Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Import returnees spice up 'Fiesta'

MANILA, Philippines - Four returnees, headed by last year’s Best Import Gabe Freeman of San Miguel Beer, and six newcomers, including NBA veteran Awvee Storey of Barangay Ginebra, will be featured in the PBA Fiesta Conference which fires off Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.

While Freeman is expected to dish out another solid performance for the Beermen, focus will be on Storey, the best-credentialed among the current batch of reinforcements, having played in three NBA teams – Washington, New Jersey and Milwaukee – for four seasons.

Storey was scheduled to be measured late yesterday along with Diamon Simpson of Alaska, Sammy Monroe of Barako Bull, Eric Cory Hicks of Talk n Text, according to PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios, who appeared at yesterday’s PSA Forum at the Shakey’s UN Ave. The height limit for imports is 6-6.

Simpson had a brief stint with Los Angeles D-Fenders in the NBA Developmental League while Monroe saw action with the Rochester Razorsharks in the little-known Premier Basketball League.

Hicks played college ball at the University of Cincinnati, before seeing action in the Belgian, Polish and Russian leagues.

Another newcomer is Greek League veteran Lorenzo Wade, who will backstop the All-Filipino champion Derby Ace Llamados (formerly Purefoods TJ Giants).

Air21, meanwhile, will parade Keena Young, who made good impression during the Express practice upon his arrival in the country Monday, according to team manager Lito Alvarez.

However, Alvarez rued their failure to enlist original choice Leroy Hickerson, who suffered injury after figuring in a car accident in Kentucky, a few days before his departure for Manila.

“It’s very unfortunate. Hickerson could’ve been the second coming of Billy Ray Bates,” said Alvarez.

“Hickerson is an exciting player with a good inside and outside game. You can’t give him a breathing space as he can shoot three-pointers. You can’t also give him an open lane as he has an explosive drive. He’s a good outside shooter and dunker, just like Billy Ray Bates,” Alvarez said.

Hickerson had just finished a stint in the Mexican league and already preparing for his trip to the Philippines when he met the accident and sustained an elbow injury.

“He underwent surgery, so it’s very unlikely he can still play for us in this tournament. What’s sure is that he’s a top option for us in the next import-reinforced tourney,” said Alvarez.

The Air21 top official said Hickerson is only 26, a flamboyant player who took the Mexican league by storm.

“I was told he has big billboards in Mexico. After the season, he was even given a testimonial dinner by his team,” said Alvarez.

“It’s really sad we lost him. He’s a big loss to the team and to the league,” Alvarez added.

Alvarez, however, stressed the Express are still upbeat as they got a good import replacement in Young.

“Young may not be as exciting as Hickerson, but he could be as effective and that’s important,” said Air21 coach Yeng Guiao.

“Like Hickerson, Young can also play an inside and outside game,” Guiao added.

Guiao said the team is raring to come out and compete in the coming tourney following the buildup they have undertaken.

“If our import blends well with the locals, then we can have a good run in the coming tourney,” added Guiao, who has new players in Mike Cortez, Renren Ritualo and Doug Kramer.

Aside from Freeman, other returning imports are Jai Lewis of Rain or Shine, James Penny of Coca-Cola and Anthony Johnson of Sta. Lucia.

Barako Bull clashes with Sta. Lucia while Talk n Text collides with Barangay Ginebra in Sunday’s opener.

Barrios also announced that the league has scheduled several road games for the upcoming conference, including a Coca- Cola-San Miguel showdown in Gingoog City on March 27 and the Ginebra-Rain or Shine tussle in Bacolod on April 10.

Barrios said the league is also staging road games in Cagayan de Oro, Batangas, Davao, Cebu, Ormoc, Tacloban and Dumaguete. – Nelson Beltran

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