MANILA, Philippines – Four NBA veterans are listed in rosters for the FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha, Hunan province, China on Sept. 23-Oct. 3 and they’re expected to boost the chances of their teams in the race for the lone ticket to represent the region at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Andray Blatche, 29, is a naturalized player with the Philippines and made his Gilas debut at the FIBA World Cup in Spain last year. He went straight from high school to the NBA as the Washington Wizards’ second round pick in the 2005 draft. Blatche played for Washington and Brooklyn in nine NBA seasons up to 2013-14. In five of the nine campaigns, Blatche averaged in double figure points. At the FIBA World Cup, the 6-11 forward was the leading rebounder, second top scorer and the tournament’s most efficient player in terms of statistics.
Yi Jianlian, 27, was the Milwaukee Bucks first round pick in the 2007 NBA draft out of Guangdong. The 7-foot center suited up for Milwaukee, New Jersey, Washington and Dallas in a journeyman career that started in 2007-08 and ended in 2011-12. Last season, he averaged 27.6 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese league. At the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, Yi averaged 17.4 points but couldn’t lead China to the Final Four. He is a three-time Olympian and a Chinese national player since 2004.
Hamed Haddadi, 30, is Iran’s immovable force in the middle. He was never drafted but played for Memphis and Phoenix from 2008-09 to 2012-13. The 7-2, 253-pound center was arrested for domestic violence in a Memphis apartment in 2010 while with the Grizzlies. Haddadi never made a name for himself in the NBA and his highest average in a season was 4.1 points with the Suns. But in Asia, Haddadi is in a class of his own. Haddadi, however, has never faced off against Blatche in any FIBA competition so their confrontation is highly anticipated in Changsha.
Yuta Tabuse, 34, tried out for Dallas, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers but got a call only from Phoenix in 2004-05. Tabuse, a 5-8 point guard, played in only four games with the Suns, averaging 1.8 points. But his breakthrough in the NBA was one for the books. Tabuse has played for Japan in the East Asian and Asian Games and the Jones Cup but Changsha will mark his debut at the FIBA Asia Championships.
Only five teams are bannered by naturalized players, namely, Blatche for the Philippines, Quincy Jones for Chinese-Taipei, Jerry Johnson for Kazakhstan, Jay Youngblood for Lebanon and Alex Legion of Jordan. Half-Korean Greg Stevenson, who is known as Moon Tae Young, is listed as a naturalized player because he was born in North Carolina and issued a Korean passport after he turned 16. But because of his Korean lineage, Stevenson should be considered a dual citizen without having to go through naturalization. Half-Chinese Duncan Reid, whose father is Canadian, was born in Hong Kong and is considered a local player with the Hong Kong team.
Two players for Palestine were recruited from Canada and it’s not clear if one is a naturalized citizen. Under FIBA rules, a national team is allowed only one naturalized player. The two Canadians are Imad Qahwash and Ahmed Haroon. They played key roles for Palestine at the recent West Asia Basketball Association (WABA) Championships and led the national team to its first-ever appearance at the FIBA Asia Championships. Haroon averaged 13 points, six rebounds, two assists and 35 minutes while Qahwash averaged eight points, three boards and four dimes. Qahwash previously played for the Jordanian national team and should not be eligible to play for any other country except Jordan. He was recruited to play for Blackwater in the recent PBA Governors Cup but failed to get his FIBA release on time. Qahwash is listed as a Jordanian-Canadian but is now playing for Palestine.
At the FIBA Asia Championships in Manila two years ago, there were eight naturalized players, namely, Marcus Douthit for the Philippines, C. J. Giles for Bahrain, J. R. Henderson for Japan, Jimmy Baxter for Jordan, Jarvis Hayes for Qatar, Johnson for Kazakhstan, Davis for Chinese-Taipei and Eric Sandrin for South Korea. Sandrin, however, should’ve been listed a local because like Stevenson, he is half-Korean.
Stevenson, 37, played two years at Penn State and a season at Richmond before playing as an import in France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Puerto Rico and finally, South Korea. The 6-6 forward has led Mobis Phoebus to three straight Korean league titles. His brother Cameron, known as Moon Tae Jong, is now 39 and used to play on the Korean national team.
Legion, 26, was coached by NBA legend Isiah Thomas at Florida International University in 2010-11 but played in only 10 games. The 6-5 guard has played in Hungary, Italy and Lebanon and made his Jordan debut at the recent WABA Championships. Jordan coach Rajko Toroman gave his thumbs-up for Legion to anchor the national squad in Changsha.
Youngblood, 31, averaged 14.6 points for Kent State in 2005-06 then played in Poland and Austria before winding up in Lebanon. When Lebanese naturalized player and NBA veteran Loren Woods withdrew from the national team due to injury, Youngblood was tapped to fill the slot. The 6-5 forward has played in Lebanon since the 2010-11 season. Last campaign, he averaged 24.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists with United Byblos Amchit in the Lebanese league.