Let's talk balls.
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
With the UAAP and NCAA seasons in full swing and approaching playoff time, let's take a look at the players who seem to have dropped off the planet. Now please remember that we are not going to do a metric analysis here, so don't expect numbers to be tossed about hither and yon. We will be taking a look at some numbers, but this is not strictly metric-based.
This is just my impression of certain players this season who seem to have become conspicuous by their so-so play after relatively productive outings the previous season and even over the summer preseason, and they come in no particular order.
JR Sumido, Forward, University of the East - Sumido was once an RP Youth national team candidate who made it all the way to the last few rounds of selection. He brings height, length and a pretty good long-range shooting game. Unfortunately he also seems to be the most awkward moving basketball player in all of college ball in this country. Nothing about him looks fluid, and he often runs, dribbles and just plain moves in such a disjointed fashion. If a bio-mechanics or even physical therapy expert took a look at him they would say there is something unusual and inefficient about his movements. This would not be a fatal flaw if only he were productive. Unfortunately for him and the Red Warriors he has been far from productive this season. All of his numbers took nosedives across the board this season.
Even that one skill upon which he has hung his hat in the past has abandoned him: his long-range shooting. That seems to be the last straw, because if there is one thing shooters will always be good at it is shooting. Shooters in their 50's to 70's can still nail 10 straight set shots from about 15 feet and beyond. It is simply a skill that never goes away. Apparently Sumido has become that rare case of a shooter whose shot has deserted him.
Some would point to the arrival of do-all Ralf Olivares as signaling Sumido's playing demise. That does not necessarily wash. Sumido and Olivares did well alternating or even playing alongside each other over the summer. Sumido even had some great games against top UAAP rivals UST and Lasalle in the 2013 Fil Oil which UE won. One can only wonder if there isn't anything else that may not be basketball-related that has reduced Sumido to a shell of his former self.
Jon Pinto, Guard, Arellano University - Pinto came into the summer preseason tournaments firing but steadily saw his numbers dip as defenses became more keyed onto him. Perhaps the most telling was his inability to make plays and hit shots. Up to the middle of the Fil Oil he was still able to find teammates on their sets, run the early offense and stick the mid-range and pull-up shots. When the NCAA tournament started he was suddenly taking hurried shots deep into an expiring shotclock from way downtown. It is as if the rest of the NCAA only needed half the summer to fully figure him out and now he is unable to deliver for his team.
Of course having the likes of James Forrester asserting himself more for the Chiefs, plus the improvements of center Prince Caperal, the steadily improving productivity of Keith Agovida and the return of Adam Serjue might have eaten into a lot of his own opportunities. But his style of play - as a primary handler and setter, drive-and-pull-up specialist, recipient on the drive-kick out plays - should have lent itself more to having more productive teammates. Sadly he has not quite responded as well to these developments as expected.
Scotty Thompson, Swingman, Perpetual Help - Talk about new teammates taking your production away and Thompson might be the first one to come to mind. Juneric Baloria has been the revelation of the NCAA, leading the league in scoring and emerging as one of its best players. All this has come at a price however, and it looks like Thompson is the one paying for it.
Thompson, much like Baloria, is a perimeter player, although Baloria is more ball-dominant and shoots at a more impressive range at a more impressive clip. As early as the summer preseason tournaments it seemed Thompson's game would be the one that would become the biggest casualty of Baloria's emergence as the new go-to star for Perpetual Help. All of Thompson's numbers have been practically reduced by half across the board.
Thompson can still make hay in the new sun though if he focuses more on defense and helping out with the rebounding chores. As a relatively short team, the Altas need all of the active bodies they can get hustling on defense especially on helping and switching, as well as crashing the boards from the outside to offset the size advantage of the other teams.
Chris Javier, Center, University of the East - Was it not just last season that Javier was the giant-slaying game hero that beat reigning champion Ateneo De Manila with that buzzer-beating
This early into the respective seasons of the NCAA and UAAP, we are already seeing the booms and busts from teams, players and even coaches. Before we look at the booms and busts, it looks like things are proceeding apace for both leagues. San Beda is still looking good and well on its way to a 4-Peat in the NCAA in spite of an anomalous loss to Lyceum. It would take a monumental collapse and perhaps the end of the world to prevent a San Beda 4-Peat this season. Over at the UAAP however the mighty have fallen and fallen hard, with reigning champion Ateneo De Manila still without a win after three outings. And for the more hardcore fans, the Fr Martin Cup Division II gets going this Saturday at the Trinity Gym. Now on to those booms and busts...
Boom: Raymond Almazan, 6'7" center, Letran
Almazan was the NCAA Press Corps inaugural player of the week award winner after leading his Knights to decisive victories against the San Sebastian Stags and Emilio Aguinaldo Generals. Considering the Stags (6'6" Brad Guinto) and Generals (6'6" Noube Hapi) have quality centers themselves that was quite a feat. Almazan averaged 15 points and 18.5 rebounds in those two games and continues to be a force inside for debuting head coach Caloy Garcia. "He (Almazan) was always going to be an important player for us because of his size and athleticism," Garcia noted in one preseason interview.
Bust: Ola Adeogun, 6'8" center, San Beda
Juat to be clear, Adeogun is a bust so far not for being a bad player; far from it, the Nigerian import is arguably the best center in the NCAA, and probably the best center now in college basketball. Which is why his shortcomings in my view are magnified a hundredfold. Take that 66-70 loss against a small Lyceum squad about a month back. A team like Lyceum has absolutely no business beating a team like San Beda. None. Dexter Zamora and Shane Ko, two guards easily a foot shorter than Adeogun, not only shot the lights out that game but were laying up in Adeogun's face all game long. He continues to frustrate the most diehard San Beda fans with his unwillingness to put in game-long focus especially on the defensive end. "All he has to do is out up his hands on defense, and he doesn't even do that," lamented one long-time San Beda fan.
Boom: Ralf Olivares, 6'3" forward, University of the East
Olivares is a one-done player making the most so far of his time in the UAAP. Although his Red Warriors are currently spinning their wheels with a silly 1-2 record, it is not for Olivares's lack of effort. He debuted with 17 points against a veteran Far Eastern University squad on opening weekend, then had nine points including three straight crucial jumpers with MVP Ray Parks all over him in a victory against National University. More than his scoring, it is his ability to advance the ball and create that has made UAAP fans notice. He'll need to keep it up if his fancied Warriors are to return to the Final 4.
Bust: JR Sumido, 6'3" forward, University of the East
Sumido became a consistent scorer and secondary distributor for UE last season. He was awkward as hell when he moved but was effective when it counted, nailing three-pointers, pulling up for medium jumpers, even helping advance the ball and setting up plays from the high screen-roll. He kept going throughout the offseason and even into the middle of the summer. As soon as the Fil Oil playoffs began however he seemed an empty uniform, just a guy going through the motions. To this day he hasn't had a single good game. No one seems to know what is eating him. He needs to snap out of it though, as his team just got walloped by Adamson and is now at 1-2.
Boom: Ryan Buenafe, 6'2" forward, Ateneo De Manila
Buenafe has so far been the leading rebounder and the second leading scorer for the reigning champion Blue Eagles. He also leads the team in every other meaningful statistical department including blocks and steals. He had career highs of 29 points and 15 rebounds in a painful overtime loss to FEU, including five three-pointers. He's had to step up with their superstar guard Kiefer Ravena still unable to play due to an ankle injury sustained before opening weekend. "Kulang pa din ang ginawa ko, talo pa din kami," he said rather stoically after the FEU loss. He followed that up with another double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds in another loss, this time to archival La Salle. He may need to do more if his Blue Eagles are to have any chance at returning to the Final 4 and defending their title.
Bust: JP Erram, 6'7" center, Ateneo De Manila
Erram was supposed to have a breakout season this year for the Blue Eagles. No more Greg Slaughter and no more Justin Chua soaking up minutes. But he never really got off the ground,
The country's oldest varsity tournament is opening its 89th season with the usual fanfare and...
You know what, why don't I just cut to the chase: San Beda might as well be handed the championship trophy during the opening ceremonies.
There is just no way San Beda is losing their title this season. Well, maybe if God visits Moses-level plagues and Job-level torments upon them. And the earth opens up and swallows the entire team.
Anything short of that, forget about it.
San Beda has the tallest, deepest, most talented, most experienced lineup in the NCAA, and a coaching staff that's been through the best and worst of it. "We are not taking anything or anybody for granted. We will prepare for every game and every opponent," declared San Beda head coach Boyet Fernandez to reporters during the NCAA Press Conference at the SMOA.
The real advantage of the Red Lions takes the form of 6-foot-8 Nigerian center Ola Adeogun. As long as Adeogun mans the middle there is no way anybody is taking the title away from San Beda. “When you talk about San Beda, it’s still going to be Ola (Adeogun) who will still cause problems for other teams,” said Emilio Aguinaldo head coach Gerry Esplana at the same affair.
Adeogun didn't exactly have a good summer outing as he was often vilified by his own fans and fellow Bedans about not playing to his full potential, i.e. not putting his hands up all the time on defense, letting smaller players drive at him and get lay ups in his face, taking silly gambles trying to steal the ball and not getting back to his spot on defense, always looking to leak out instead of tending to the rebounds himself. Still, ask any San Beda fan if they would rather play without him and everyone to a man will surely answer in the negative.
Adeogun will not be alone though. He will have guards Ryusei Koga, Francis Abarcar and Baser Amer manning the perimeter. He will have 6'6" center Kyle Pascual and forwards Rome Dela Rosa and Arthur Dela Cruz keeping him company up front. He will also have the star-crossed 6'5" Semerad twins back in red and white after an aborted stint with the Ateneo. “I’m looking at Dave (Semerad) to step up in Jake‘s (Pascual) absence, and we’re looking for Anthony (Semerad) to take the outside shots,” Fernandez explained.
Other teams would be hard pressed to match that kind of size, depth and talent across the board. Let's take a look at the other teams:
If there is one thing the Chiefs have going for them, it is that they actually beat the Red Lions in the summer thanks to new star guard Nard Pinto. Pinto is a strongly built 5'9" combo-guard who is adroit playing with the ball and off it, and moves very well without the ball as well. He will combine with athletic 6'2" Filipino-Canadian James Forrester, 6'6" center Prince Caperal, and whip-quick 5'7" rookie pointguard Jon Jalalon. If 6'1" Adam Serjue and 6'5" Dioncee Holts find a way to make the roster by opening day Arellano might be a lock for the Final 4.
Emilio Aguinaldo ___
EAC might be the only team in the entire NCAA who has an import that has a chance to match up against Adeogun. 6'6" Noube Hapi was on last season's Mythical 5 and has been a double-double machine for the Generals averagin 16 points and 12 rebounds per game last season. With 6'2" Jan Jamon continuing to improve his own game, the Generals have two legit stars to anchor their overall game. If they can get any kind of defensive strength from the rest of the roster they could surprise a lot of people.
New head coach Caloy Garcia is lucky he still has three of the best players in the league on his roster: 6'7" center Raymond Almazan, 6'1" swingman Kevin Racal and 5'6" pointguard Mark Cruz. With these three and some help from 6'2" forward Jonathan Belorio, 5'11" rookie off-guard Rey Nambatac, the Knights have just enough to practically guarantee themselves a Final 4 slot and maybe even a Top 2 finish.
Lyceum Manila ___
Coach Boni Tan and his Pirates are coming into this season looking as small as they usually do. Lyceum will continue to rely on its guards to try and keep up with the rest of the NCAA field. 5'8" guard Shane Ko will be leading the team this season. The tough and wily sentinel however will need plenty of help if the Pirates are to be anything more than just on the outside looking in. They could use some help up front, but their incumbent big men are really all height and little else. I doubt the Pirates can even dream of a Final 4 slot this year.
Mapua Tech ___
Mapua is an enigma after they chose not to join the Fil Oil and Fr Martin Cup and instead played in