The PBA Governors’ Cup is about to kick off with a diverse cast of imports set to strut their wares in front of the passionate Filipino basketball fans. With some teams having no height limit imposed on their reinforcements, others having to work around a 6-foot-5 cap and a few teams availing of the option to add an Asian import, there will be more than a few faces to have to get to know over the course of the conference.
InterAksyon.com takes a look at some of the new guys right as the season-ending tournament gets set to begin.
BARAKO BULL ENERGY – LIAM MCMORROW
Liam McMorrow is a 7-foot-2, 270-pounder who has an interesting background. McMorrow grew up playing hockey and lacrosse and did not play organized basketball until after high school. He was recruited into Durham College in Ontario, Canada and later transferred to US NCAA Division I school Marquette University (which produced NBA players like Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler) but was unable to play a game after being deemed ‘medically incapacitated’ to participate on the collegiate level.
But an undeterred McMorrow resurfaced at Tennessee Tech a year later and managed to play two seasons, averaging 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game. He was able to play four games in the NBA D-League and five games in the NBA Summer League. He suited up for the Halifax Rainmen in the National Basketball League of Canada after a professional stint in Taiwan where he averaged 16.5 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game. The Rainmen finished runner-up after falling in a five-game series in the finals. He finished with averages of 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds – though he also had 4.4 fouls per game – for Halifax.
Due to the league’s handicapping system for imports, McMorrow is going to enjoy a size advantage of the 6-foot-5 imports and the undersized locals that are going to have to guard him. His size, physicality and athleticism will be a huge asset both in the paint and on the boards and expect him to make the most of that. Keep an eye on his offensive rebounding, too, as he averaged 3.8 a game in Canada and 6.1 per contest in Taiwan.
Barako Bull had some success, especially early in the Commissioner’s Cup, with Solomon Alabi towering over opponents in the handicapped conference. They’ll have a similar advantage in this one, so this could be a chance for them to make a little bit of noise in this one. They’re going to do it without an Asian reinforcement, though, so the locals will still have to do some heavy lifting if they are to contend.
GLOBALPORT BATANG PIER – PATRICK O’BRYANT and OMAR KRAYEM
Patrick O’Bryant is a legitimate 7-footer with 90 games of NBA experience over four years in the league. He was the ninth pick of the 2006 NBA Draft and was considered a solid prospect as a rebounder and a shotblocker, especially with his freakish 7-foot-6 wingspan.
His NBA averages of 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds aren’t very impressive but he has managed to be productive in the NBA D-League and in domestic leagues in Lithuania and Puerto Rico. He’s had plenty of success in Taiwan, though, averaging 19.8 points, 13.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 28 games with Taiwan Beer this season. Interestingly enough, he does show some flashes of an outside game as well, hitting 1.6 three-pointers on 5.3 attempts per contest.
The only thing to watch for would be his effort. In his latest brush with the NBA, he tried to make the Charlotte Bobcats roster in 2013 but was quoted in an interview with the Charlotte Observer saying, “I have to show great work ethic, which has been one of my biggest faults to date – that I tend not to work very hard.” In 2011, he was signed by Chinese Basketball Association team Fujian Xunxing but was released before the season even started due to a lack of effort and an unwillingness to play under the basket against physical opponents.
If GlobalPort is getting an engaged, focused O’Bryant that legitimately wants to be here, this could be a very good addition a team that is shoring up its frontcourt.
Omar Krayem, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-1 sharpshooting point guard from Palestine. In the past season, he’s made stints in the Swedish Basketligan and in the Mexican Cibacopa. In Sweden, he played 19 games with averages of 20.7 points and 7.1 assists while he averaged 23.1 points and 7.4 assists in nine appearances in Mexico.
GlobalPort’s Asian import was let off the leash in Mexico, where he took a whopping 10.7 attempts from beyond the arc per game while making close to four of them for a 35.4% shooting clip. He made 1.8 threes on 5.0 attempts per game (36.8%) in Sweden. His presence will help stretch the floor for penetration from the Batang Pier backcourt of Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle. His playmaking ability will be very useful for a team that can get up and down the floor as well.
The Batang Pier made some interesting additions – not just with the imports but even through trade – and the retooled unit looks like a capable squad that can be a darkhorse in the Governors’ Cup.
KIA CARNIVAL – HAMADY N’DIAYE and CHANG TSUNG-HSIEN
Kia went an interesting route for reinforcements, picking up two guys that have gone against the Philippine national team, Gilas Pilipinas, in the recent past.
Hamady N’diaye is a 7-foot-tall Senegalese center that was selected 56th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. He played a total of 33 games in the big league but has plenty of experience playing in the D-League, the NBA Summer Leagues, China and, of course, on the international level.
He was part of the Senegal team that Gilas defeated for a historic win in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. He averaged 5.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and an impressive 1.8 blocks despite playing in just 16.9 minutes per game. Coming off that campaign, he was signed by the Brooklyn Nets last September but his contract was voided two days later after he failed a required team physical. He went to play in Lebanon instead.
He’s going to be a great defensive presence for the Carnival this conference. Aside from his shotblocking rate in the FIBA tournament (that’s 3.8 blocks per 36 minutes), he was the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year back in 2009-10 after ranking third nationally in blocks for Rutgers with 4.5 per game that season.
N’diaye will have some big shoes to fill with the departure of PJ Ramos, who averaged a conference-high of 35.9 points and 21.2 rebounds and led the Carnival to some big upset wins last conference. His game won’t be quite the same but his defensive impact should be felt.
Chang Tsung-hsien or ‘Jet’ Chang is also a familiar face for Filipino fans. The Taiwanese star was their national team’s leading scorer in the 2009 and 2011 FIBA Asia Championships. He wasn’t part of the team that came to Manila in 2013 but has made his presence felt regardless.
The former BYU-Hawaii player led his school to the NCAA Division II championship game in 2011 and was named Most Outstanding Player of that tournament. He pursued an NBA dream, getting named to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Summer League roster but was not able to stick. He also made some ripples during the draft combine in 2012, running the fastest agility drill of that year.
Chang will immensely help the depth of talent that the expansion team is lacking. The Carnival relied pretty heavily on Ramos last conference, a luxury they will no longer have in the Governors’ Cup. If Manny Pacquiao’s squad wants a repeat of their giant-killing ways, they’ll have to do it in a different way and it will be interesting to see how they go about it.
BLACKWATER ELITE – MARCUS DOUTHIT
At this point, there’s really no point talking too much about ‘Kuya’ Marcus Douthit just because of how familiar he is to fans.
He’s been an invaluable part of the rise of Gilas Pilipinas and one of the best players in Asia (especially in 2013, when he helped the Philippines qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup). We all know of his steady on-court play, his valuable veteran leadership and even his production. Last conference, he suited up for this same team (22 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks per game) and led the team to a 3-win, 8-loss slate and a last place finish in the Commissioner’s Cup
He’ll do very well again, especially with many of the teams having imports of only 6-foot-5. Like the other taller imports, he’ll be a walking mismatch for many of the teams.
With smaller imports – although half the league will have an extra Asian import – expect Douthit to be just as good (if not better) than last conference. Taking the young expansion club Blackwater further than last conference, though, could be a tougher task.
ALASKA ACES – ROMEO TRAVIS
Alaska has one of the more interesting imports this conference in former LeBron James teammate Romeo Travis. The 30-year-old was a standout at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds in high school, and was one of the subjects of the ‘More Than A Game’ documentary, which focuses on that prep team dealing with stardom of LeBron James.
Since then, though, Travis has had a solid collegiate career at hometown University of Akron (where he became the school’s all-time leader in blocks) and a lengthy pro career with stints in Israel, Croatia, Ukraine and Russia. He’s recently come off a stint with BC Krasny Oktyabr in the VTB United League, the highest stage for Russian clubs. In 16 Eurocup games for Krasny, he averaged 14.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals.
He’s managed to remain friends with James, though, through it all. He was once invited to try out for the Cavs’ Summer League team and recently returned to Akron with James and fellow St. Vincent-St. Mary teammate Dru Joyce III for an offseason workout.
Alaska is going to bank on his versatility, having the ability to play the wing and even in the paint when needed. He’s not quite LeBron, but he will be a solid guy who can do a little bit of everything – scoring, rebounding, defense – for his team. He’s a good fit, too, on a team that has someone like Sonny Thoss, who can man the center spot against some the bigger locals and imports.
(He’s also going to be able to provide some toughness. While playing in Israel, he once inadvertently sparked a bench-clearing brawl against the famed Maccabi Tel Aviv squad coached by now Cavs mentor David Blatt after tussling with a Maccabi player on a rebound battle.)
The Aces never really got going in the Commissioner’s Cup after going to seven games in the Philippine Cup and not getting much of a rest between conferences. After an early exit, though, they’ll likely be much more prepared for the coming Governors’ Cup and the well-traveled Travis will play a big role in their championship aspirations.
MERALCO BOLTS – ANDRE EMMETT and BENNY KOOCHOIE
Andre Emmett will be one of the more exciting players to look out for this conference. In January, SB Nation website Ridiculous Upside ran a story that said Emmett was considered by NBA and D-League coaches and scouts as the “best scorer” in the developmental league.
That’s not really surprising for a guy who averaged 22.6 points in his most recent stint for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. In the 2011-12 season, he scored 23.1 points per game for the Reno Bighorns, shooting an impressive 41.9% from three-point range.
In college, he finished as Texas Tech’s all-time leading scorer with 2,256 points. He also once set a Chinese Basketball Association record after scoring 71 points in a single game. That mark since been beaten more than once with the record standing at 82 points.
That’s all good stuff for Emmett and it will be exciting to see how much of that can translate over to Meralco here in the PBA. He’s not the youngest of guys (already 32 years old) but his experience will be a good boost for the Bolts as well.
It’s an interesting departure for Meralco, which enjoyed some measure of success last conference with a defensive-minded, 24-year-old import in Josh Davis. Emmett will be far from that, but it will be entertaining to see him explode for some points.
Iranian point guard Benny Koochoie will be a nice addition to for Meralco as well. Initially interested in picking up Mahdi Kamrani for their Asian import, the Bolts are turning to another guard to help strengthen the backcourt.
Koochoie was born in Iran but was raised in the US, attending California State University-Stanislaus, averaging 13.1 points, 4.2 assists and 2.1 steals one season. He’s also a veteran of Iran’s Superleague and was one of the first Iranian players to suit up for the Chinese Basketball Association.
The Meralco duo will have plenty of expectations heaped upon them after the Bolts’ semifinal finish last conference. They’re going to be fun to watch, but the team will need to notch some wins if they are to keep their momentum going.
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» To comply with cap on Fil-foreigners, Meralco unloads Sean Anthony in 3-team trade with NLEX, Mahindra
» GlobalPort team owner’s challenge to Terrence Romeo after FIBA Asia: Bring Batang Pier to PBA semis