[Editor's Note: First of a two-part series]
FOR the better part of the last decade, the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) has served its purpose of trying to bridge the basketball gap in Southeast Asia.
Yes, the Philippines remains as the region's alpha. But the fact that no team was able to win back-to-back crowns in the 10-year existence of the league speaks volumes of how some nations have narrowed the gap with Philippine teams.
Not only that, as the ABL has also become a significant platform for Fil-foreign talent to introduce themselves in the region and eventually, make it here.
And lo and behold, a lot of them did make it and are now thriving in the PBA.
With the very existence of the regional league in the balance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spin.ph lists seven players who made their ABL stints worthwhile enough to garner great interest from PBA teams.
Before the Fil-Am slasher established himself as a lethal scorer in the PBA, he was a little-known prospect coming off a stint with BC Dnipro-Azot in Ukraine.
But the moment Pringle joined the Indonesia Warriors, he proved to be a game-changer as he averaged 16.7 points on a 47-percent shooting from the field, on top of 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.0 steal in six games to lead the Todd Purves-coached side to the 2012 ABL championship.
Pringle continued to wreak havoc the following season, emerging as a top scoring option for Indonesia with his 15.8 points on a 42-percent clip, on top of 5.5 boards, 3.2 dimes, and 1.4 steals.
Unfortunately, the Warriors could not repeat and were denied by the San Miguel Beermen.
It wasn't long before Pringle was off to the PBA as GlobalPort picked the 6-foot-1 guard as the top selection in the 2014 Draft.
After five years and a scoring title in 2018 with the Batang Pier, Pringle is now a part of the killer Ginebra backcourt.
Hopes were high the moment the good-looking Fil-Italian guard inked a deal with San Miguel and chose to represent the country in the ABL. After all, Banchero was a key contributor for Seattle Pacific University and was poised to make it to the NBA before an ACL injury ruined those plans.
Still, the 6-foot-1 court general was worth the hype, posting 12.7 points on a 51-percent shooting clip, to go with 3.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 steals in his first season for the Beermen which ended in a runner-up finish.
Banchero, however, would not be denied the following season as he upped his game for SMB, norming 14.9 points as he shot 41-percent from the field, alongside 3.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 steals.
Those efforts were duly rewarded as he keyed the Leo Austria-mentored San Miguel to the 2013 ABL title, where he was named as the Finals MVP.
Banchero soon took his act to the PBA, being picked fifth in the 2014 Draft by Alaska.
He, too, switched homes in 2019, moving from the Aces to Magnolia.
Before he was "Quickmelt," the Fil-Am high-flyer was a potential Gilas cadet beaming with potential.
Ariel Vanguardia, then the head coach of Westports Malaysia Dragons, was quick to pounce on the opportunity, signing up Melton as a late replacement in the 2012-13 season.
The 5-foot-9 slasher performed admirably in his short run for Westports Malaysia, averaging 9.6 points on a 52-percent shooting from deep, while also tallying 3.9 assists, 3.1 steals, and 3.0 boards in seven games.
Melton's efforts helped the Dragons snag the three-seed, but got swept by Pringle and Indonesia in the best-of-five semifinals.
He soon headed to the PBA, where San Mig Coffee took him in the second round of the 2013 Draft, easily one of the steals of that class.
Melton remains part of the Purefoods franchise, now named Magnolia Hotshots.
McCarthy's stint in the ABL was short and largely forgettable.
The 6-foot SUNY-Old Westbury stud struggled to adjust in his time with Malaysia's Westsports Dragons, notching only 2.5 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 assist, and 1.0 steal in two games in the 2014 season before he was replaced by Avery Scharer.
McCarthy soon found his way to the PBA D-League, showcasing his true worth for AMA before San Miguel took him in the first round of the regular draft back in 2016.
Although seeing little action in his rookie season with the Beermen, he has since been an integral part of the attack for the Terra Firma Dyip.
The Fil-Tongan center picked the ABL to be his pathway to stardom and boy, did he get what he wanted.
Tautuaa learned the ropes in his first year in the league, averaging 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.1 steals for Westports Malaysia back in the 2013 season.
The following season, though, the 6-foot-8 bruiser saw his numbers increase to 12.1 points on a 50-percent shooting, alongside 5.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.0 steals to join forces with imports Chris Eversley and Justin Knox.
Although the Dragons were able to secure the top seed, they did fall short to Bangkok City in the Finals.
Tautuaa later on took his act to the PBA D-League with Cagayan Valley and Cebuana Lhuillier before being picked first by Talk 'N Text in the 2015 Draft.
In 2018, the KaTropa shipped Tautuaa to NorthPort in exchange for Terrence Romeo and a year later, was sent to San Miguel in a one-on-one swap for Christian Standhardinger.
Back in his younger days, Wright was part of the Philippine men's under-18 national team which finished seventh in the 2008 Fiba Asia Under-18 Championship in Tehran.
Deciding to focus on his studies, the Fil-Canadian gunner went under the radar before Vanguardia enlisted him at Westports Malaysia and he showed how much he has grown, posting 20.9 points on a 40-percent shooting from downtown, to go with 3.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.2 steals in the 2014-15 season.
Wright eventually got the hang of it and went berserk the following year, notching 21.2 points on a 43-percent clip from threes, as well as garnering 4.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 steals for the Dragons.
That leap did not only deliver him that year's Heritage Import MVP award, but also brought the 2016 ABL crown to Malaysia.
The 6-foot-4 sharpshooter from St. Bonaventure was soon shortlisted for the special Gilas round of the 2016 PBA Draft and was reunited once again with Vanguardia, who then called the shots for Phoenix.
Wright is still a key piece for the Gilas Pilipinas crew while also cementing himself as a franchise player for the Fuel Masters.
Everyone wanted to see what Standhardinger was made of after his run with Gilas Pilipinas, and although San Miguel picked the Fil-German banger first in the 2017 PBA Draft, he first had to honor his obligations with Hong Kong Eastern.
Safe to say no one was disappointed after his ABL campaign with the unorthodox 6-foot-8 forward delivering the goods in his lone season.
Standhardinger collected 22.0 points and shot 51-percent from field, while also tallying 11.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.4 steals to carry Hong Kong to the two-seed. That included a 40-point performance against Mono Vampire.
However, eventual champion San Miguel Alab Pilipinas gave Hong Kong the boot in the semifinals, sending Standhardinger to the PBA where he became a two-time champion with the Beermen.
Now, Standhardinger is donning the colors of NorthPort as he was named as the Best Player of the Conference in the 2019 Governors' Cup, while also earning his spot in the Mythical First Team at the conclusion of his second year.