Lang, Freeman, Honeycutt notable PBA imports in 2000s

Since its inception, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has seen a lot of amazing imports who have contributed a lot to its success. With the league's 45th anniversary nearing, ESPN5.com writers decided to identify 45 talented imports who have left indelible marks on Filipino hoop fans.

There was a dip in the number of unforgettable PBA imports in the 2000s largely because of the change in format. From 2003 to 2010, the PBA shifted to a two-conference season. Still, the league saw amazing talents.

Derrick Brown (Purefoods, Sta. Lucia)

  • Playing years: 2000-2002, 2004

Derrick Brown was a natural scorer. Back when he debuted in the 2000 PBA Governors' Cup, he was expected to put up at least 30 points for the Purefoods franchise on any given night. He immediately made an impact as he led the TJ Hotdogs all the way to the Finals, while winning the Best Import of the Conference award. However, they ran into a brick wall in the San Miguel Beermen with a legendary import in Lamont Strothers in the finals.

Brown returned the following year, but Purefoods finished dead last after the elimination round. However, this only set them up for a huge turnaround as the prolific scorer returned for another tour of duty in the 2002 Governors' Cup where he tag-teamed with Leonard White and then Kelvin Price to win his second Best Import trophy and the championship.

Unfortunately for Brown, he never got the chance to defend the Governors' Cup title as the PBA changed its format the following season as the 6-foot-4 limit was scrapped for imports.

Brown returned to the PBA wearing a different jersey as he suited up for the Sta. Lucia Realtors in the 2004 Fiesta Conference. He still torched the net, averaging more than 40 points per game, in his last tour of duty in the PBA.

Gabe Freeman (San Miguel, Barako Bull, Petron, Ginebra)

  • Playing years: 2009-2010, 2012-2014)

Two stints in the Finals and two Best Import of the Conference awards all but guaranteed that Gabe Freeman would be the best-remembered San Miguel Beer import during this decade. Playing for the storied franchise in the 2009 and 2010 Fiesta Conferences, Freeman made his PBA debut when he was just 23 years old but what he lacked in experience, he made up for in effort and athleticism.

The Beermen were the top-seeded team at the end of the elimination round in the 2009 Fiesta Conference and they rode this momentum all the way to the title as they defeated Barangay Ginebra in the Finals, 4-3.

SMB got the opportunity to defend their title as they battled the Alaska Aces. The Beermen came short, losing the series 4-2.

Still, these two conferences were enough to cement Freeman's legacy in the hearts and minds of SMB fans. He would return to the PBA playing for the same franchise under the Petron name, Barako Bull (2012), and Barangay Ginebra (2014).

Jerald Honeycutt (Talk 'N Text)

  • Playing years: 2002, 2004-2005

Another two-time Best Import of the Conference awardee is Jerald Honeycutt. The 38th overall pick of the 1997 NBA Draft debuted in the PBA with Barangay Ginebra in the 2001 Commissioner's Cup as a replacement for Ryan Fletcher.

However, he made a mark with the Talk 'N Text franchise in the 2002 Governors' Cup as he led the team to the top spot at the end of the eliminations together with fellow import Richie Frahm. Unfortunately, they were upset by the San Miguel Beermen in the quarterfinals.

Tee McClary (Mobiline, Alaska, Coca-Cola)

  • Playing years: 2002-2003, 2005-2006

Artemus McClary saw action for Mobiline and Alaska but had his best conference with the Coca-Cola Tigers. It was the best stretch of the Tigers' PBA stint as they listed four straight Finals appearances starting with the 2002 All-Filipino Cup where they emerged as champions.

The burly McClary was an automatic double-double for Coca-Cola in the 2003 Reinforced Conference as they dispatched of Ginebra in the quarterfinals before sweeping Talk 'N Text in the semis.

McClary was named the Best Import of the Conference playing the most number of games compared to any other import at 25. The Tigers found themselves down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series as the import was suspended in Game 3 due to a fight with Danny Ildefonso. However, the San Miguel Beermen also had their import issues with Kwan Johnson suffering an injury and Cedric Ceballos bussing in for a single game.

In Game 7, McClary poured in 11 of his 25 points in the final quarter to lead the Tigers to their second franchise championship as they defeated the Beermen.

Chris Alexander (Ginebra)

  • Playing year: 2008

In the lore of Barangay Ginebra imports, Chris Alexander will always have a spot in discussions among fans as he helped the team win the 2008 Fiesta Conference where he was also named the Best Import.

Ginebra stumbled out of the gates with Rashon Turner as they lost their first five games of the conference until Alexander finally arrived to get them their first win against Purefoods. They slowly gathered momentum and ended the elimination round on a six-game winning streak to give them a 10-8 record and a third spot in the standings.

With Alexander providing a steady presence inside, Ginebra swept Sta. Lucia and Red Bull in the quarters and semis before locking horns against the hungry youngsters of Air21 Express led by Steven Thomas.

Ginebra found themselves on the brink of elimination as they fell down 3-2 in the series but Alexander came to play his best game of the series with their backs were against the wall as he put up a monster performance with 37 points and 24 rebounds to force a Game 7.

It would turn out to be the last championship for the storied franchise until Justin Brownlee broke their eight-year title drought in 2016.

Alexander returned for another tour of duty in the 2012 Commissioner's Cup, but he was replaced by Jackson Vroman after only three games.

Antonio Lang (Red Bull)

  • Playing years: 2001-2002

The Red Bull franchise has three championships in the PBA and all were won in the 2000s. Antonio Lang played a huge part in two of the titles. The 29th overall pick of the Phoenix Suns in the 1994 PBA Draft led Red Bull to their first-ever championship in the 2002 Commissioner's Cup where they defeated second-ranked Purefoods in the semifinals and upset the top-seeded San Miguel Beermen in the Finals.

As the original import of Red Bull, Lang played in all of their 21 games, which made him an easy pick for Best Import of the Conference.

Lang returned to the franchise to try and defend their title. Together with Julius Nwosu, Red Bull reached the Finals against the Talk 'N Text Phone Pals. Lang scored 37 points in Game 2 but only managed 21 in Game 3 as he complained about feeling pain on his right leg. In an unprecedented move, Red Bull's management decided to replace Lang with Sean Lampley and this big-time gamble paid off as they won the championship.

James Penny (Red Bull, Coca-Cola)

  • Playing years: 2006, 2009-2010

James Penny came in as a replacement for Quemont Greer in the 2006 Fiesta Conference for Red Bull. He hit it off with a crew of hungry young locals as they marched all the way to the championship where they upset the top-seeded Purefoods Chunkee Giants with Best Import of the Conference awardee Marquin Chandler.

Penny returned to defend their title and it looked good from the start as they topped the elimination round with a 13-5 win-loss tally. Unfortunately, they fell short in the semifinals against Talk 'N Text but managed to snare the third-place trophy with a win against the San Miguel Beermen.

This would be the last time Penny suited up for Red Bull, but he had two more stints in the PBA with Coca-Cola in 2009 and 2010.

Rosell Ellis (Pop Cola, Coca-Cola, Ginebra, Alaska)

  • Playing years: 2001-2004, 2007

Rosell Ellis got around in the PBA in the 2000s as he played for the Pop Cola Panthers in 2001, Coca-Cola Tigers in 2002, and Barangay Ginebra Kings in 2003 and 2004. However, he did not strike gold until he joined the Alaska Aces in the 2007 Fiesta Conference where he was given the Best Import of the Conference award.

He led the Aces to a 12-6 record after the end of the elimination round, which was enough for the second spot and a ticket straight into the semifinals. Alaska defeated the Cinderella team of the conference in the San Miguel Beermen in the semifinals and outlasted Talk 'N Text in the Finals.

Ellis returned for the 2009 Fiesta Conference to try and rescue Alaska from a 0-3 start with Galen Young. However, he only managed to help them win six of their remaining 13 games as the Aces were dropped out of contention after the elimination round.

Ansu Sesay (Sta. Lucia)

  • Playing year: 2000

Drafted 30th overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1998 NBA Draft, Ansu Sesay was selected before the likes of Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, and Cuttino Mobley. Unfortunately for him, Sesay tore his ACL before he could start his NBA career and he spent the whole of 1999 on the injured list.

Sesay found himself playing for the Rockford Lightning in the CBA before landing with the Sta. Lucia Realtors for the 2000 Commissioner's Cup.

The franchise was still in search of its first-ever PBA title at that point and it certainly looked like Sesay was the man who would finally get them there. The Realtors made it all the way to the Finals with Sesay winning the Best Import of the Conference award, but they ran into a brick wall against a loaded San Miguel Beer team that featured Stephen Howard as their import.

Sesay returned in the next edition of the Commissioner's Cup but he was bogged down by an injury while there were also claims that he was trying to get out of his contract to chase a spot in the NBA. He was replaced by Damian Owens, but ultimately landed with the Seattle SuperSonics and the Golden State Warriors in the years that followed.

Damian Owens (Sta. Lucia)

  • Playing years: 2001, 2003

If you ask coach Norman Black, he'd tell you that one of the better imports he handled in the PBA was Damian Owens. He got his first shot at the PBA in the 2001 Commissioner's Cup but it was clear that he was better suited for the Governors' Cup because of his height.

After playing six games in the 2001 Commissioner's Cup, he was retained for the next conference where the Realtors finished the elimination round with an 8-5 record and dispatched Red Bull in the quarterfinals. Owens faced a tough challenge in Rosell Ellis and the Pop Cola Panthers in the semifinals but Sta. Lucia found a way to survive, winning the best-of-five series, 3-2. On the other side of the bracket, Lamont Strothers and the San Miguel Beermen easily took care of business against the top-seeded Shell Turbo Chargers, which made them favorites heading into the big dance.

Owens' best performance came in Game 5 where he dropped 37 points to bring the Realtors on the hill. A miraculous triple from Chris Tan with 3.3 seconds remaining in Game 6 gave Sta. Lucia its first-ever PBA championship.