I was about to write about the Chris Paul trade when for some reason, it led me to here.
Matt F’N Mitchell.
I don’t know why but I thought he had the goods to make the PBA. He had a hulked-up body that could jam and alongside Rob Wainwright and Dondon Hontiveros, the Cebu Gems became one of the threats in the south.
He could have been a top pick if he entered the PBA Draft…
… and here are five MBA Fil-Ams who could have succeeded in the PBA.
Now I don’t have any stats with me. The only resource I have is my memory. The only criterion I have is that the said player could have dominated the PBA IF and only IF he played in the league. I am also limiting my picks to five because I don’t want this article to be another skeleton in my closet of unfinished articles.
5 Dean Labayen
During the second season of the MBA, the Negros Slashers paraded two big time Fil-Foreigners – Dorian “the fruitiest name in all of Philippine basketball” Pena and Fil-Canadian Dean Labayen. When I first saw Chris Banchero, it reminded me of this guy. He is a tall PG that could go either pass first or go streaky with a wink of an eye. He can be a poster boy of sorts a la Alex “Heartbreaker” Compton. But like Brown, his Philippine pro career was short-lived. He could have blossomed into a part-time starter for up and coming teams like FedEx, Shell, and Sta. Lucia in 2001. There was even talk that he signed a contract with Pop Cola but that obviously didn’t pan out. Maybe he’s better off doing something else… like becoming a teacher for some prep school or something.
4 Stephen Antonio
So back in the 2000s, the PBA had this utility dude named William Antonio. This guy is gold beyond the arc! Antonio saw action for San Miguel and Coca-Cola/Powerade/GlobalPort and he’s pretty much a good backup small forward with a knack for defense and did I tell he has a nice outside touch? Now he had a brother named Stephen. Will was selected fifth by the Beermen in the 1998 PBA Draft while Stephen was taken in twelfth by the Alaska Milkmen. Will was 22 when he got drafted and Stephen was 24. Alaska never signed Stephen though as they acquired the rights of Braulio Lim (picked one spot ahead of him in the 1998 PBA Draft). He also missed a chance to play for Alaska who had the likes of Joey Loyzaga, Al David, and Joey Valdez in their roster, whose coach and virtually 80 percent of their starting five was lent to the Centennial Dream Team, and a team whose star player in the last two conferences were Rodney Santos and Rhoel Gomez. Antonio would surface in the MBA as part of the Batangas Blades and while the team scored a title in 2001, he would never see action in the PBA. Stephen Antonio could have made the PBA if he played his cards right. Especially if you look at Shell’s roster at this point of their existence.
3 AC Brown / Cid White
The Manila Metrostars is one of the league’s most successful squads. Romel Adducul and Alex Compton were their studs and they also had an accomplished sixth man in AC Brown. Meanwhile Cid White would bounce from team to team in the MBA where he would have offensive spurts. He starred with the Nueva Ecija Patriots and meshed well as part of the Negros Slashers. Brown’s MBA career ceased to exist when the Metrostars and the Batangas Blades merged but leaving that, both are valuable ensemble players that can play multiple positions and will not back down from doing the dirty work. Brown and White (haha) aren’t imposing as scorers but hey, how can you count them out? And it’s not like they are going to dominate squads that could be competitive in the PBA. This is why I can see these guys star in the PBA. Harvey Carey and Willy Wilson are pretty much their archetypes and they have been in the league since the mid-2000s. If I’m going to pick on who is better between the two, I’d say it would be White… but only because Brown never took the risk of becoming the take charge guy.
2 Jeffrey Flowers
At 31 years old, Jeffrey Flowers decided that he would rather retire from Philippine basketball rather than to give up his citizenship. It’s commendable for a player to give up his dream for the future of his family but imagine if Flowers applied for the 2003 PBA Draft? The dude is a 6’8 or so wide body that could clog the paint. Together with Chris Clay, Flowers converted the Laguna Lakers as certified MBA studs. Hell I would rather pick him second in the 2001 PBA Draft instead of Mike Hrabak if I wanted a tough-as-nails inside operator. It’s almost elementary for PBA teams to find ways to keep titans in their rosters as evident with Sam Eman, Ervin Sotto, and yeah… Gilbert Lao. At worst he could be as par as James Walkvist and that guy had a lengthy PBA stint after playing for the Pasig Blue Pirates.
1 Matthew Mitchell
Cebu is a basketball hotbed but apart from their love of the game, asses stuck in the seats partly because of Matt Gaerlan Mitchell. In some ways, he became the MBA’s answer to Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, and Danny Seigle. Mitchell can bully his way on the inside like The Rock, he is equipped with a decent mid-range shot like Major Pain, and he can make the Cebu Coliseum erupt with his aerial artistry a la Dynamite Danny. I thought he could have been more had not for his attitude. Everyone hated Mitchell for acting like an idiot as the Philippine National Anthem played in one fateful game. He would often chew down the referees as if he’s baby version of Ivan Johnson. And then he would live Cebu high and dry – as he allegedly went to the States to fix his citizenship so he can join the PBA. According to a Philippine Star article from way back, Mitchell was slated to play for the Shell Turbo Chargers in 2001 as the team bought his Cebu Gems contract for ten million pesos. In the article it says that the PBA okayed the move but I still found this odd because this was the year that MBA players had to enter the PBA Draft and the Turbo Chargers already had a direct hire Fil-Am in Tony dela Cruz. But then, Mitchell’s PBA stint didn’t pan out. This was a time when there was a witch hunt for fake Fil-Foreigners. Gaerlan could be a Filipino surname but when he took off and never returned, perhaps there was a reason why he never realized the importance of respecting our anthem. He has since turned into an international journeyman.
I almost tried to write about the almost-PBA careers of Chris LaFontaine, Nate Payne, Danny Mosley, Jallah Smith, John DuMont and others but in my mind, these six are the only Fil-Ams that mattered in the MBA (that didn’t play in the PBA). Alex Compton and Chris Clay served as imports in Welcoat and Sta. Lucia respectively and with that, they got a free pass from this list. Some of their other Fil-Ams went on to star in the league but it’s not like they soared to great heights. Apart from Rudy Hatfield, Dorian Pena, and Jayjay Helterbrand (oh we’ll get to his story some other time), Rafi Reavis, Alex Crisano, Rob Wainwright, Robert Duat, and James Walkvist are notables to produce tolerable numbers in the league. In the 2002 PBA Draft, Payne and Mosley applied but were disqualified from joining the draft. From the excluded list, Kelani Ferreria, Kahi Villa, and a certain Jimmy Alapag got their papers cleared to participate in the succeeding drafts.