EVEN in his retirement, Jimmy Alapag has continued to inspire the next wave of Fil-foreign talents who are looking to make it big in the PBA.
Count Brooklyn native Michael Rio-Simmonds as one of those.
The 23-year-old swingman has drawn inspiration from the 2011 PBA MVP and is hoping to be the next Fil-Am to make a splash in the league as he declares for the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft.
But it's not just Alapag that he looks up to as he admits to following the careers of a bevy of current and former PBA players in his quest to soon join them in the pro league.
"Meeting guys like Jimmy Alapag, Tony dela Cruz, Chris Ross, Rashawn McCarthy, Simon Enciso and many others, training with them and sharing their different journeys to us, some are still mentors of the game for me to this day," he said.
Rio-Simmonds is a 6-foot-2 slasher who studied in Murry Bergtraum High School and NCAA Division III school Baruch College in New York, but for the past two years, has tested the waters in the native land of his mother Marie.
"I was introduced to basketball in the Philippines well after studying, and I met Banjo Albano and attended his Rise Hoops basketball camp in 2019 where he brought a few Fil-Ams to Manila to immerse us in Filipino culture and history," he said of his basketball journey.
It was there where Rio-Simmonds got a chance to rub elbows with some of those who paved the way for him to make it to the PBA.
"From that point on, I told myself I wanted this. I wanted to do something I loved in the country of my mother," he said.
But even before this experience, Rio-Simmonds was already exposed to how crazy the Philippines is when it comes to hoops, spending his summers in Davao City when he was still growing up.
"It gave me the opportunity to appreciate my heritage and the little things in life. The chance to understand that basketball in the US is a fun hobby and sport, but basketball in the Philippines is a way of life for many," he said.
After securing his Philippine passport and other documentation to make him a dual citizen, Rio-Simmonds attended a number of tryouts for teams in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
Lucky for him, AMA Senior High picked him up in the 16th round of the 2020 PBA D-League Draft but only played one game and registered nine points, five rebounds, two steals before the 2020 Aspirants' Cup was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, the work never stopped for Rio-Simmonds, knowing that he's worthy of a look from all 12 team no matter how tough a climb making it to the league may seem.
"Even though I'm going up against other draftees with extensive basketball resumes, I'm still training privately and safely here in New York," he said. "I'm preparing to go head-to-head in such a stacked draft, entering as an unknown underdog who is ready to compete on the next level."
If drafted, Rio-Simmonds said that it's going to be an honor of a lifetime for him to represent those from his mother's hometown of Buhangin, that even though he wasn't raised there, he will always carry a part of it wherever his basketball career takes him.
"It means the world to me. It’s always been bigger than basketball, a matter of representation and making them proud. Because even though I wasn’t born and raised in Davao City, I was always there when I [was] growing up," he said.
"I want to give that motivation to any kid in any barangay that you too can represent your family and where they are from through basketball."
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