2015 ABCNA Preview : Phoenix, AZ
The Men’s Premier division will be the featured grouping here, as the consensus is that 4 of the top 6/7 teams in the Country will be hooping in PHX. In addition to the four heavyweights, a relatively unknown local team with some talented players will also be in the mix for the National title. We start off with Arizona Desert Jade, perennially one of the best non-California teams that competes on the major tournament trail. Sponsored by the delicious Desert Jade restaurant in Phoenix, and managed by hoopshead/ poker king Ed Yee, Desert Jade is not a team that anyone is happy to see opposite them in a bracket. Speedy PG Minh Van was a 1st team All-Metro, All-Conference pick in HS, and he will team up with 6-0 Wai Min (Skyline College) as well as sharpshooting, high scoring, 1st team All-State, 2014 Korean National MVP Jimmy Keum (Western Washington) to form perhaps the best guard trio in the tournament. Up front, Jamie Xia is a 6-4 athletically gifted forward who had a couple scholarship offers but decided to go the academic route at the University of Texas. Xia will be assisted by 6-5 Tee Chen and 6-6 local product Jeremy Walker. Arizona has all the pieces. The team making the toughest long distance journey will be the Hawaii Chosen Few. The Chosen Few, led into battle by strong lead guard and captain John Lane (Chaminade), will be headlined by 6-4 Do-It-All guy Jace Tavita (Hawaii, Utah), big man Scott Kato (Hawaii Pacific), slasher Kawika Smith (HPU), and an ultra fast twitch muscled 5-11 bomber named Brandon Matano (Hawaii, Siena, Vermont Tech). Add in the experienced Sunny Margate and young 6-4 swingman Ryan Reyes (Shoreline), and Hawaii seems to be the favorite to take the ABCNA’s first National title. Phoenix Fast N Furious will look to living legend Hank Huang (aka Meng Ling of the Jordan commercial) to lead the squad to victory. The high scoring Huang is as muscular as they come, and has plenty of experience on the big stage. Speedy guards Gian Demano and Mark Distor have legit 3-point range, 6-1 Michael Olexa has a nose for making big plays, and Omar Fabian has his picture in the ASU intramural hall of fame. These guys are vertically challenged for this level, but they will definitely use their uptempo offense and the home court advantage to their benefit. Cali Davis Dynasty has been the most successful team over the past 12 months at the major tourneys. They captured this year’s ABCNA Western Regionals, the Chinese Olympics, LVI AA Silver, Drakes, the Bay Area CNY Classic, and had strong second place finishes at the Barons, Menehunes, Cornerstone, and Tahoe tournaments. Dynasty has plenty of in game experience, and has the horses to win big matchups. They will likely be without their rock solid big man Hamilton Chang (Cal Maritime) and 6-7 Taiwan SBL star Ben Chung, but they’ve got so much athleticism, they can probably make up for it. PG Collin Kono-Woo (Sacramento State) is an absolute beast with great decision making skills, and he’s been playing some high level Pro-Am stuff so he will be more than ready. 6-3 slasher Brandon Hunter (Holy Names) has quick springs and can finish above the rim. 3-pt specialist Kenny Ho (Chinese Nationals All-Tourney), 6-1 two guard Sterling Shells (William Jessup), 6-2 all around player Ryan Lam (UC-Merced), and explosive guard Richard Lum (Western Regionals MOP) give Dynasty a wide array of options for their fast paced attack that keeps coming in waves. These NorCal cats are solid bets. The final entry in the Premier Division will be the SoCal Icemen. The Icemen may be the best team in Southern California, generally recognized as the strongest region in the Asian hoops scene. D3 National All-Star game participant PG Arik Smith (Cal-Lutheran, UWRF, All-Region) is as complete a player as we will have in Phoenix. He has an amazing first step, and can finish with contact. His backcourt running mate, silky smooth Taylor Hamasaki (Chapman University) has plenty of accolades of his own, including All-SCIAC, All-Nikkei, and even dropped 31 points against Cornell a couple years ago, something that I am not sure even Linsanity did. Kory Hamane (Occidental) is a 5-9 floor general with outstanding court vision and plenty of jumpshot juice. In the frontcourt,6-4 Jordan Young (Chapman, All-CIF) is a mismatch waiting to happen with his remarkable 3-point range, his enviable length, and his above average BB IQ; meanwhile twin brother Justin Young (Chapman) is a highly efficient scoring machine and a ravenous rebounder with a strong frame. Let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind- the Icemen will be playing on Monday.
The Men’s Select division may be the most hotly contested division out of the five divisions we will have, as it seems that each team could beat any of the other three squads on any given day. We begin with the team that won the Western Regionals, Sacramento Lock-n-Loaded. 5-10 G Mike Rosaroso (Chico State) was the MVP of the Regionals. 6-1 Derek King (SD Christian, Foothill College) is a hardworking perimeter player with bonus point range and kangaroo hops, PG Jesse Chuk (UCD) has some slick ballhandling moves and makes great logos, Brad Nakano almost made it in the BJ league a couple years ago & can flat out score, while Joe Tang is a pick and pop expert. Sacramento’s got game. Philadelphia Fastball A won the Men’s Open division at last year’s Chinese Nationals, as they are looking for their second National title in as many years. 6-2 C Jon Mabitad has a sweet touch on his midrange and has that classic back to the basket game. 6-0 G David Lam (Gloucester College) is one of the best spot up shooters in the tournament, explosive PG Alex Mar (Seattle Pacific) was an All-Everything player growing up in Seattle, and F Tuan Tang (PSU Abington) does all the little things to help the team win. If lefty Tenzin Gyurmey has a good shooting weekend, Fastball will contend. The Hawaii Menehunes don’t really have a true center on their roster, and they don’t even have a true power forward either. As the shortest team in the Select, we can expect the Menehunes to scrap on defense and shoot the lights out on offense. The Menehunes came in 2nd at the Western Regionals in the Premier division, took home the Barons title, and had a decent showing in the Tigers tournament. Their team begins with basketball aficionado Dr. Jimmy Miyasaka (Cal Poly Pomona), an efficient scorer with so much hardware that he can’t even fit it in his house. Jimmy has won every major tournament out there, and he’s still out there competing for one more chip every single time. Jarrod Carroll (Nakatani) can put up points in a hurry, scoring off the bounce, taking it to the rack, or sinking the midrange. Highly skilled Darin Nakauchi (Yes, that Darin of Ballislife legend) & the uniquely tatted George Toyama (Clarkson) have paced the Pasadena Bruins in recent tournaments with their Energizer motors, but they play with the Menehunes enough to know how to find everyone’s sweet spots. The Menehunes will pack quite a Hawaiian Punch for any team that isn’t ready to defend all 94 feet. Phoenix Evolution, is a local squad that has been winning many of the local Asian leagues in and around PHX. Captained by Brian Nguyen, Evolution is an eager first time participant in the National Championship series. Due to some holiday plans, they won’t have their full roster but they have added some of the best talent in the desert to try and compensate. They have homegrown ballers in guard Angel Ung (Mesa CC, Honorable Mention All-State), Korean Nationals vet Paul Soldinger, and 6-6 Makana Bell ready to lay out the welcome mats to our ABCNA participants. Evolution should do just fine.
The heat is on! With 5 teams ready to rock, it will be a dogfight to avoid Sunday elimination, as 4 of the 5 teams will advance to Monday’s games. Washington CYC’s basketball program is in a transitional phase, with many of the more familiar faces taking a step back so that the younger guys can develop. This current group was the core that went undefeated for a few years in Chinese Nationals and won over 90% of their games in East Coast juniors competition. Coached by Dr David Kung, CYC sports a thin roster but should have the best talent. The question is whether 6 or 7 players will be enough to make it through so many tough games. G Alan Liu is a 6-2 guard who can light it up at the flip of a switch, PG Justin Kung (Columbia) is a heady player with solid AAU experience, 6-4 Andrew Lee is a strong pivotman, and Michael Li is the best defender of the bunch. If 6-10 Siyao Sun (Cal State Northridge this fall) shows up instead of going to China, bet all your money on CYC. LA Everest (2012 Chinese Nationals Friendship Division Champs) is the team that I originally had picked to win it, especially after their excellent showing at the Drakes tournament a few weeks back, but some late roster changes have thrown a damper on that party. They do have bucket filling John Chow, shooting star Johnson Chung, stat stuffing guard Kenny Phan, and banger Tony Hoang. Their fearless leader Johnny Hsu has been around the block a few times, so this isn’t his team’s first rodeo, but with no true big man, it’s going to be tough. Philadelphia Fastball B has been strong over the past 4 seasons, winning a Chinese Nationals, a couple Pre-NACBAIT Classics, and about a dozen other titles. This group is a cohesive unit, and sports above average talent. G Andrew Ng is a cult favorite, Loc Tang is one of the best passing centers in the ABCNA, Daniel Su has an ugly but consistent 15 footer, and forward De Lin is an experienced hustle guy. Coach JB has a good team. Reno Cosmetic Skin Solutions will see if talent can overcome a lack of chemistry. 6-0 F Chris Kim is a physical defender, his buddy Bennett Lin is a pretty solid scorer. Sean Liou will double dip and run with the Dynasty 35’s, and swingman Brendon Lee brings some youthful energy to this team. Center Tony Nguyen is the strongest 5-11 center you may see all weekend, and he dunks with muscular authority. The final team in the Open is the Fullerton Menehunes. Fullerton has a number of veteran players determined to make their first Nationals a memorable one. Ron Ninofranco is a hardnosed guard with speed to burn, freshly graduated Joey Toyama was named MVP of the Rio Honda League at South Pasadena HS with some sick dribble moves, Victor Yen has quite a bit of tournament savvy in his back pocket, and Ray Hong knows how to put the lock down on opponents. The Fullerton Menehunes might be older, but they’ve got Lady Luck on their side, along with a brand new set of uniforms.
Men’s Senior 35 & Over
The Senior division has turned into a pretty good looking cast of characters. Of course, the Seattle Bladerunners are everyone’s pick to bring it home. With NACBA Top 25 Players Jim Shih (6-4 center) and Kyle Kiang (6-7 forward) leading the charge, it’s going to be tough for anyone to challenge what was once the best Asian team in the land. SF Ryan Dunn is a sick scorer, SG Tim Wang has won a bunch of national championships, Robin Young can play multiple styles, Perry Lam is probably still as quick as ever, Alvin Lin is an excellent guard, Kyle is an athletic presence and flyswatter, Jim will score a bucket whenever they need one, and player coach Rich Yu is going to love cutting down the nets one more time. It will be a joy to see these guys play. Arizona Desert Jade is going to get back together for another run in the 35’s division. Although they aren’t expecting too much from themselves, we expect some of that high scoring offense they used to bring each game. With C Benny Hwang manning the middle, it will free up the guards and forwards to get their run and gun on. If Ed Yee’s old buddies like Dave Clarke and Tom Adams show up and can still play, it will be exciting. If not, then at least they’ve got their weight loss challenge headed in the right direction. The Cali Dynasty 35’s will be pretty good. Good enough to challenge Seattle? We’ll see. But F Sunny Margate remains an effective player against guys half his age, Yitao Sun is a deadly gunner behind the arc, former Alpine G Kenny Phan still gives me nightmares with that 12 foot pullup that he once hit in my face years ago, Taiwan Center coach Sean Yu is an athletic presence, PTBA Pres Ace Lee’s got a stroke, and diehard Sean Liou is going to be a contributor. Depending on which guys have games in other divisions, Cali could give teams fits. NJ Lightyear Studio is going to be the X-Factor here. In addition to being an awesome filmmaker, Nathan Dang will spend some time getting buckets, while buddy John Hsu will likely shoot over 45% from deep. Len Kai (Pacific University) used to run with the iconic SF Saints, and he still looks like he can play at a high level. Chris Lee (Rutgers) is busy coaching his kids, but hopefully he can break away for a few games. And if Hank Huang has a gap in his Premier game schedule, he will join the boys for a good run. The Senior division should be a good time for everyone.
With only four teams taking part due to a couple last minute withdrawals, pool play is going to be key for teams jockeying for position heading into the playoffs. The team that comes in with the biggest hype will be the Orange County Panthers. Coaches Susan and Vince Hamasaki must have leather pulsing through their veins, as their enthusiasm for the sport is unmatched. The Panthers will be undersized, but we all know that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. SG Lauren Sato, SF Lynne Higashigawa, and PG Andrea Villanueva will be a three headed monster that no one wants to face. Even though this team is already the youngest, most athletic team in the tournament, Jaryn Fajardo (All-CIF, Southern Region Player of the Year) will provide them with even more vibrant youthful energy. C Sydney Olivier will do the dirty work. The Panthers should be relentless on defense and execute flawlessly on offense. Even though they are faced with such high expectations, we think they should be able to meet them. I predict an undefeated weekend. The Toronto Black Dragons have plenty of skilled players, but their thin bench may be their undoing. With four of their players inducted into the NACBA Women’s Top 15 players of all time (Kim Lee, Danby Wong, Angie Leung, Lee Anne Chong), we know they have the skillset to compete. 5-10 swingman Kim Lee (SAIT, 2010 CCAA Player of the Year) is one of the top offensive weapons in the business, as she can shoot from deep or take it to the house with some penetration. PG Angie Leung (St. John’s) is a shake and bake, ballhandling magician with the ability to finish with either hand. Niveal Pastrana (George Brown) is a highly acrobatic and speedy player that can create problems for scorekeepers that write too slow. The Black Dragons have been one of the best teams in Canada for about a dozen years, so they should finish highly. The Philadelphia Fastbelles will be without their top 3 players (Kiana Ye [Sacred Heart], Olivia Encarnacion [PSU Brandywine], and Chelsea Luhta [Widener, Europe]) so this could be an uncharacteristic weekend for the girls that have been the top team on the East Coast over the past 4-5 years. They still have SF Sandy Yu (PSU Abington) and F Michelle Chan, but they will be supplementing their roster with LA area veterans Bree Yap and WNBA/NCAA super ref Cameron Inouye. There’s still an outside shot of getting one of their big three to change their holiday plans, so sit tight on the Belles. Hailing from the Lone Star State, Dallas Team Texas is finally going to step foot into the National spotlight. Some of their players have played in local tournaments, or the Chinese Nationals, but none of them have faced competition like this before. Team Texas does have some highly skilled players, with their players having competed in AAU hoops, college ball, and the ultra tough Texas high school system. They have some height with a pair of 5-9 ballers: Kristen Kang and Daisy Kang (no relation). Texas A&M player and fan favorite Allison Chu is a question mark, but even if she can’t make it, they won’t exactly have an empty cupboard. Michelle Shu is a team first PG that is always in the right spot at the right time, Iris Wong is a scorer that can create her own shot, and 5-6 guard Vanita Krouch (SMU) is on par with any of the best players around both on the flag football field and on the hardwood. Team Texas could be a darkhorse pick if they get off to a good start.