fourth-highest three-point percentage that season.
Kemark Cariño, Aomori Wat’s
Last but not least, former San Beda Red Lions big man Kemark Cariño joins Juan Gomez de Liaño as the second Pinoy in B. League Division II with the Aomori Wat’s.
A defensive-minded center, the 6-foot-8 beanpole caught the eye of the national team, and he eventually made his Gilas debut in the second window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.
The 23-year-old Cariño, a product of San Beda’s championship-winning system in the NCAA, quietly made the most of his role in his final amateur year in 2019, and averaged 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in just 4.3 minutes.
A new age of Philippine basketball
As Philippine basketball steadily plays a much-needed game of catch-up to current global standards, Pinoy fans may just see more and more high-value prospects hone their craft in unfamiliar territories around the world like Japan.
Like Kai Sotto in Australia, Jack Animam in Serbia, and Ken Tuffin and Joseph Nunag in New Zealand, these eight B. League imports are out to prove to aspiring pro ballers that the Philippines isn’t the end-all, be-all place for fulfilling a basketball dream.
More than likely, this overseas odyssey is just beginning. – Rappler.com