BASKETBALL-2019 FIBA World Cup: COLUMNISTS-SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson, MANILA – Aussies unveil naturalized import

By Joaquin M. Henson

There’s a key addition to Australia’s lineup for the second window of the FIBA Asia/Pacific qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup and he’s naturalized import Kevin Lisch, a 6-2 guard from St. Louis University, an Atlantic-10 NCAA Division I conference contender in Missouri.

Lisch, 31, will play for the Boomers against the Philippines at the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne this afternoon (Manila time). He didn’t suit up for Australia during the first window where the team from Down Under demolished Chinese-Taipei, 104-66 and crushed Japan, 82-58. Without Lisch, the Boomers zoomed to a 2-0 record, brandishing an average winning margin of a whopping 31 points. In contrast, the Philippines downed Japan, 77-71 and Chinese-Taipei, 90-83 for an average winning margin of 6.5 points. The margin of difference is as wide as the ocean but still, a win is a win and both teams are showing up for their battle with unblemished records.

The only other teams with 2-0 slates in the Asia/Pacific qualifiers are China, Jordan and Kazakhstan. In Group B where the Philippines and Australia are situated, Chinese-Taipei and Japan are winless with 0-2 marks. Only the top three in the group will advance to the second round of three more home-and-away windows.

Lisch holds three passports. He was born in Illinois to an American father Rusty, a former NFL quarterback and an American mother Cathy with Italian heritage. In 2013, Lisch acquired Italian citizenship to play in the Italian league as a local. In 2016, he became a naturalized Australian and gained eligibility to play for the Boomers at the Rio Olympics that year. Lisch, who is married to an Australian, received his Australian passport five months before his Olympic debut which wasn’t sensational.

Lisch came off the bench for Australian coach Andrej Lemanis to average 2.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 14 minutes in eight contests. His Olympic single-game highs were seven points against France, six assists against China and six rebounds against Spain. Australia wound up fourth, matching the Boomers best Olympic finish.

Lisch was a high school standout with 2,296 career points and was only the fourth player in the 42-year history of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s All-Metro squad to be a three-time first teamer. A knee injury, however, ended his prep career prematurely. “What makes Kevin complete is that he is strong, has a great handle and can score at the offensive end,” said his first St. Louis coach Brad Soderberg. “He can go to the basket, contorting his body and making shots. He can hit threes and plays unselfishly. He’s a dream to coach, he’s non-maintenance. I actually have to tell him to tone it down sometimes or he’s going to burn his body out. I’d be surprised if anybody works harder than him.” Lisch was the St. Louis varsity’s top three-point shooter, playmaker and defender. His scoring clips in four years with the Billikens were 11.1, 14.9, 14.6 and 14.1.  He wound up his collegiate stint hitting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc and 81 percent from the line.

Lisch is the latest in a long line of naturalized players in Australian basketball history. NBA player Aron Baynes is a naturalized Australian from New Zealand. Among the Americans who were naturalized to play for the Boomers were Rocky Crosswhite, Ricky Grace, Scott Fisher, Darryl McDonald, former PBA import Lanard Copeland and Darnell Mee.

No doubt, Lemanis brought in Lisch to match up against Gilas’ guards. He’s aware that the Philippines’ strength lies in the backcourt where Jayson Castro, R. R. Pogoy, Jio Jalalon, Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas thrive. The other guards in Lemanis’ cast are 6-1 Jason Cadee, 6-2 Mitch McCarron and 6-3 Nathan Sobey. Cadee, 26, averaged 10 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the first window and has been with the national team since 2010. McCarron, 25, played four years at Metro State, a US NCAA Division II school, and as an import in Spain. He’s one of eight players in the roster who were on Australia’s FIBA Asia Cup champion team last year. Sobey, 27, saw action in two years for the University of Wyoming and averaged 9.8 points as a senior in 2013-14. He has played for the Utah Jazz in the NBA Summer League.

It’ll be a challenge for Gilas to neutralize the Boomers’ size advantage but if coach Chot Reyes can catch the Aussies with their pants down, anything can happen. Pinoy basketball is unpredictably dazzling. Gilas nearly upset Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain with Reyes creating headaches for opposing coaches because of unconventional combinations and out-of-the-books modes of attack. A perfect game is the only way the Philippines can escape the Boomers on the road.  /  The Philippine Star- February 22, 2018 – 12:00am


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