TWO imports with links to two of the best players in the NBA today - Kobe Bryant and LeBron James - face off right on their PBA debut in the Ginebra-Meralco game on Wednesday night.
Josh Powell, best remembered as one of Bryant's teammates in the Lakers teams that won the NBA championship in 2009 and 2010, plays his first game for Ginebra against Darnell Jackson, who was James' teammate in his final two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They Said It!
“(Josh Powell is) a great athlete. He runs the floor hard, plays defense and he’s a solid defender." Meralco Bolts import and former Cleveland Cavalier Darnell Jackson
The coincidence is striking, more so since the 6-8 Jackson was also a draft pick of James' current team, the Miami Heat, at 52nd overall in 2008 and played for one season in Cleveland with Shaquille O'Neal - Bryant's former teammate turned arch-enemy.
Of the two, however, it is Powell who has stirred excitement among PBA fans, not only because he has joined the league's most popular team but also because of the impressive credentials he has logged in his career, most recently with the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China's pro league.
The 31-year-old forward, who has vowed to bring a "kill mentality" which he said he has learned from Bryant to Ginebra, has also made quite a first impression on his teammates in his first practice on Tuesday.
“The thing with him (Powell), he’s a veteran in the NBA so I expect a lot,” said Ginebra's high-flying big man Japeth Aguilar. “Sa first practice niya, he did great actually. Nakuha niya kaagad yung play kahit na isang beses lang tinuro sa kanya.
“Pati defense, tinuro sa kanya. Lumabas yung pagiging beterano niya saka in my observation, yung IQ niya ang taas. He reads the play well,” added the 26-year-old forward.
Interestingly, Jackson, a 6-foot-8 forward who played for the Cavaliers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Sacramento Kings in a three-year NBA stint, said he has also learned a lot from the time he spent with both James and O'Neal in Cleveland.
Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio said Jackson is a completely different player from Brian Butch, the Bolts’ erstwhile import.
“He’s (Jackson) highly skilled and a thinking player. Hopefully, he will fit in. He’s totally different from the other import because Brian is a floor spacer, but Darnell can attract attention in the paint,” said Gregorio shortly after the Bolts' practice at the Meralco gym.
Gregorio said with Jackson expected to command the double team due to his strong inside plays, he has already tasked shooters like Gary David and John Wilson to be ready any time for the kick-out pass.
“I told the shooters to get themselves ready, get primed for open looks because he (Jackson) has the ability to make a good decision on the post,” he added.
The two imports also know each other very well, having played against each other no less than five times in the 2013-14 Chinese Basketball Association season.
Jackson’s Shanghai Sharks are 1-4 against Powell’s Guangdong Southern Tigers in their combined CBA regular season and playoffs head-to-head.
He has nothing but kind words for Powell, who he describes as a “great friend” and someone he respects.
“He’s (Powell) a great athlete. He runs the floor hard, plays defense and he’s a solid defender,” said Jackson, who averaged 19.6 points and 11.2 rebounds in 37 games with the Sharks in the Chinese league.
“He’s a solid offensive player. He’s an all-around player and he’s a great friend of mine. Every time I see him, there’s just always respect between me and him.
“You gotta remember he won two NBA championships with the Lakers.”