The Cambodian national basketball team’s decision to field multiple foreign players in both men’s and women’s lineups have sparked a debate on whether current Southeast Asian (SEA) Games player eligibility rules should be changed.
The Cambodian men’s team captured the 3x3 gold after beating the Gilas Pilipinas 3x3 team, 20-15 behind the efforts of Brandon Peterson, Darrinray Dorsey, Sayeed Alkabir Pridgett, and local Tep Chhorath who was barely used throughout the two-day competition.
The women’s side, however, did not enjoy the same success. The all-naturalized selection composed of Brittany Binkins, Mariah Cooks, Kimberly Hanlon, and Meighan Simmons faltered to the Philippines in the semifinals, 21-20, before dropping the battle for bronze medal match to Indonesia, 21-15.
Such rosters have raised a few eyebrows even before the 5-on-5 competition has kicked off. Vietnam women’s basketball coach Horace Phuc Tam Nguyen said he was personally surprised by Cambodia’s decision to go the route it did by reinforcing its squads with foreigners.
“I was definitely caught by surprise with what Cambodia did. Technically, they are following the rules and guidelines. But, for future SEA Games, this situation has to be resolved and the rules need to be specifically laid out with more clarity,” Nguyen said.
Gilas Women mentor Patrick Aquino, meanwhile, mentioned focusing on preparing better in the 5-on-5 competition as the Philippines seeks to complete a gold medal three-peat.
“Those are their rules and we can’t do anything about it. Ang sa atin lang, we have to prepare well going into these games now,” Aquino said.
Cambodian homegrown player Joshua Bo Noung likewise cried foul on the matter with strong comments in a lengthy post on his social media accounts.
“The fact that I’m watching players that have no heritage or as much pride for my Cambodian people like many like myself is disheartening and disappointing,” he wrote.
After playing his high school basketball in the state of Georgia, Bo Noung received a few offers to play in the US NCAA Division 1 level. He has since dedicated himself to coaching the next generation of local Cambodian talents.
“I have been working with players in Cambodia and players here in the United States. We have the talent,” he said.
In his post, Bo Noung mentioned trying to make the 2023 SEA Games lineup, but his request was denied.
“I know there are many rules that govern sportsmanship behavior of each delegation. Even if everything checks out, I don’t like the desperation of the decisions. There are many ways to improve. First off is to develop a better philosophy of winning basketball,” he added.
Unlike FIBA, which only allows one naturalized player and locals who have acquired passports before the age of 16 in its competitions, the SEA Games only has a passport-only policy, regardless of when it was acquired; historically, the relaxed rules have allowed for FIBA-ineligible athletes to shine in the biennial sporting event in the past.
The long list includes Chris Ross, Christian Standhardinger, and Stanley Pringle from the Philippines, Antonio Price from Thailand, Chris Dierker and Christian Juzang from Vietnam, and Dame Diagne from Indonesia.
Bo Noung, however, argues that heritage players from other countries have legitimate descent and connections to the countries they represent, either through their parents or families, or staying in the respective homelands – something not present from Cambodia’s present naturalized talents.
“I don’t think Cambodia knows how to train players. They resort to this for immediate success, but they have to understand the pride in representing the people of Cambodia all around the world. Losing is part of learning to become better. Winning without integrity isn’t winning,” he said.
Cambodia is reportedly expected to field even more naturalized players in the 5-on-5 events, including six in the men’s team and four in the women’s team as the hosts try to perform competitively at home.
In contrast, Gilas is fielding only one naturalized player – Justin Brownlee for the five-on-five event as part of its "redeem team". Indonesia, on the other hand, has former PBA import Lester Prosper, who has been with the team since 2019, and Anthony Beane.
The defending men’s 5-on-5 winners sought to include 2021 gold medalist Marques Bolden to the final roster, but the former Cleveland Cavalier was not available.
“I think it is a little too much for Cambodians and the other countries to swallow. I am a little embarrassed for Cambodians. Because this is not our way to resort to not giving our own people a shot at competing," Bo Noung said.