Basketball’s diamond-in-the-rough from Mangatarem

By Al S. Mendoza


I take pride in Kemark Carino being a member of the pool of players trying out for the Gilas Pilipinas basketball team.

Kemark is from Mangatarem, becoming the first cager from my hometown to be drafted as a national player.

Anytime, that is something to crow about.

With so many talents now being consistently unearthed from the countryside, Kemark is one lucky chap to make it to the national squad.

He was in the Gilas Pilipinas team last year that helped build a 3-0 record in the ongoing Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers.

One more win and Gilas Pilipinas will proceed to the continental tournament of the Fiba Asia Cup.

Kemark is now in the expanded list of aspirants to the Gilas squad.

Officials came up with the new player-selection program as Asia Cup competition became tougher.

In Jakarta in June, Gilas needs to win one of three games against South Korea (two games) and Indonesia to clinch the final ticket to the Asia Cup proper.

After the Jakarta jousts—win or lose—Gilas will fly to Serbia for the Olympic qualifying against Dominican Republic and Serbia—also in June.

While we have the strongest chances of clinching that sole win in the Asia Cup qualifiers—most likely against Indonesia as South Korea has always been our fiercest basketball foe in the region—it is almost next to impossible for us to survive the Olympic qualifying.

Both the Serbians and the Dominicans are ranked high in the world standings.

We aren’t practically in their league so that we need a miracle to survive the behemoths and advance to the Tokyo Olympics in July.

The last time we were in Olympic basketball was in 1972 in Munich, Germany, where we beat Japan to emerge the unofficial Asian cage champs.

But even if we fail in this year’s Olympic test—that’s almost a given, anyway—there’s always that Fiba Asia Cup finals to look forward to in August.

And, as developments strongly suggest, Kemark is almost a shoo-in to make it to the Gilas team again.

His height hovering now from 6-foot-8 to 6-foot-10 is his strongest asset.  But, of course.

How many Filipinos could grow that tall?

In a game where height is might, Kemark has that built-in advantage over the rest of the aspirants.

When my son, Dayong, an assistant coach at the PBA’s San Miguel Beer, discovered him playing basketball barefoot in a God-forsaken barrio in Mangatarem, Kemark was 6-foot-5. Skin-and-bones at age 15.

Dayong immediately saw Kemark’s potential and took him under his wings.

After enrolling him in our village high school in QC, Dayong would soon bring Kemark to Ateneo de Manila University.  From there, Kemark moved to San Beda where his potential would slowly blossom.

Almost six years after leaving Mangatarem, Kemark has become a certified player for flag and country.

I can only applaud.

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Happy birthday to Mayo Mendoza today, May 2.  

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