Mr Libog and I watched the PSSBC knockout quarterfinals over the weekend at the Chiang Kai Shek gym in downtown Manila. We were expecting to see the best of the current high school stars slug it out in epic hoops battle.
Boy were we ever disappointed.
There were stretches of brilliance of course, but nothing that really grabbed one's attention.
For the record San Sebastian, Mapua, Hope Christian and San Beda all advanced to the semifinals set for this Wednesday 4 December 2013 by routing their respective foes. Scores are hardly worth mentioning at all. It was those kinds of blowouts.
We actually thought NU was going to put up a fight against San Beda, as this was after all a champion-versus-champion match between the UAAP and the NCAA. Hubert Cani was having a field day throughout the first half, helping his Bull Pups build as much as a 12-point lead at least twice throughout the first 20 game minutes. He was also putting on an outlet pass show, hitting teammates on the transition leakout at least thrice in a row, and also threading the needle to let John Cauilan get a nifty undergoal stab off a baseline cut. NU held an eight-point lead at the half.
When the third period got underway it was as if a switch was flicked on the Red Cubs. Arvin Tolentino, Franz Abuda, Ran Bill Tongco and Andre Caracut finally got their respective games going, with JV Mocon and all of the other rotation guys just plain turning it up. By the end of the third period San Beda was up by 14 points, from a lead that was at one time as high as 18.
Cani was jammed in the third period with the deft sideline trapping of the Red Cubs. And while the NU offense sputtered, the San Beda transition game went into high gear. In no time at all the score was tied at 45-all, and then San Beda went full-throttle and the hapless Bull Pups were just bamboozled. To be fair though, NU did miss the services of starting center Mark Dyke, who is out for at least until the end of the year with an injured MCL, taking away easily 50% of NU's rebounding and interior defense.
6'4" San Beda superstar Arvin Tolentino had a sluggish first half and seemed disinterested and lazy throughout the first 20 game minutes. In the third period though he became far more active with his driving and post-up game. He seems to be an ineffective rebounder though, and does not really come after the carom, unlike the very active 6'1" Mocon.
John Apacible, Joe Bert Mercado and Jolo Go also had a relatively light time keeping their Hope Christian side ahead of Isaac Go, Jarrel Lim, Tyler Tio and the rest of Xavier School in the game previous. Hope Christian is the reigning champion of this tournament, and they showed precisely why. They just have too many athletes running up and down the court anchored on the 6'3" Apacible. Although the 6'6" Go has improved a lot over the past year, he still does not have the feet and quickness to keep up with skilled players.
John Calisaan and the rest of his San Sebastian Staglets get a chance to settle a score with Hope Christian when they meet in the knockout seminifnals, after Recolletos shredded Jose Rizal. Hope Christian beat San Sebastian for the inaugural title last year. the 6'1" Calisaan was among the Top 5 players of the last NCAA season but still hasn't quite figured out if he's a 2 or a 3, and his high dribble isn't helping him any.
And finally Mapua leaned on Justin Serrano's game-long steadiness to whip UAAP runner-up Ateneo. While the Ateneo was bereft of three starters and their sixth man, UAAP MVP Thirdy Ravena still tried to kepp them in this game. Alas, it seems there is only so much even the 6'2" MVP can do with a decimated roster.
All told there really wasn't anyone here who played like they would become game changing stars in college. Certainly there was no Enrico Villanueva, or Benjie Paras, or JV Casio, or LA Tenorio here. All it takes is a couple runs up and down the court and it is easy enough to see if a high school player will be somebody special in college. A lot of the stars we saw that day are very good high school players, very skilled, but there just wasn't anyone that shocked and awed us.
This should send a strong message to recruiters: betting the house (or heck, giving a house...) to any of these guys would be an epic mistake just to get them to play for your team. While there is no doubt almost all of them will become good college players in maybe two years, no one here will be the game changing holy grail sought by all good recruiters.
It might make more sense to bet the house on (or give a house to...) a stud Filipino-foreigner who still has at least three to four college playing years in him.
With both of the major college seasons now done (thanks a bunch, NCAA) we come to that time of the year when www.gameface.ph declares the amateur players who shone the most throughout the hardcore hoops calendar. For this edition we will include players from the UAAP, the NCAA and the PBA D-League. Just to be clear: Although stats and wins played an important part in the selection process, there is a player or two who might not have figured in the Top 10 statistical points and player efficiency ratings but who still made it due to hardcore cred. If anything, perhaps the simplest way to put it is that the guys who made it here are the guys without who their respective teams surely would have become mere scrimmage fodder.
Roi Sumang, 5'8" 155 pounds, Pointguard, University of the East
Sumang played like an MVP as far back as the summer preseason leagues. When he was on the floor for UE the Warriors played like contenders. Anytime he had to sit the UE game was going nowhere. That he somehow manufactured assists with the teammates he has is a tribute to his game brilliance.
Charles Mamie, 6'7" 260 pounds, Center, University of the East
As good as Sumang is the real reason UE was able to be as competitive as they were in Season 76 is the powerful Sierra Leone center Mamie. He had a few 20-rebound games even against the top UAAP frontlines and he managed to still lead in player efficiency ratings even though he missed two games due to suspension. He was the rightful MVP for this season.
Chris Newsome, 6'2" 185 pounds, Swingman, Ateneo De Manila
Speaking of staying competitive, Newsome was the main reason erstwhile 5-Peat champion Ateneo was even in the picture throughout Season 76. Without his athletic ability and rebounds the Blue Eagles would have been given up for dead. He even managed to become a Top 10 player even while playing out of position as the team's nominal power forward.
Ray Parks, 6'3" 200 pounds, Swingman, National University
Parks might have had a nightmare of an ending to his Season 76 (losing to UST in the Final 4 in spite of a twice-to-beat advantage) but he still managed to finish second in overall player efficiency. He is the main reason NU was touted as a contender this season, and his return for next season assures the Bulldogs remain a top team.
Karim Abdul, 6'5" 220 pounds, Center, University of Santo Tomas
Take anybody else off the UST roster and the Tigers might still have found a way into the Final 4 at least. They did after all manage not to miss Jeric Fortuna too badly, as they returned to the Finals. It was the bull-strong Abdul however who provided an anchor for his team by averaging over 16 points and 12 rebounds and providing an inside presence.
Raymund Almazan, 6'8" 225 pounds, Center, Letran College
Almazan has come a long way from just another tall kid with barely any real skill on the Letran B Team four and a half years ago. Now he finishes his college career MVP of the NCAA and ready to move on to the pros.
Ola Adeogun, 6'8" 235 pounds, Center, San Beda College
Without a doubt the one and only reason the Red Lions were still touted as the dominant team of the NCAA, Adeogun was named to the Mythical 5 of Season 89 and continues to provide an unmatched presence in the lane.
Nosa Omorogbe, 6'1" 190 pounds, Swingman, Perpetual Help University
Last year he was just another import firing away from all angles. This year he expanded his overall game and kept his Altas ahead of the pack throughout the early goings of a long season. If he were any taller he'd be the best import in the league.
Junric Baloria, 5'9" 160 pounds, Guard, Perpetual Help University
When commentators and coaches alike disdain a player for being merely a scorer they seem to be missing the whole point of the game. Baloria came in firing as early as the summer preseason tournaments, and he never stopped firing. His teammate Harold Arboleda filled up entire stat sheets but it was Baloria's gunnery that allowed the Altas to really compete.
Noube Happi, 6'6" 225 pounds, Emilio Aguinaldo College
It is his second straight year in the Mythical 5 and his team was in the Final 4 picture all the way up to the last couple of days in the regular season. Happi provided much-needed size and insurance inside for the Generals.
PBA D-LEAGUE ___
Eliud Poligrates, 5'10" 165 pounds, Guard, Cagayan Rising Suns
Disgraced in his native Cebu for allegations of impropriety relating to the game, Poligrates emerged as a star in the D League. His Rising Suns created waves in the league and he was the
When the SM Group bought into National University some three or so years back, a lot of college basketball fans knew it would be the start of an unprecedented renewal for the most moribund varsity program in the UAAP. After all, the richest man in the Philippines - SM founder and chair Henry Sy - literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps to build the SM Group, arguably the most valuable conglomerate in the country. His company's long-time slogan is "We've got it all", and indeed they seem to live up pretty well to that slogan.
True enough they have transformed themselves from the league doormat into one of its most exciting and talented teams. Not too long ago the Bulldogs were the resident UAAP whipping boys, and a sure-win assignment for any of the other teams. Win-less seasons were never out of the question for the boys from old Bustillos.
When the SM Group took over things changed pretty fast for NU though, most visibly with their varsity teams. Arguably their biggest varsity recruitment coup was landing 6'3" swingman Ray Parks, MVP in two of the last three UAAP seasons, and an undisputed talent. Parks is the son of legendary 7-time PBA Best Import Bobby Parks, and was also heavily recruited by the Division 1 Georgia Tech Yellowjackets of the US NCAA. He was reportedly on his way already to the Ateneo De Manila, as the then-Blue Eagles Coach Norman Black was a good friend of his departed father's and his Godfather as well. It is a testament to the commitment of the SM Group to improve the lot of the NU varsity program as swiftly as possible that Parks chose NU over the Ateneo.
This year they were crowned the UAAP Cheer Dance Champions, arguably the single most-attended event in the UAAP calendar outside of college basketball. They also got all of their basketball teams into the Final 4 of their respective divisions, with the Bull Pups and the Lady Bulldogs entering their respective Finals; their high school team even owns the distinction of sweeping the eliminations and gaining an insurmountable thrice-to-beat edge in the junior division. Talk about having it all.
Contrary to what their corporate owner's popular slogan says though, the NU Bulldogs of the SM Group does not in fact "have it all".
In fact, Season 76 has to be the single most disappointing season thus far in the history of NU. They ended the eliminations as the Number 1-ranked team entering the Final 4. That of course carried with it the coveted twice-to-beat advantage. Furthermore, the Bulldogs were the only team with a legit twice-to-beat edge in this year's Final 4. De La Salle and Far Eastern actually slugged it out in a virtual Best 2-out of-3 in their Final 4 match because they ended up tied with NU at 10-4 records. NU got the favorable quotient and thus the Number 1 ranking, relegating the Green Archers and the Tamaraws into a knockout-knockout series that La Salle won.
NU faced the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, a team that also barely made it to the Final 4. UST had to duel erstwhile champion the Ateneo in a knockout match to determine who would catch the last Final 4 bus. UST prevailed in that match 82-74 behind the 25 points of Cameroonian import Karim Abdul to set up their Final 4 showdown with the Bulldogs.
UST made history by becoming the first ever Number 4 Seed to topple a Number 2 Seed and move on to the Finals against La Salle. Kevin Ferrer led the improbable UST charge with 14 points in an 81-72 spanking of NU in their first game, then followed that up with 18 points in a 76-69 kiss goodbye in their second game.
This of course begs the question: how did UST do that against NU?
Here we see exactly how much NU did not "have it all".
Yes, they had Parks, arguably the single most talented player in the UAAP the last three years running. He failed to win an unprecedented third straight MVP this season but still came a close second to Season 76 MVP, FEU's Terrence Romeo. Parks is a superb athlete who can play as many as four positions on the floor. He has the size, strength and talent to overwhelm any other UAAP player one-on-one, maybe even one-on-two. Unfortunately for him he ran into Ferrer, his former RP Youth teammate.
At a long and wiry-strong 6'4" Ferrer is probably the only UAAP player who can match Parks physically. He is also a nasty defender who knows all the tricks. He just plain made life miserable for Parks throughout their Final 4 encounter. Parks could only grouse about Ferrer's "dirty play" on him while Ferrer relished taking it to his one-time teammate. With Parks taken out of his game by Ferrer, and literally taking himself out in the last minute and a half of this encounter with an injury, Parks practically took NU's Finals hopes with him.
None of his other teammates had enough to
Back in 2006 no one saw the UST Growling Tigers coming. UST had a rookie coach in UAAP legend Pido Jarencio, himself a former Glowing Goldie. They didn't have that heralded a roster, with players that seemed to lack one thing or another in terms of basketball skill. The team they eventually beat for the title, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, had beaten them by 36 points in Round 1. Hardly anyone but their most diehard fans and alumni bet on them. After three grueling games the Tigers emerged as UAAP champions. "Iba ang pakiramdam namin nuon," recalled Dylan Ababou in one conversation. Ababou was a mainstay for that UST title team. "Nung makarating na kami ng Finals sabi nga ni Coach Pido puso na ang iiral. Awa naman ng Diyos nanalo kami," he added.
After that the Tigers seemed to become a rudderless, aimless ship. Talk of "nakachamba lang" was rife. No one believed they could pull it off against the Ateneo even when they already did. Jarencio was being derided as a coach who was all quotable quotes but had little in terms of actual coaching acumen, "wala naman alam". Then the Tigers found themselves back in the UAAP Finals last year, facing a familiar foe, as the Blue Eagles were gunning for an historic 5-Peat title reign. This time the Ateneo had an answer for everything Santo Tomas threw at them, as the Blue Eagles exacted revenge for that 2006 series, sweeping the Tigers in two closely-contested games. That only fueled the "nakachamba" and "wala naman alam" anti-UST sentiments even further.
Now the Tigers have once again gained the upper hand in a rivalry no one else seems to know about, officially ending the reign of the Ateneo, making sure the erstwhile champions would not even make it into the Final 4 with an 82-74 shellacking of the Blue Eagles. Cameroonian import Karim Abdul led Santo Tomas with 25 points in that knockout game as the Ateneo were backpedaling throughout most of the game. "It's time na siguro na we have a new champion," Jarencio said after this game. Lo and behold that new champion might be them.
Jarencio, Abdul and the rest of the Tigers weren't done though. They then had to take on the mighty National University Bulldogs. NU was the Number 1 team coming into the Final 4, and they had a twice-to-beat advantage over UST. UST was once again a heavy underdog. What else is new?
In the Final 4 it was the turn of forward Kevin Ferrer to shine. He nailed four three-pointers on his way to 14 points to lead UST over NU in their first game 71-62. They pretty much did to the Bulldogs what they did to the Ateneo - coming out aggressive and never letting up, taking fearless drives, fearless shots and simply playing their game. Ray Parks, the son of the 7-time PBA Best Import, could only grouse about Ferrer's "dirty play" on him. "Tulungan lang talaga kami, hindi lang ako," Ferrer said in the post-game. He would follow that up with 18 points in a 76-69 victory over NU in their second game. Twice-to-beat, twice beaten, and now the Tigers were back in the UAAP Finals.
They will face the La Salle Green Archers, themselves coming off a fiery windup as they ousted Far Eastern in a virtual Best 2-out-of-3 match. La Salle has gone on a nine-game tear since ending the first round of eliminations at a ridiculous 3-4. "We just took it one game at a time, and we stuck to Coach Juno's system," said pointguard LA Revilla after their second game against FEU. Revilla was the best player in that virtual series, finding his shooting touch and helping neutralize league MVP Terrence Romeo.
La Salle boasts arguably the best frontline in the UAAP, with 6'3" Jason Perkins, 6'6" Norbert Torres and 6'8" Arnold Van Opstal rotating at the 4 and 5, with Perkins even seeing some minutes at the Three spot with his outside shooting ability. They will make life undoubtedly difficult for the 6'5" Abdul, who only has 6'3" Paolo Pe as his chief reliever at the center spot. Abdul however is joined by the multi-talented duo of 6'3" Aljon Mariano and the 6'4" Ferrer. Whoever controls the rebounding battle will have won 75% of this series.
One other sidelight is the Teng-Versus-Teng battle. Jeric Teng, who missed parts of the season with two injuries, played fireman against Ateneo and NU to ensure his team made it back to the Finals. Jeron Teng, his younger brother, has emerged as the steadying force for the Green Archers. Jeric is playing in his final season and wants to graduate with a UAAP title. Jeron is in his third year and wants to make sure La Salle lives up to its "title favorite" status.
It made for an interesting media event for both brothers with their parents in tow - former PBA star Alvin and doting mother Susan.
"I just told him to play his best,"
If the Final 4 began today reigning champion Ateneo De Manila would be the fourth-ranked team and they would have to face new leader (as of this writing) National University. That means for the first time ever in its five-year title reign, the Blue Eagles would not possess the twice-to-beat edge going into the playoffs. De La Salle and Far Eastern University would be in the other Final 4 match-up, with the Tamaraws owning the twice-to-beat advantage. Looking at those matches the ordinary basketball watcher would not be remiss in assuming that FEU and NU would most likely dispute the Season 76 basketball diadem. Nothing is ever that cut-and-dried in UAAP basketball though.
Let’s take a closer look at how each team is doing midway through Round 2 starting with the win-loss records below.
La Salle 8-4
NU – There was some talk that this would be the final year of Ray Parks as a Bulldog this season, with or without a UAAP championship. Parks, the reigning MVP the last two years running, lost his father, the 7-time PBA Best Import Bobby Parks, to a long-time illness Black Saturday of this year. During his father’s wake he spoke rather candidly about turning pro, perhaps as soon as after the Season 76 basketball wars. With NU at 9-3 though, it looks like Parks might just end his UAAP career with a championship after all. He is still among the Top 5 players this season, and at least for now his team is on top of the standings. Their last two games however will be against fellow contender La Salle and the reigning champion Ateneo. How those games turn out will determine the title course for the Bulldogs. Beating both teams will guarantee the Bulldogs the Number 1 spot going into the Final 4 and the twice-to-beat advantage that comes with it. Splitting those either way will mean playoff complications but still guarantees a twice-to-beat edge either way. Losing both could mean being on the wrong end of a twice-to-beat seeding.
FEU – After sweeping the first round of eliminations with an immaculate 7-0 record, the Tamaraws seem to be undergoing that Round 2 letdown that has plagued them for the better part of the last half-decade in the UAAP cage wars. They’ve gone only 1-4 thus far in the second round, including an embarrassing 19-point beat down from the Ateneo. Superstar guard Terrence Romeo still leads the league in scoring but as usual is also leading the league in shots attempted by at least a mile. Good thing FEU already put together seven wins in the first round, because as things stand they already have a losing record in the second round. They better be wary of their last two opponents, host Adamson and also-ran UP, both of who might be looking to spoil the Final 4 positioning of the Tamaraws. Both of these games should be relatively easy enough for FEU though, and will assure they have a shot at taking one of the two twice-to-beat slots going into the Final 4.
La Salle – Coming off their most important victory of the season against archrival Ateneo over the weekend, the Green Archers promptly followed that up with a last-man-standing overtime victory over UE yesterday afternoon. Almond Vosotros and Jason Perkins have both been the main men in those two games, producing almost all-game long even as resident superstar Jeron Teng has been picking his spots, nailing the game-winner over the Blue Eagles. La Salle is now in prime to position to take one of the two twice-to-beat seeds going into the Final 4. Their remaining assignments are NU and UST. If they beat NU and NU beats the Ateneo, both teams will wind up with identical five losses, which in the UAAP normally means a play-off for purposes of ranking. A play-off, especially against a strong team like NU, would mean playing one more game that might take away precious player energy, something that might tell should during the Final 4 proper. If they lose both assignments that might put the Green Archers out of the Final 4 picture altogether depending on how the Ateneo and UST wind up their seasons.
Ateneo – Having a losing record in the first round is now coming back to haunt the Ateneo. Kiefer Ravena missing five freethrows in a game decided by only two points against archrival La Salle is not helping. With still UE, NU and UST to go on their schedule the Blue Eagles are running the proverbial gauntlet. To be safe they must sweep these last three games to at least have nine wins for the regular season. This will all but knock Santo Tomas out of the Final 4 picture with at least six losses, UE as well with at least seven losses. It will also bring the Ateneo at least within a game of NU, assuming NU wins over La Salle, which means there is still that slim chance that the Blue Eagles can somehow sneak into the Top 2 seeds of the Final 4 and the twice-to-beat edge