By: Bong Paredes
Feature Photo by: ASEAN Sports
Entering the 2018-19 season, then defending champions Alab Pilipinas seemed poised to jumpstart their dynasty in the ABL for a couple of reasons.
First, the team’s core was intact even though Justin Brownlee won’t be joining them. After all, PJ Ramos will be Renaldo Balkman’s partner and the last time Mr. Ramos played in the PBA, he put up numbers you will only find in NBA 2K.
Second, was the removal of the heritage import rule that re-classified Fil-foreigners as locals. So instead of having 1 Fil-foreign recruit, Alab can get as much as they want. A rule that stacked the deck for them so much that they chose not to sign a third World import, a decision that eventually caught up with them when the injury bug hit the team as the playoffs were about the start.
With guys like Lawrence Domingo, Caelen Tiongson, Brandon Rosser and imports Renaldo Balkman and PJ Ramos missing time, Alab was swept in the quarterfinals by HK Eastern. To make matters worse, Local MVP Ray Parks won’t be coming back this year after being drafted 2nd overall in the PBA in the middle of the season.
A couple of months away from the start of the 2019-20 season, Filipino basketball fans have little to no expectations for the sole Philippine representative in the ABL. That changed the last 24 hours after the team announced the signings of Jason Brickman and Jeremiah Gray. Two highly touted Fil-ams that immediately placed Alab back into contention.
How will they contribute to Alab’s championsip aspirations? Here’s a short scouting report for the newly minted players:
- Jason Brickman
No stranger to the ABL. A former Finals MVP with Westport Malaysia Dragons in 2016 playing alongside Phoenix and Gilas sharpshooter Matthew Wright. An elite playmaker that not only led the ABL in assists in multiple seasons, Jason also led the entire US NCAA Division 1 in assists in both his junior and senior years.
He played a season each in Russia and Germany prior to his lone season with the Dragons and stints with Mighty Sports on 3 different occasions playing against tough club and national teams in West Asia and in the Jones Cup.
Needless to say, Mr. Brickman can impact the game without taking a shot. Not to say he can’t score as he put up close to 13 points per game as a pass first point guard last season with Mono Vampire. Defensively, he has good instincts but he isn’t the quickest player and at only 5’9, opposing teams would try to post him up from time to time so he is average on that end of the floor.
- Jeremiah Gray
If you haven’t seen him play (which I doubt if you are reading this article without me shoving it down your throat), he’s like a young Gabe Norwood combined with Matthew Wright’s shooting. Okay so he might not be as pure a shooter as Matt but he has a quick and high release on his jumper and he isn’t shy about letting it fly from range when left open.
He’s around 6’5 and is a demon on defense. He’s long and quick enough to interrupt passing lanes and would dunk on anyone’s head even if it seems like he does not have the space and the advantage in transition. He has a high motor and can dictate the tempo of the game if paired with another excellent perimeter defender.
Jeremiah has no glaring weakness to speak of aside from a post-up game that is not really essential for his position or for the way the game is played today. If he was eligible to play for Gilas, he’ll be a shoo-in so I have little doubt that he’ll be an impact player for Alab this coming season.
Gray and Brickman both played at Mighty Sports with both Balkman and Brownlee so if one or both ends up as Alab imports, chemistry won’t be an issue.
Here’s a highlight reel from VC25 UNC from Youtube to give you a preview of the Brickman and Gray dynamic.
At this time, we still don’t know the rest of the team’s roster. But if last year’s core of Ethan Alvano, Caelan Tiongson, Lawrence Domingo and Brandon Rosser returns along with Pao Javelona and JR Alabanza. Renaldo Balkman comes back with two (not one) other imports, and they sign two to three more free agents (Roosevelt Adams, Troy Rike, Santi Santillan, Alvin Pasaol, Sean Manganti and Joshua Munzon aren’t signed to any team to my knowledge), Alab Pilipinas will be on its way to another banner season.