Let's talk balls.
Last time I talked at length about the current top point guards in the UAAP. I had a chance to get some drinks with Wang-bu, a good buddy of mine. Wang-bu as all regular Gameface members knows is the UE resident of our site; he was also a UE Red Warrior back in the mid to late 1990's. He is currently in absentia online, taking on new responsibilities at the company where he is employed, and thus not having as much time as before to post in our Forums. He is going places, which is more than he can say for the state of Filipino point guards.
"Sino diyan sa UAAP ngayon ang tingin mo magiging star na point guard sa PBA, brod?" he asked.
I was about to say "Roi Sumang" when he answered his own question. "Si Roi Sumang lang ang may pagasa diyan. Kahit 'yang sina (Terrence) Romeo, (RR) Garcia mukhang malabo maging star sa PBA," he added.
"Alam mo kung bakit?" he asked anew.
And again he answered his own question, "Wala na kasing magaling na point guard ngayon. Tignan mo buong UAAP, NCAA, pati na NAASCU, UCLAA at NCRAA. Isama mo na Fr Martin. May nakita ka bang sa tancha mo sure na pang-PBA na point guard? Wala na. Si Sumang lang talaga."
In a country where at good 90% of the population stands 5'6" to 5'8", and almost all of who play basketball, surely there must be at least 10,000 PBA-calibre point guard prospects out there right now. The statisitcal probabilities should certainly agree with me. Perhaps they just have not been found.
Wang-bu took his shot of the Gran Matador (free plug San Miguel, hint hint!), chased it down with some iced water, lit his cigarette, took a good initial drag on it, exhaled the smoke upward, then answered me thoughtfully, comprehensively. "Ah ganun ba? Eh nasan na nga sila? Nasan na 'yang 10,000 na sinasabi mo? Sa laki ng binibigay ng mga gastador na mga paaralan ngayon, ibig mong sabihin wala pa silang nahihikayat ni isang magaling na point guard mula sa buong Pilipinas? 'Yun ngang mga tropa natin na Lasalista akala ang galing-galing na nung Thomas Torres nila. Paputol ko kaliwa ko kung kayang talunin ni Torres nila si Sumang."
I took up the cudgels for the young man from Lasalle Greenhills, extolling his virtues and vociferously reminding Wang-bu that it was our very good friend, John Flores, who made a legit UAAP point guard out of Torres.
Wang-bu wasn't having it though. "Mahal natin si John, brod. Pero siguro naman kahit anong trabaho gawin ni John, at ni (Gee) Abanilla at ng buong coaching staff pa ng Lasalle para kay Torres ay hinding-hindi niya aabutin ang likas na husay at galing ni Sumang. At kung hindi man lang niya maaabot ang antas ni Sumang, na siyang natatanging tingin ko na pang-PBA, ergo hinding-hindi pang-PBA si Torres. Antagal mo na din sa larong busluan, brod. Huwag mo sabihin sa akin na sa loob ng apat, limang taon Sumang-level na si Torres. Ang magaling, kada angat ng antas ng laro, angat din ang mismong laro niya, parang si Sumang, parang si Kiefer (Ravena) mo. Ganun ang mga sure na sure pang-PBA."
I told him about the likes of Rex Leynes (St Francis of Assisi College), Rey Gracilla (San Sebastian Cavite) and Jordan Melano (Arellano University) who we both saw playing just a couple of years back, and we both agreed each and everyone of those guys have PBA talent. My point here is that those guys simply never made it to the UAAP or NCAA and thus never got the chance to show their game.
Wang-bu was even with me when we brought Leynes to Harbour Centre some three years ago to try out. Leynes lost out in the roster race to Pamboy Raymundo, at that time coming off the San Sebastian NCAA championship of 2009. Leynes was better than Raymundo talent-wise, but Raymundo was simply better able to grasp organized basketball better, at least in the Harbour Centre scheme of things. Harbour Centre would come scrambling to get Leynes a year after that, when a PBL selection lost to a (now defunct) Liga Pilipinas selection with Leynes leading the Liga side.
Gracilla played toe-to-toe and basket-for-basket in a losing stand by his Bay Cats against a Letran side in the PCCL over three and a half years ago that then still featured RJ Jazul. Jazul at that time was on his way to Smart Gilas, and he was outplayed by Gracilla. Jordan Melano led his Chiefs into the Elite 8 Round of that same PCCL tournament, knocking out a UST side that back then had yet another Smart Gilas pioneer and UAAP MVP in Dylan Ababou. Melano outplayed both Rex Cortez and Japs Cuan.
None of those guys, as good as they were, and for whatever reason, ever played on a UAAP or NCAA school. Melano was gone by the time Arellano became an NCAA member-school. Any of these guys would have been sure match-up problems against the top sentinels of the two top leagues
Macky Escalona, the starting pointguard on the 2006 Ateneo team that went to the Finals against UST once told me a story a couple years back when his UAAP career was done. He pointed out another guard playing on a rival UAAP team of that era. "Sir, I don't know what it is with that school. I played against that guy in high school. I know for a fact he went to college before I did. Now I'm all done with college and he's still playing for that school, and I stayed five full years in the Ateneo." He shook his head. I simply smiled. He must have thought this was all new to me.
Generally speaking high school tournaments, whether big ones like the UAAP and NCAA junior competitions, or even smaller city leagues and even some junior tournaments overseas, all have an age cap, i.e. a maximum age that once attained disqualifies a kid from participating in a given tournament. That's understandable. After all, a junior tournament is by definition supposed to be limited to kids of a certain age. Normally in junior competitions the cutoff is 19 years of age, meaning if a player turns 19, or is turning 19, during a pending tournament, he is either declared ineligible right from the get-go, or he loses eligibility the exact moment he turns 19 within that tournament.
"Iba pa din ang may-edad lalo sa juniors," explained multi-titled former Ateneo High School Coach Jamike Jarin in one interview. "Imagine, a 15-year old versus a 14-year old, or a 15-year old versus a 16-year old, at this level, that is more or less fair. But if it is an 18-year old versus a 15- or even 16-year old, ibang usapan na 'yan. Iba na katawan ng disi-otso or disi-nuebe compared sa kinse or disi-sais. Physically pa lang grabe na lamang ng mas matandang player, kaya nga may term tayo na na-mama," he went on to expound. "It is very rare that a 15-year old can compete against an 18-year old, iba na nga katawan iba pa gulang sa laro," he added.
Even at the college level, in the senior division, a legit 17- or 18-year old freshman, no matter how gifted he may be, will have a dickens of a time trying to match up against a 22- , 23-year old player, much less a player right at the age limit for college competition, 24 or 25 years of age. Lebron James was 18 going on 19 when he entered the NBA as the top pcik of the 2003 draft, and while he showed every night why he deserved to be picked that high, he certainly was far from the dominating megastar he is today, going up against 28- to 32-year old stars in the primes of their careers. Michael Jordan was 28 when he won his first NBA title after a seven-year struggle. James was already 26 when he won his first NBA title last year.
Some high school teams recognized this early on and decided to let their players repeat year lvels in high school to maximize their playing years. A typical high school education should be over in four years. But UAAP and NCAA rules allow a player to play five full years. So some unscrupulous coaches recruit a 15-year old kid who is already in his third year in high school and ask him to repeat from second year, so that they can get at least three playing years out of him. By the time that recruit is in his fourth year in his new school he would already be 18 and very mature for high school competition.
There have even been cases where high school superstars have yet to finish high school but are already ineligible for their high school mother tournaments due to being over the maximum age. Keith Agovida of Jose Rizal and Clint Dolinguez of Hope Christian come easily to mind in this respect. Pari Llagas, the tough guy University of the East forward, was reportedly 20 years old by the time he finished high school, giving him an immense edge in terms of game experience and physical and mental maturity against the legitimate freshmen and sophomores he went up against in his rookie year in 2006. Rabeh Al-Hussaini, who was a 16- going on 17-year old freshman in 2005, needed all of four years to become a superstar after a so-so high school career at Philippine Christian. In 2008 he won his first UAAP title with the Ateneo and was declared MVP. Ray Parks was 18 years old in his rookie year in 2011 when he won his first of back-to-back MVP awards. But when Ateneo's Kirk Long, then a fifth-year veteran, guarded him in their second-round encounter he almost failed to score in double digits for the first time in his Philippine career.
That is why I get automatically leery when I see a well-built player at the junior level doing well. Of course he'd doing well, I'd automatically think, he's probably at least two years older than the competition. It shows not just in sinewy limbs, broad shoulders or meaty arms and legs. It shows in the way the older player moves, more sure, snappier, knowing how and when to fake, to jab step, to step into a defender, to pull back on a hesitation
Gonzaga got the Number 1 seed for the national collegiate basketball tournament, otherwise known as the NCAA or March Madness. I dare anyone out there to name at least one of the three superstars for Gonzaga, or even where it is exactly. Most ordinary basketball fans probably remember Gonzaga only as the school that produced Utah Jazz legend and all-time NBA assists leader John Stockton. As to their superstars, I'll give you a hint: one is a lean 7-foot forward-center with a hard-to-pronounce, hard-to-spell surname.
If you say Victor Oladipo you've got the wrong guy. Oladipo is a college basketball superstar indeed, but he belongs to powerhouse Indiana. I can't blame you since you probably mistook Gonzaga's 7-footer for Indiana's 7-footer, Cody Zeller, and got yourself all confused.
All of this is understandable. There just doesn't seem to be a marquee name, or heck even a marquee school throughout the last couple of months leading up to the national basketball tournament. Duke has been the "all-hype" pick if the social media and message boards are to be believed. And they don't have a big-name, sure-top-draft-pick player on their roster. Their story has been the return of 6'10" forward Ryan Kelly, and really not much else.
Speaking of marquee names, Kentucky, the erstwhile defending champion, didn't even make the tournament this year, going 21-12 in the Southeastern Conference, their season dying with much-hyped recruit Nerlens Noel. Their humiliating fall from grace was made all the more so when they bowed to never-heard Robert Morris in the NIT. John Calipari, who made a living recruiting one-season wonders like last year's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Number 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Davis, simply said "It has been humbling." Making $3.8 million this year will either make things easier or harder on poor Cal.
Kentucky seemed disbelieving at first that they would not even get a chance to defend their national title. They did still have a good enough core, although of course not as deep or as talented as last year's champions. They also have to seethe through the thought of seeing hated rival Louisville, and their own millionaire coach Rick Pitino, play in the bluegrass school's home court. "We will come back a tougher team next year," Calipari insisted.
Gonzaga in the meantime went 31-2including 16-0 at home while playing superb team basketball built on having no freshmen leaders. Indiana also did not rely on a single freshman. Zeller, who thought about being a one-done guy and making the jump to the NBA last year, is now a sophomore. Oladipo, a strong contender for consensus college player of the year, is a junior.
Brackets be damned and all, but this is one March Madness season that incredibly enough might be a fitting end to so-so conference play throughout the last five months. There just wasn't much to be excited about. Now though, this might be the time we see the coaches making a tithe of the millionaire coaches whipping big-team deriere. This might be the time we see the small schools upsetting fancied bigger programs. This might be the time we might even see a cinderella school finally take the title.
This is also a fitting time to look at the NBA talent playing in the next couple of weeks. Aside from the aforementioned, other NBA-ready talents who made the national tournament include 6'5" guard Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse, 6'6" swingman Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, and 6'8" forwrd Otto Porter of Georgetown. Others might have a good enough tournament to catch the eyes of NBA scouts, like undersized 6'7" UNLV forward Anthony Bennet, or gargantuan 7'5" New Mexico center Sim Bhullar.
As for the tournament itself, could it be a Gonzaga-Indiana match in the Finals? That certainly looks good for the TV folks. Syracuse, with its New York following, could also hold some promise; the deathless Jim Boeheim is always great television. And of course there is the cinderella syndrome still working for Butler and youthful head coach Brad Stevens. Personally I'd like to see Stevens and his Bulldogs bring the trophy home to Indianapolis. Tom Crean however wants to bring another trophy home to Bloomington. An All-Indiana State Finals perhaps?
Anyway, put the office, dorm and neighborhood pools together, folks. The big and the small have seemingly switched places, and it looks like it is all for the better in the 2013 edition of March Madness. I'm putting my money on The Orange.
Sunday morning is usually a time for me to recover from a hangover and / or go to Sunday mass with the missus. Yesterday I decided to watch the NBTC / Sea Oil All Star game at the Ynares Sports Center since ti was a five-minute walk from my place. I should have just gone to morning mass. Or slept longer. Or hell, anything other than watch that blasted game.
I never regret watching any basketball game. I even stop to watch a game on a barangay halfcourt just because that is my nature. But of course, as with all things, there are some good and some bad. Yesterday's so-called All Star game lacked the one thing to make this an All Star game: Stars.
Let's look at the rosters of each team and maybe somebody out there can help me out.
Raf Atangan, NU, 5'11" 160 pounds, Swingman
Mar Bonleon, Lasalle Greenhills (is he, really?), 6'0" 185 pounds, Swingman
Ricky Peromingan, Bukidnon Faith, 5'9" 150 pounds, Guard
Jeric Adorio, Sun Yat Sen Iloilo, 5'11" 160 pounds, Forward
Roger Domingo, FEU FERN (sue me, that's still how I want to call it), 5'11" 170 pounds, Forward
Neil Agustin, Southern City Zamboanga, 5'10" 155 pounds, Guard
Arc Araw-araw, Sacred Heart Ateneo De Cebu, 5'6" 135 pounds, Pointguard
Jehfer Egan, St Mary's Cagayan De Oro, 5'10" 155 pounds, Swingman
Bong Quinto, Letran, 5'11" 180 pounds, Forward-center
Jerie Pingoy, FEU FERN, 5'7" 140 pounds, Pointguard
Jeric Diego, Mapua Malayan, 6'0" 175 pounds, Forward-center
Alwin Margallo, Adamson, 5'9" 150 pounds, Guard
Jon Macasaet, San Sebastian, 6'3" 200 pounds, Center
Levi Dela Cruz, NU, 5'7" 140 pounds, Pointguard
Kyles Lao, Xavier, 5'11" 160 pounds, Swingman
Raymond Andico, Southern City Zamboanga, 5'11" 160 pounds, Forward
Kraniel Villoria, West Negros, 6'0" 165 pounds, Forward-center
Yozi Manguilimotan, Emar Learning Davao, 5'10" 155 pounds, Guard
Andre Paras, Lasalle Greenhills, 6'3" 190 pounds, Center-forward
Reggie Morido, NU, 6'0" Forward-center
Edralin Villanueva, Hope Christian, 5'7" 140 pounds, Pointguard
Paul Desiderio, UV, 5'10" 155 pounds, Swingman
Wilson Bartolome, Chiang Kai Shek, 6'5" 190 pounds, Center
Clint Dolinguez, Hope Christian, 6'1" 180 pounds, Center-forward
Ralph Busa, NU, 5'10" 155 pounds, Off-Guard
Jeson Delfinado, FEU FERN, 5'11" 170 pounds, Forward-center
Carlo Young, Chiang Kai Shek, 5'8" 145 pounds, Guard
Axel Inigo, San Beda, 5'6" 135 pounds, Pointguard
Rey Nambatac, Letran, 5'10" 155 pounds, Swingman
Kim Bayquin, Chiang Kai Shek, 6'0" 155 pounds, Swingman
Let me just get it out here and say it: NONE of these guys will be a game-changing, transcendent superstar in college, much less the pros.
What do I mean by a game-changing, transcendent superstar? Simple, a guy who, by whatever dint, sheer size (Greg Slaughter, Junmar Fajardo), natural athletic gifts (Ray Parks, Kiefer Ravena), indomitable will to win (Ryan Buenafe), or any combination thereof, just plain stamps his class on the game.
Obviously no one in this bunch of all stars possesses gargantuan size. There isn't even a Norbert Torres here, much less a Fajardo or Slaughter. The two tallest guys - Bartolome and Macasaet - barely had an impact in this game. In spite of their size, they weren't exactly dominating the boards, neither were they rejecting shots.
The pointguards do not have the explosive speed and quickness, nor the driving game to break down defenses and push tempos that incumbent UAAP and NCAA pointguards possess - no one here looks like the next Luis Singco or Mark Cruz, nevermind being the next Roi Sumang or Terrence Romeo. Pingoy is the UAAP back-to-back MVP, and he struggled with 11 points in this game, getting outplayed by the equally underwhelming Inigo of high school powerhouse San Beda. There is a kid surnamed Jalalon now on the Arellano B Team that could whip any of these so-called all stars in pointguard play eight days a week.
Everyone else is just plain undersized and will have to change position to make any kind of meaningful contribution at the next level. Clint Dolinguez is quite possibly one of the best high school big men I've seen in the last two to three years, and he has stopped growing at 6'1". he might be 6'2" at most. In his sneakers. How will he take on a legitimately-sized forward like the Semerads of San Beda or Yutien Andrada of Lasalle? Bong Quinto is even shorter and less athletic than Dolinguez and plays the exact same game. And Quinto is the reigning NCAA Juniors MVP.
Kyles Lao might not be as
It took me quite a while to put in my two cents worth on the coaching changes in major college ball. Apparently working in government is not the cushy, do-nothing job people normally think it is. Working in government in fact renders one rather busy, especially in an election year. So while senior boss Sam Miguel has been active of late on our blogs, the same has not quite been true for yours truly. With the recent coaching changes though, the time is right for me to get cracking.
While not much has changed in the UAAP, there are three significant coaching changes in the NCAA. Four teams will have new coaches, all of whom should be paraded by the time the summer preseason tournaments begin.
Leading the newcomers is Teodorico "Boyet" Fernandez, the former RP Youth and Sta Lucia star pointguard. Fernandez has had at least the last decade to hone his coaching chops everywhere from the pro leagues to the local commercial leagues and even the UAAP and of course the PBA D League. He is currently the boss of the NLEX Road Warriors, a team so ridiculously loaded that they are gunning for their fourth straight D League title. Fernandez could probably just roll the ball onto the court and not even practice and still wind up with a championship.
He will however be facing a similar situation with the San Beda Red Warriors. While Ronnie Magsanoc, himself a San Beda alum, steered the team to a successful title defense last year ovr the stubborn Letran Knights, Magsanoc has mysteriously relinquished what must be one of the easiest paychecks in Philippine basketball in favor of Fernandez, reportedly the personal choice of Manuel V Pangilinan, patron of the Red Lions basketball program and also NLEX head honcho. Fernandez will be handling a San Beda squad loaded and clearly a cut above the rest in the NCAA. So it looks like his NLEX experience will serve him in good stead here.
This will not be Fernandez's first foray into college coaching, having handled the UP Fighting Maroons in the UAAP, essentially just making sure the 0-14 mess just finished that egregious season. In fairness to Fernandez, he took over in midseason after Aboy Castro left (or was let go, depending on who you talk to...), something no UAAP coach should ever have to do. Good thing he will definitely not be asked to take over a train wreck over at Mendiola.
Speaking of Letran, Carlos "Caloy" Garcia, long rumored to be a Gameface member and lurker, will take the reins for the Knights. Garcia will inherit arguably the roughest, toughest roster in the NCAA. This is the team that looked like it could upset San Beda in the Finals last year. They certainly gave the Red Lions all they could handle in the first two games of the Finals, forcing an improbable Game 3 against the heavily favored Red Lions.
Unfortunately for Garcia, he will not have it anywhere near as easy with the Knights as Fernandez will have with the Red Lions. Hotshot guard Kevin Alas has decided he will just remain with the Gilas Pilipinas cadet program and see action from time to time in the international tournaments. He had a pretty good showing in the last Hong Kong tournament won by Gilas. His scoring and overall court presence however are irreplaceable for Letran.
Which is not to say Garcia will have an empty cupboard. He will still have the second-best big man in the NCAA in Raymond Almazan. The 6'7" center held his own against San Beda's Nigerian big man Ola Adeogun in the Finals, and is the best shot blocker and among the best rebounders in the league. Diminutive pointguard Mark Cruz will also be around, as will 6-foot swingman Kevin Racal, the guy who will have to make up for Alas's departure. If Garcia can convince current Squires Rey Nambatac and Bong Quinto to stay in Muralla he might have enough talent to still contend next year.
Intramuros has another new guy in town: Mapua Tech is welcoming a legend back home, as the "Fortune Cookie" Fortunato "Atoy" Co is set to handle the Cardinals. Why Co ever took this job, what with a successful business resume and a winnable political brand in Pasig, no one will ever really know. His cupboard certainyl won't be running over, with undersized 5'11" forward Ken Ighalo, former 6'3" Lasalle and RP Youth forward Gab Banal and another foremr RP Youth guy and career 6'3" knucklehead Joseph Eriobu about as good as it will get for the multi-titled Co. Co has also not held a coaching job this high-profile in maybe two decades, and his knowledge of the modern game and modern recruitment will be sorely tested. He might get a lot of help from the UAAP's NU though, since he hangs out with the SM Group's college team a lot.
Perhaps the last guy on this list might be the most important. Gabby Velasco, the man largely credited with discovering and nurturing the De Ocampo