On the Cayman sports scene Filipino basketball is a relative unknown.
It has been toiling away behind the scenes for roughly a decade and a half and proves highly successful and popular.
Much of that success is owed to one of the men who started it all in Filipino Shelby Carlos.
Carlos is a co-founder of the Filipino Basketball League, which began in 1993 with the help of Chairman Jan Barrozo.
‘Jan and I are the backbone of the league,’ Carlos says. ‘It’ll always be like that.’
The league started out as a four-on-four league before becoming a full-court affair with 168 players spread across 14 squads this past season.
The semi-finals got underway last week with this year’s champion set to be decided by month’s end.
Two of the more notable teams in the hunt for a title are Asian Retailer, led by Filipino varsity player Mark Jocson and Money Express, led by Adamson University standout player Christian Ferrer.
The league has received much corporate support in its time and last year was no different with companies like Caybrew, Western Union, Digicel and Tony’s Toys all onboard.
Carlos is an avid basketball fan. He follows the NBA closely and has even had opportunities to catch live games in the States.
In Cayman he follows the Cayman Islands Basketball Association senior men’s league and plays in the Filipino league.
He leaves the running of the Filipino league to league commissioner Eduardo Atanacio as he says he ‘would rather play than watch’.
In fact his involvement with basketball began in his youth while in his native Philippines.
Carlos says he began playing basketball at nine years old. He loved to be on the court and have the ball in his hands.
That desire to be on the court led him to be a varsity player in school. As is the case today he was a shooting guard back then.
He would stay in the sport for some time before the promise of a better life saw his family move to Cayman in his late teens.
Carlos’ family were one of the first Filipino families in Cayman.
Over time he would embrace the things that make Cayman’s heritage unique and today his English has that distinct Cayman accent to it.
In his eyes Cayman would become his home, even more than the Philippines.
‘I grew up here. In my heart I am Caymanian and on paper I am Caymanian.’
Of course while in Cayman he would look to blaze his fiery passion in basketball.
But Carlos encountered many a setback. In the early days the Digicel basketball court by Cox Lumber was hidden behind plenty of foliage, making games a matter of finding the court rather than getting good weather conditions as is the case today.
Also night games were near impossible without proper lighting and heavy rain near game time easily flooded the court.
Nevertheless Carlos persevered and found ways to get into the local scene and contribute.
‘I love the game so much. I started out small and with the help of other Filipinos we changed the nets (when they tore off, needed fixing, etc) for roughly 12 years.’
Eventually he would find his way onto the court, playing ball for a number of local teams like Police and Cayman National Bank in the 1990s.
Soon he would meet up with Barrozo and came up with the idea for the Filipino league. From there the rest was history.
Aside from the league, these days Carlos has his attention focused on raising the profile of Filipino basketball in other ways.
‘I’m looking to put together a Filipino national team. I’m scouting for a big man to be part of the senior league team [simply called Team Philippines].
‘If we had one I think we could win a senior league title one day.’
It’s no secret Filipinos are not tall people. Most are less than six feet tall and on the court they are mostly guards.
It is understood two of the biggest players on island are Alvin Manillo and Jan-Jan Barrozo (son of Jan Barrozo).
Manillo certainly has the size at 290 pounds but his reach is limited as he stands 6ft 3ins. Barrozo shows promise and has a good skill set but at 6ft 2ins and roughly 185 pounds he’s an undersized small forward at best.
Even with that being the case Carlos is adamant that size doesn’t hinder the level of play.
‘We may be small but we’re smart basketball players. We’re just short on size but we’re not missing out on the tactics.’
When his mind is not on basketball Carlos focuses his thoughts on his local business.
Carlos [along with a Caymanian man] owns Little Tokyo Mongolian Grill in Seven Mile Shops.
Most weekends Carlos can be found there enjoying the live music, eating and drinking a cold beer.
He feels the restaurant epitomizes the Filipino social life.
‘I feel like Little Tokyo brings the Asian lifestyle here. Filipinos are used to live music.’
He plays a big role in the Filipino community in Cayman and has helped organize a number of community activities.
As Carlos explains he and Jan Barrozo are integral parts of Cayman’s Filipino community.
‘Me and Jan have been here like 18 years. We got involved in so many things, especially in music. We put together bands, music concerts [including the recent Pinoy Idol event], etc.
‘We are sort of like ambassadors of the Filipino community.’
Ultimately, basketball will always be Carlos’ first love and he is set on advancing the game and his people in Cayman.
‘I can promise you it will be a better league next year. A lot of teams are trying to bring varsity players here.
‘I will continue to do what I do and I won’t stop until the island knows Filipinos are good people and they can play basketball.’