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By: Brian Yang
Paul Shirley’s got nothing on me.
After all, now I can say I am a champion.
Shirley, in case you don’t poke around on the web all that much, made a name for himself by creating an insightful blog while as a member of the Phoenix Suns a couple seasons ago.
MVP: Sam Luong
PS rode pine while serving as a practice dummy for the likes of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, and while that’s cooler than anything in basketball I’ll ever do, I compare myself to the journeyman who has played for 13 professional teams over his career (and is still trying somewhere in Spain I think), because when it comes to the Chinese Nationals, like PS and his infatuation with quantity over quality, I don’t think anyone has got me beat.
I am the ultimate vagabond of the North American Chinese National Basketball Tournament, and now, after the 27th annual one this past Memorial Day in Mesa, Arizona, I, unlike PS, have a chip under my belt.
While I haven’t played for quite the number of teams he has, after running with the USAB Warriors this time, it marked my 5th team that I have suited up for in the Chinese Nationals. If there is anyone who has played for more squads, please contact me and I’ll promptly eat my shoe.
Allow me to recount my journey:
1992 - in Los Angeles with the LA Alpine Little Horse
1997 - in San Francisco with the SF Jade Arhatz
1998 - in Philadelphia with the LA Alpine Little Horse
1999 - in New Jersey with the New York Cobras
2000 - in Toronto with the SF Jade Arhatz
2001 - in Boston with the New York Cobras
2002 - in Washington DC with the New York Cobras
2006 - in Boston with the New York Cruisers
And now in my 9th tournament, for the first time, a team I was on gone out, done it, and won it.
I’m still a little numb that we did.
Some of the teams that I’ve been on were ultra-talented (particularly those Tony Wong coached Alpine teams), but for whatever reason, it never netted a championship, but this year, when I least expected – heck, when the field least expected it – we actually won.
Picked 20th out of a field of 20 (and I don’t blame them), with a team that hadn’t entirely played together so much as learned each other’s names come the first game, we went out and won the entire thing without so much as losing a single game over the entire weekend.
For a team picked dead last, how did we manage to pull off the greatest miracle this side of the 1980 US hockey team that won the Olympics in Lake Placid?
I’ll tell you how.
Westside, baby. Westside.
Mitchell and Adam get into a state of zen before the game.
When the USAB Warriors’ venerable coach Bill Chan asked me to consider joining efforts for this year’s nationals, my old buddy/teammate Jon Chin from back home in the Bay, and I said yes after JC figured it’d be a good way to get some of the kids from his San Jose Ninja team exposure on the national scene for the first time.
So, while USAB is an NYC based outfit, after JC and I joined, and JC brought in two 19 year old freshmen he’s coached since they were in junior high, and added one Sam Luong – all of whom live in Northern California – the USAB Warriors may as well have been called the Golden State Warriors.
Lending their efforts – JC’s kids Mitchell Fong and Adam Gidaszewski – along with Luong, whom JC coached in a North-South game one year, this Warrior team, unbeknownst to the field (and even to us on some level), had a distinct Cali flavor that would soon rule the roost.
The New York originals from USAB worked their butts off and played an instrumental role in helping the team gel, but without a doubt, it was the representatives from the Westside who helped this first “New York” team to ever win the Nationals.
Under Coach JC's guise, his kids will always be looking up.
Luong, who was clutch when it most counted – especially in the Finals against the Chicago Dragons (a 39-38 win) with a show-stopping reverse and a smart pass inside to Gidaszewski in the final minute that put AG to the line for the decisive point – was awarded the MVP.
Fong, who made the defensive play of the game against the Dragons and recovered a loose ball in the waning moments that essentially wrapped the game up, was a rock (and it had nothing to do with the big ice he wore on his ears during the weekend) in running the offense and scoring time and again with his soft floaters in the lane.
Gidaszewski, Fong’s buddy since they first came in under JC’s tutelage, stood tall at 6’4” and stood taller inside with his post-game that confounded defenders who could do nothing about his turnarounds or takes to the hole.
It’s hard to believe a team with Fong and AG – the two freshmen who were a large part of the Warrior attack – could take it to veteran teams like the New York Cruisers and Arizona Desert Jade as they did, with such aplomb.
But when you consider that Luong, who played a season professionally overseas in the United Kingdom, and JC – the mastermind behind the moves on the court all weekend long – were part of this too, perhaps snaring the chip should be no surprise after all.
Chin, who brilliantly mixed line-ups and meshed the players from both his and the USAB camps, really deserves all the credit.
After running one practice with USAB in Queens a couple weeks prior to Arizona, Chin saw what he could get out of players like Nick Mui, Justin Kao, and Mike Pan. He knew that Mui was an electric guard who would work well with Fong. He knew Chin was a crafty guard who could provide great energy minutes and ample scoring from the 2-guard. He also knew that Pan, if he could stay injury free, would eat space inside and take the pressure off the perimeter as the biggest man USAB would offer.
The results proved it.
JC worked it to perfection.
Implementing his West Coast style offense on the fly, JC coached the team into win after win after win.
The Toronto Kagers, Toronto Blazers, and New York Rockits in pool play. Then, an athletic Arizona team, the Cruisers in the semis (it helped that both George Chan and CB Liu fouled out), and finally, Chicago in the Finals.
Different styles. International teams. Big teams. Fast teams. Fierce teams. Any and all, one by one, they all went down.
It almost doesn’t seem fair that a rag-tag team that was pulled together essentially at the last minute would win a tournament that teams who have been playing for ages together prepare year round for.
But such is what can happen when you put together talent and great coaching that has been rooted out of the West Coast for years, if even in a short period of time.
For myself, I was just happy to be a part of it all. JC and I go way back.
Rob Lee's presence was missed this year.
We’d just literally come off of winning the NL title in the DLNY with our team M&A 101 (which will look to have a major shake up after JC decided to move to Boston recently). This was my near 10th time here. For JC, he’d won once before on the SF Saints in ‘98 in Philly, but that was a different era with a powerhouse team who’d won 13 of the first 18 years of this tournament.
And so, with two titles in the span of a few days – and this one – nearly completely unexpected, we could only laugh at what had just happened.
It’s always a pleasure just to participate in the Nationals. It’s a great way to see guys from around the country you’ve known on an annual basis. And it keeps the competitive juices in ya flowin’.
The Nationals, you see, are about so many things.
It’s camaraderie at its finest.
End of the road for the old guard? JC & BY: From DLNL Champs to National Champs in 5 days.
When at the banquet they had a moment of silence for the late Rob Lee and a standing ovation for Tony Hu and George Chan who got up to speak, it was the most touching moment I’ve ever been involved with at this tournament over all the years (and there have been many for me.)
It’s about the future.
Playing alongside kids like Gidaszewski and Fong, I couldn’t help but wonder about what a bright future they have on this stage should they continue to come out for it (and next year in Philly, they ought to.) I also couldn’t help but think of one day having sons in the mold of these kids that I could coach or bring to tournaments like parents up and down the West Coast do all the time. (Man, I am old now, aren’t I?)
It’s about the past.
Yes, I am considered an old guy now in this tournament. I’m still not quite able to qualify for the 35 and over division, but in so far as the Elite Division goes, the division that is a 20-something year old’s place to be, I’m well past it.
That’s what makes this win so special to me.
In what is probably my final attempt at winning it all at the Nationals, when I had as much chance as Greg Oden dropping to 3rd in this past NBA Draft, the team I was on actually gone done it and won it.
Westside, baby. Westside.
And Paul Shirley, don’t worry. It could happen to you too one day.
2007 NACBAIT CHAMPIONS: USAB WARRIORS.