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We're finally going to the World Cup of Basketball.
Very few people remember we already qualified once before, in a very different era. During the Danding Cojuangco - Ron Jacobs years we actually qualified for the World Basketball Championships, what the basketball world cup used to be called before the NBA (rightly I believe) patented "world championship" for its own league champion. That year was 1986, something we Filipinos probably remember as when shit got real and EDSA happened. Naturally with Danding flying the coop along with the Marcos conjugal dictators and the rest of the lot, we never got around to actually participating in that world championship tournament.
It was a great time to be a Philippine basketball enthusiast back then. We were Number 1 in Asia. Sure, the competition wasn't all that great, certainly not of the caliber we now routinely face, and we did have three Americans then - Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Arthur "Chip" Engelland. Jacobs and Conjuangco actually started out with a wholesale importation of eight Americans (including the three holdovers) and then having them naturalized. Still, winning is winning, and that national team certainly did a lot of winning. Those were the guys on their way to the world championships until the whole damn country turned into a revolution circus.
This time around we only get one American (or any other import of our choice) in 6'11" Marcus Douthit. Every one of the top basketball powers in our part of the world is bigger, stronger. We may be able to match them in terms of talent and skill, maybe we're even a little better, but definitely the size factor favors the opposition. As one Gameface Forum member puts it, we used to be the big swinging d--- in Asian basketball, even if everyone else was bigger and stronger, because we were the only ones who could play the game. When everyone else learned the game, they're being bigger was enough to beat us.
Still, the FIBA Asia tournament held on home soil was an eye-opener and a breakthrough for our national basketball program. We finally got a huge Korean monkey off our backs be beating Korea 86-79 in the semifinals and ensuring that we would finish on the podium. We did it without Douthit, after the big American re-injured his tender calf near the end of the second period. We did it with a heck of a third period, when we went turbo in transition behind Jayson Castro William and the outside shooting of almost the entire team. Most of all, we did it with a fourth period windup that featured the gargantuan balls of steel of Jimmy Alapag and the gigantic heart of fire of Marc Pingris. "Nilaban namin 'yon para sa bayan," Pingris tearfully said after that game. This was an all-heart win against a favored team and it was enough to put us back on the international basketball map. This has to be the sweetest silver medal finish in the history of Philippine sports.
National team head coach Chot Reyes can finally silence all of his doubters and critics. His dribble-drive offense predicated on speed demon guards like Castro works. If he had two more legitimately bigger players manning the forward slots we might have had just enough size and strength to beat Iran for the gold medal. 6'7" Jay Washington and 6'7" Kelly Williams certainly would have been first class upgrades over say 6'2" Gary David and 6'3" Larry Fonacier. 6-foot Stanley Pringle, the man making his name in the ASEAN Basketball League would have also been an upgrade over 5'7" LA Tenorio. Certainly Iran's 6'6" swingman "The Iron" Nik Bahrami would have had a harder time trying to get past Washington and / or Williams.
Now the next goal is to put together a respectable enough showing at the Basketball World Cup in Spain next year. We had a hard enough time trying to stay with 7'2" Iranian center Hamid Ehadadi, strictly an NBA role player, as well as the Korean trio of 6'10" Kim Joo Sung, 6'9" Lee Jong Hyun and 6'9" Yang Dong Gun. It will be more monumental a task in Spain with the Gasol Brothers of Spain who are both legit 7-footers and NBA All Stars, to say nothing of the all-NBA US team.
Reyes and team management might want to find a replacement for Douthit, who is already 33 years old and has shown that all it takes is one bad misstep from him to shoot the entire team down. Someone a little younger and sturdier with some international and/or legit NBA experience ought to do it. I'm thinking 7'1" former Miami Heat backup center Earl Barron, or if he's stopped being a knucklehead, maybe even 7'1" former PBA Best Import Chris Alexander. Someone just speak up in the comments section if Alexander is actually already 35 years old, because I seem to recall he was only 24 or 25 back in 2008 when last I interviewed the man, which should make him maybe 31
From the mighty Tessa Jasmines ___
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, MAY 6, 2013 – The National Basketball Association (NBA) and Hoopla Inc. today announced that the first-ever NBA Café in Asia will be coming to Manila, Philippines, at the soon-to-open SM AURA Mall in the Bonifacio Global City.
Scheduled to open in September 2013, the NBA Café will feature a unique dining and entertainment experience that captures the excitement of the league through memorabilia displays, NBA highlights and programming, an NBA retail area, and will host viewing parties and appearances by NBA talent.
At the NBA Café, fans will enjoy quintessentially American bar and grill favorites and a selection of Asian-Filipino classics, giving it a local twist. It is the first sports bar and restaurant in Manila catering specifically to basketball fanatics and enthusiasts, in a nation where 40 million people play or have played the game.
This is the second league-owned restaurant set to open outside the U.S.; an NBA Café also is planned for Madrid in 2013. NBA City, the league’s first themed restaurant, opened in 1999 at the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando.
“Basketball fans in the country now have a place dedicated and designed specifically for them,” said Nian Rigor, Assistant Vice President, Hoopla Inc. “NBA Café will provide them a taste of the authentic NBA experience that they can share with family and friends, complete with great food, custom-made NBA Café Manila merchandise and the finest in basketball entertainment. This stays in line with our goal to bring new experiences and concepts to Filipinos.”
“The NBA Café will be a unique destination that will bring NBA basketball closer to our fans in the Philippines,” said Carlo Singson, NBA Country Manager, Philippines. “Given their vast knowledge in the food and entertainment industry, Hoopla is an ideal partner to bring the NBA Café to life and to provide fans another authentic NBA experience.”
NBA Legend Muggsy Bogues, who was in Manila for the finale of the four-month long Jr. NBA program, made a special stop at the site, conducting a hard hat inspection with NBA executives to monitor the progress of the NBA Café (see photo caption).
“This is my first time in the Philippines and I’m overwhelmed by the passion the people have for basketball here,” said NBA Legend Muggsy Bogues, who at 5-3 is the shortest player ever to play in the NBA. “More than a restaurant, the NBA Café will be a destination where fans here can watch games in an entertaining atmosphere that captures the history and excitement of the NBA.”
The NBA recently announced a comprehensive global games schedule that will include a total of eight games in six countries this October, including the first ever preseason game in the Philippines. In addition, each year the NBA conducts local events in the Philippines, including the Jr. NBA youth development program, which has reached more than 60,000 students, parents and coaches over the past five years, and NBA 3X, the league’s global basketball competition and lifestyle event which will be conducted in 14 countries outside the US this summer.
While everyone expected to see San Beda-San Sebastian Round 4 in the Season 88 NCAA Finals, quite a few people were also looking at the Letran Knights. San Beda was a given this season, as they have been the last seven editions of this tournament. After all, the Red Lions have won five of the last six titles in the country's oldest and most prestigious varsity basketball tournament. And this is their seventh straight trip to the Finals. San Beda and San Sebastian were running 1-and-2 throughout the season.
San Sebastian was thought to be the sure opponent for the Red Lions yet again. It was after all the Golden Stags who ended what could have been a record-setting dynasty for San Beda by upsetting the Red Lions in the 2009 Finals. This season, the Stags had the Lions' number, beating the reigning champions in both of their elimination round games, the last by a good 14 points that sealed the second straight MVP award for pro-bound Calvin Abueva. "I think they really had a hard time matching San Sebastian's energy more than anything else," said a coach from a different league after that game. That would prove to be the last good thing about San Sebastian's season though.
In the Final 4 the Stags faced off against the Letran Knights. If the Stags owned the Lions this season, so the Knights owned the Stags in turn. Kevin Alas and Company handed Abueva et al sound beatings in both of their elimination round games, the last by 15 points. They just kept on doing the same damn thing in the Final 4. With the Stags enjoying a twice-to-beat advantage, Letran needed to beat them two games in a row. They did just that, walloping San Sebastian in their first game behind the 43-point explosion of Kevin Alas to force a knockout winner-take-all game, then edging the Stags 73-70 in the second game to return to the NCAA Finals. "Masaya ako sa nilaro ng mga bata. Enjoy muna namin ito then we'll work on Game 1 of the Finals," an elated Coach Louie Alas said after that game.
While some observers throught that Abueva didn't play up to his MVP par in this Final 4 series, credit must still be given to the rough and rugged play of the Knights, a Louie Alas staple. Kevin Racal, a 6-foot-1 recruit out of UCLAA's Pamantasan ng Lunsod ng Muntinlupa successfully shadowed Abueva throughout Game 1. Couple that with the sizzling 63 combined points between Kevin Alas and diminutive pointguard Mark Cruz and the Stags seemed to have headlights in their eyes. They never quite got their old swagger back and missed the Finals for the first time in four years.
San Beda for its part had to go through a veritable wringer against the resurgent Perpetual Help Altas in their own Final 4 war of attrition. Ola Adeogun scored the pivotal baskets with some two and a half minutes left in the game to help his Red Lions overcome the stubborn Altas 58-52. "Hindi lang today maganda ang nilaro ng Perpetual; maganda nilaro nila the whole season," exclaimed rookie San Beda Coach Ronnie Magsanoc. Adeogun was the only Lion in double figures in this game with 23 points to go with his 14 rebounds and two blocks.
Both teams are chasing an important part of NCAA history in this championship match. Tied with 16 basketball titles each, it is a veritable race to the top to win a 17th title and the lead in that all-important department for the respective schools. Letran last won a title in 2005 when the elder Alas still had current pro players Aaron Aban and Mark "Pretty Boy" Andaya. They actually made a return trip to the Final in 2007 with Rey Guevarra and RJ Jazul but fell to the powerhouse Red Lions led by the mighty Nigerian giant Sam Ekwe. It has been a Red and White league ever since.
Smart match-ups especially on defense will be critical in this series. The Alases and their Knights do not really have a direct counter for the highly athletic 6-foot-8 Adeogun. On the other hand, the younger Alas will not be an easy defensive assignment for anybody on the San Beda side either. 6-foot-7 Letran center Raymond Almazan might be just enough to distract or limit Adeogun, but the foul-prone cousin of former Knight and pro star Kerby Raymbundo needs to mind his fouls. Rome Dela Rosa, another scion of a former pro star might be the answer to Kevin Alas, although man-coverage has not proven too successful against the hot-shooting off-guard.
Letran's penchant for the down and dirty should also be a cause for concern, not just for San Beda but for the game officials. Jam Cortes, Junjun Alas (Kevin's older brother), Jonathan Belorio, Racal, Carlo Lituania, and even the pint-sized Cruz are known for giving a little extra when setting or coming off screens and picks, in rebound scrums, and generally at any time they think they can get away with it. This might be one reason why San Sebastian couldn't beat the Knights this season. While the
At the end of the first round of eliminations in UAAP Season 75, here is how the team standings look like:
1. Santo Tomas, 6-1
2. Ateneo De Manila, 6-1
3. Far Eastern University, 5-2
4. De La Salle, 4-3
5. National University, 4-3
6. University of the Philippines, 1-6
7. Adamson University, 1-6
8. University of the East, 1-6
Probably the only people not at all surprised by their leadership in the team standings are the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers themselves. Pido Jarencio, ever the type to speak his mind said so clearly enough in a conversation during the UAAP Press Conference a couple of months ago at the SMOA Arena. "Mag-ingat na lang sila sa amin ulit," he declared, to much guffawing from those present. Guess who is laughing now?
Apparently the only person who foresaw how strong and how serious these Tigers are as contenders this season is Ateneo Coach Norman Black. As early as the summer preseason tournaments he declared that UST would be a team to be reckoned with. "UST has a very good center in Karim Abdul, plus they have all of those shooters like (Jeric) Fortuna and (Jeric) Teng and even Aljohn Mariano," Black said after one Fil Oil game. "I think they will be a team to be reckoned with this season," he added.
True enough, the Tigers are the only team to have beaten Black's Blue Eagles. Seeking to complete an historic 5-peat title reign, the Ateneo is pulling out all the stops this season. UST spoiled that early on with a 70-71 escape over the reigning champions. With the Ateneo sporting as much as a 19-point lead late in the first half, that game looked like it would become another walkover for the Blue and White. Mariano suddenly went nuts in the second half, even as 7-foot center Greg Slaughter had to ride the bench for most of the second half due to personal foul problems. Teng and Abdul held off the Blue Eagles for their biggest win of this season. "Nakachamba na naman," Jarencio said of that win. At 6-1 and on top of the leader board though, Jarencio and his Tigers need to be wary of how much "chamba" they have left in them, a point to which I shall later return.
Speaking of escape acts, the FEU Tamaraws won their first three games of this season by the slimmest of margins. In fact all three of those games came down to the last possession. "They could have started the season at 0-2 as easily as 2-0," noted veteran online sports guru Sidney Ventura. In fairness they are so far the only team to have beaten the surging Tigers, and they have displayed a more or less balanced inside-outside game. Terrence Romeo still dominates the ball too much even for the disinterested basketball watcher. But the Tamaraws of Coach Bert Flores have gotten good inside production from American import Anthony Hargrove and the bruising Bringas brothers. If RR Garcia can somehow get out of his shooting funk (averaging an uncharacteristic five points or so per game in three of his last four games) and fourth-year man Russel Escoto rediscovers his own game, FEU might just have a better second round.
Host NU is likely having recurring nightmares at this point in the tournament. Last year was supposed to be a breakout season for them with the wondrous Ray Parks finally strutting his stuff in the UAAP. Parks did win the MVP award, but alas his Bulldogs were a woeful 6-8 and completely missed the playoffs last year in spite of all the hype. Already they have three first round losses, all of them to Final 4 contenders including a 20-point plus walloping from reigning champion Ateneo right in their own home court at the SMOA Arena. Parks and company just came off a double-overtime 87-86 heart breaker to La Salle to end their Round 1 campaign. The reigning MVP scored 35 points but just couldn't get his team over the hump.
La Salle for its part is probably still basking in the positive afterglow of that double-overtime thriller versus the Bulldogs. Jeron Teng proved why he was the top rookie recruit this season by setting a record 35 points. Thankfully though he did get good help from Almond Vosotros in pulling this one out of the fire. Their other two losses came from archrival Ateneo and of league-leading Santo Tomas. Aside from Teng and Vosotros the Archers' season is relying on how much longer veteran pointguard LA Revilla can remain intact physically. He was unable to finish the NU game with a heavily iced ankle. Without Revilla on the floor directing and leading the team, La Salle just starts to unravel. Mac Tallo was supposed to be the solution to this problem but he's lost minutes to true rookie Thomas Torres. Thankfully Norebert Torres and Yutien Andrada have held the fort inside and provided an interior presence for the Green Archers.
UP, Adamson and UE bring up the tail end of the standings all
Now in its 88th season, the NCAA, the country's oldest and most historic athletic tournament opened at the Big Dome in typical glitzy fashion last weekend. As usual the basketball titles in both the men's and high school divisions are the centerpieces of the league. It should be no surprise to anyone that San Beda College is the prohibitive favorite to retain the titles in both caging divisions. Whatever else anyone may have to say, the road to the NCAA Season 88 basketball titles will still run through the gates of St Beda.
Essentially the NCAA has been the stomping ground of the Red Lions since the 82nd Season, when guard Pong Escobal and Nigerian giant Sam Ekwe suited up for the Red and White. They've gone on to win five of the last six titles, including three straight from 2006-2008. Their title run was interrupted by the San Sebastian Golden Stags in the 2009 season, when the San Sebastian roster was revamped and rebooted to inlcude current superstars Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang. It has been a San Beda-San Sebastian rivalry over the last couple of seasons since then.
That might be what makes the NCAA now not quite as exciting as it used to be, maybe even just 10 years ago. "The NCAA is essentially a league with one super strong team, two strong teams, and then everyone else," noted a veteran online sports writer who works for a popular global web site. "Outside of those three teams there just isn't much competition in the league anymore. The bottom teams are really struggling, and watching the games can sometimes be a trying experience," he added.
Let's take a look at each team ___
Arellano University: Coach Leo Isaac will lean heavily on his perimeter since he really doesn't have much size to bank on. The veteran guard combo of Rocky Acidre and Vergel Zulueta will elad the Chiefs, together with 6-foot-2 Filipino-Foreigner swingman James Forrester. They'll be running a lot of motion and staggered screens because if they cannot get out and run. 6-foot off-guard Adam Serjue, another expatriate of Filipino lineage, could have been a big boost but got injured before the season could even begin. 6-foot-6 Prince Caperal and 6-foot-3 freshman rookie Julius Cadavis are as good as it gets up front for Arellano. They will likely finish under .500 this season.
College of St Benilde: With arguably the best backcourt in the NCAA if not the entirety of college basketball nationwide, the Blazers will try to outrun and out-quick the opposition this season. Led by the electric Carlo Lastimosa, the Blazers will also be banking on Jonathan Grey, JP Taha and Luis Singco. If they can get consistent production out of their frontline, more than the usual rebounds and interior defense, they actually have a shot at the Final 4. But Jan Tan, Bart Bartolo, and Tyler Fikowski work hard but aren't really elite big men. St Benilde might still make a Final 4 run on the strength of their backcourt though.
Emilio Aguinaldo College: Pining for the days of yore might be the in thing for the Generals. Once upon a time they had some of the best players in all of college ball, like PBA star Ronjay Buenafe, and hardcourt legend Nino Songco. Now they have essentially a smallish team trying to keep up with the big boys. Jan Jamon had a great season on a bad team last year, but barely stirred in the summer. Russell Yaya was Ok over the summer and looks to continue that in Season 88, leading the Generals over Arellano in their last game with 17 markers. Head coach Gerry Esplana hopes to get some more out of guard John Tayontong and forward Noube Happi. This is a team looking at the wrong side of .500 ball.
Jose Rizal University: Loaded with veterans but short on size, the Heavy Bombers of head coach Vergel Meneses have a legit shot at making the Final 4. They have a pretty good blend with guards Alex Almario, Jon Villarias and Nate Matute, forwards Jon Lopez and Ralph Monserat, and undersized centers Raymond Carampil and Jon Mabulac. They have one of the best full court pressing defenses in the league, and they can score inside-outside. This is a team that nearly upended reigning UAAP champion Ateneo in the Fr Martin Cup Finals. They will have to figure out a way to match up against the taller timber though.
Letran: Head coach Louie Alas preaches toughness, defense and sharing the ball, except perhaps where his son Kevin is concerned. Kevin scored 31 points in their big opening day win over mighty San Sebastian, with the 5-foot-11 guard showcasing the new skills he learned on a month-long personal training camp in the US. Alas father and son are the real engine driving the Knights' train, and they should find their way easily enough into the Final 4 in their Hosting Year this year. Mark Cruz, Jon Belorio and Kevin Racal will provide plenty of support.
Lyceum: This is another team that was