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How La Salle won the race for Alex Konov

If college basketball enthusiasts thought the UAAP men’s basketball “offseason” would quiet down some time after Jacob Bayla announced his long-anticipated commitment to the UP Fighting Maroons, then they were quickly handed a surprise.

A few weeks after finally opening his mind to the possibility of playing college basketball in the Philippines, one of the promising Fil-foreign versatile wingmen in the global scene today, Alex Konov, has committed to join the De La Salle Green Archers, he confirmed in an exclusive interview with All-Star Magazine.

Konov is a 6-foot-7 sniper from downtown. He is part Filipino, American, and Bulgarian, a tri-citizen. His presence in La Salle’s line-up only makes the reigning UAAP champions stronger in the Archers’ quest for their first back-to-back men’s basketball titles since 2001, giving the coaching staff another unique weapon to utilize.

He was recruited to join the Bulgarian national team but pledged support to Gilas Pilipinas, wearing the country’s flag on his chest in the FIBA 2022 U17 Asian Championship where he averaged 10 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on 24.8 minutes a game.

In his senior season (‘23-24) with Manasquan high school in New Jersey, Konov normed 11 points a contest in 24 matches and converted a total of 67 three-pointers.

There are areas of his game that need further honing – like rebounding and off the dribble attacks – but his combination of shooting and size are traits that coaches consider enticing to team-building in today’s style of play.

Konov also has high-stakes experience, having played deep into the New Jersey state tournament semifinals where his Manasquan team would have advanced to the championship round had a game official not made a mistake in reviewing a buzzer-beater – a lapse in judgment which became a national controversy. Despite the losing effort, Alex scored 23 points and hit 7-of-10 from downtown in an inspiring effort.

These were winning qualities La Salle saw early on from Konov.

“DLSU showed love and began recruiting me all the way back when I started playing for Gilas back in 2022,” the prospect told All-Star.

“I also met with Coach Topex recently at a camp (Fil-Am Nation High School Showcase) in California and we spoke briefly. Over the phone he really recruited me and made me feel like La Salle would be home. He also grew up very close to my mother [in Olongapo] and it felt like the right decision. The academics are also very good and I think it will be good for my development.”

A total of six universities were in the running for Konov according to his representation, Fil-Nation select, which commended each program for making distinctive pitches to the All-Division 1st Team awardee.

Photo courtesy of: FIBA

La Salle had a virtual presentation highlighting the university’s campus and included a jersey swap edit of Konov in a Green Archers uniform which he found “kind of funny.” DLSU also promised the opportunity for him to grow as a basketball player by immersing himself in their championship-winning culture, by going up against and learning from Kevin Quiambao in practice, and by joining the team in their upcoming offseason trips to Korea and Japan.

UST was not in the list of Konov’s initial suitors but joined the fray when it became official that he was willing to speak with schools in the Philippines. Fil-Nation Select said the Growling Tigers made a “great” pitch in an online call which highlighted the team’s up-and-coming roster, their upcoming offseason trip to Korea, and network in the PBA if Konov desires to play in the local pro league in the future.

The UP Maroons also had an efficient online conversation with Konov, promising him the environment where he could compete for a UAAP title, which was a significant sticking point for him in discussions.

“There’s a reason why the top athletes go there. Their culture and winning tradition make players want to join them,” Fil-Nation Select said of the Fighting Maroons.

Ultimately UST didn’t make the cut because of concerns about Konov transitioning into their playing system and UP was eliminated because he felt their roster was already set and established in his desired position for the upcoming UAAP seasons.

FEU was the ultimate dark horse and was leading the race for Konov at one point. Fil-Nation mentioned that Chambers’ coaching style is going to be “perfect” for where the program wants to go. The Tamaraws also had a presentation and video ready for the online meeting and were the only suitors who had both management and the head coach present for the zoom call.

What eventually separated DLSU from FEU was that La Salle would compete for a UAAP title right away (although the Tamaraws have a good shot of making the Final Four this year), the chance for Konov to learn from Quiambao, and DLSU’s voyages in the coming months. As of posting time, FEU has no out-of-the-country trips planned.

“I’ve been watching the games in Filoil and getting familiar with how they play. They play a good team game and I like how they move the ball. I also like how KQ is considered a superstar but doesn’t mind giving himself up in order for his teammates to succeed,” Konov said about his early observations of his future teammates.

Like UST, San Beda also wanted in the Konov race after his initial suitors were revealed. Although pitching as underdogs because Alex’s interest was to join the UAAP, Red Lions team manager Jude Roque made a good case online by telling Konov he could potentially become the face of the NCAA, join the team’s upcoming offseason training in Irvine, California, and compete for a championship every season with a program that’s religiously in the NCAA championship picture.

Konov ultimately turned down San Beda because of his intention to develop as a wing player for the pro level rather than be utilized as a big man, which wouldn’t have been guaranteed playing in a league without foreign student-athletes.

Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin and management met Konov in New Jersey at the conclusion of his recruitment meetings for the week. Baldwin, a four-time UAAP champion, drew a picture for Alex on how he could best develop as a professional-level player under his tutelage, with possible opportunities down the line in the Philippines or abroad. It also appealed to Alex that the Blue Eagles would train in Australia, although that is scheduled to happen before Konov’s high school graduation.

Ateneo made the final cut with FEU and DLSU, but lost out because of where the team’s current direction is in terms of competing for a UAAP title.

With all the cards on the table, Konov decided to join the green and white.

“They were honest and straightforward about how they felt about me and didn’t guarantee playing time but told me that if I worked for it and deserved it, then I would play,” he stated

“I just want to win. I think they have a good culture over there and a great coach in Coach Topex. To me winning matters more than anything and being able to win a UAAP Championship will cement a legacy. Individual accomplishments are great but I know if I can contribute to winning, that will also help me grow and play professionally. However long I stay there is not something I know yet, but I know I want to win and I will try my hardest to aid in that.”

The 19-year-old will be considered a “true freshman” (meaning a player straight out of high school) in UAAP Season 87. At first Konov wasn’t open to coming to the Philippines because he had NCAA D1 or D2 aspirations. After seeing his close friends Bayla (UP), Jayden Jones (FEU), and Zain Mahmood (UST) make commitments to Philippines-based universities, it sparked the shift in his perspective.

“Seeing them will be a great experience and I will appreciate playing against them,” the 6-foot-7 long-range specialist added. “I like how we’re there in the Philippines but in different schools, so we can kind of grow in our own direction and not rely on each other, but be able to hang out outside of basketball.”

As far as the discussions in the recruitment of Konov, Bayla, and their other players, Fil-Nation select said that “The transparency and communication were represented to the schools. The role we had was to present the options, but the athletes make the decisions. It was their call.”

Asked to provide context on what players from abroad look for in these discussions with Philippine programs, the answer from the developmental program was: “Honest presentations.”

Konov is scheduled to arrive in Manila come the first week of July. His potential makes him a bona fide game-changer for any collegiate program, which was why he was hot commodity. Like they did last UAAP season, La Salle once again emerged victorious.

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