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  1. Gang of 4 (2)

    (Continued)

    Ginebra San Miguel ___

    Conference Record: 6-5

    How Did They Get Here: Ginebra had to beat the Alaska Aces, a team they've always had difficulty with, and this time with the added handicap of Alaska having a twice-to-beat advantage, and they had to do it with Joe Devance out with an injury in the do-or-die game.

    Ginebra somehow pulled through, even coming back from 17 points down in the first game, before completing the fight back in the second game.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Lets face it, nobody does box office better than Ginebra, and nobody does blockbuster better than Ginebra in the Finals.

    But an imbalanced roster might make that dream difficult to realize. Ginebra has one of the top big men in 6-foot-9 jumping jack Japheth Aguilar. Aguilar is probably the best in-game dunker now in the PBA, and he has a soft shooting touch for a guy his size, able to hit even all the way out to three-point range. But he is also one of those guys who lets bad calls and wily opponents get under his skin to the detriment of his overall game, and he certainly not one of those big men who can work the low blocks automatically. Still, his ability to keep things honest inside, and to be a rim protector, will be the key factors up front for the Gin Kings.

    Aguilar better step up though since Devance will likely be out for at least another week, maybe two, with that plantar injury. That means the likes of David Marcelo, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, and Jervy Cruz will form the front line for Ginebra, not exactly an awe-inspiring prospect.

    This is where the crafty backcourt of LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Sol Mercado, Chris Ellis, and the venerable Mark Caguioa need to fill in the gaps. Aguilar is basically tending the front court by himself until Devance returns, so the Ginebra backcourt needs to produce and produce big, especially from the perimeter. Ginebra is the worst three-point shooting team in the league, so there really is nowhere to go but up.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Back-read to the previous section.

    Why they will make it is exactly the same set of reasons they might not make it.

    This is a team that lives on its never-say-die spirit, and that can only take you so far in what is expected to be a grueling Manila Classico semifinal. Ginebra has had to rely a lot (some observers and analysts say rely too much even) on one of their stars catching fire every game to win and keep winning.

    This wasn't much of a problem last conference thanks to their gunner of an import Justin Brownlee. But now that its just the local crew, and undermanned at that, things might get a little too dicey for the league's most popular ball club. They can't even fall back on Coach Time Cone's Triangle, since that system has basically been obliterated by the much faster running and gunning of the modern game.

    The public - and the PBA itself if we are to be honest - wants to see Ginebra at least make the Finals. But as things stand, that looks like a 50-50 proposition at best.

    Purefoods Star ___

    Conference Record: 7-4

    How Did They Get Here: It was a slow start for the Star Hotshots but they peaked at just the right time and seem to be thriving under new head coach Chito Victolero. They are no worse than the second best team in both offense and defense, and newcomer Paul Lee seems to have found an even better set of teammates to maximize his low key but high level talent.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Paul Lee seems to have rejuvenated the franchise. This is a team that, kind of like Talk N Text, really still is your daddy's Purefoods. Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis, Peter June Simon, Alein Maliksi, and Aldrech Ramos all have some miles on their legs. Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, and Ian Sangalang are the youngsters of note. Bringing in Lee for the deathless James Yap was a brilliant stroke, as Lee's passing game and ability to create have brought out the best in all of his teammates.

    Matching up against this group isn't the easiest thing in the world, as almost all of them have the ability to manufacture baskets on their own, even lunch bucket types like Pingris and Reavis. Maliksi in particular is benefiting a lot from Lee's play making, since he no longer has to contend with Yap and even Simon getting their touches; Lee finds a way to keep all of them in the loop.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: As good as the Star Hotshots are, they aren't exactly shoe-ins to barge into the Finals. Not only is the league's most popular team standing in their way, but they might have already peaked in their quarterfinals against the Phoenix Fuel masters.

    Lee always brings his "A" game even this deep into the season, but its been a while since his ...
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  2. Gang of 4

    We are down to the top four teams in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, and quite frankly, this should be every fan's dream come true.

    Ginebra San Miguel, San Miguel Beer, Talk N Text, and Purefoods Star are arguably the most talented and popular teams in the league today, each with huge and faithful followings. To say that the semifinals will be a sure box office heaven for the PBA is an understatement.

    That said, let us take a look at the prospects of each team in these semis:

    San Miguel Beer ___

    Conference Record: 10-1

    How Did They Get Here: They were, quite simply, the top team throughout the conference. That they might not have played at 100% throughout the conference is understandable, given their superiority in talent and depth over every other team, but make no mistake, when the Beermen turn it on, it's usually curtains for their opponent.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Are you kidding me? Seriously. They have arguably the best player ever in the history of Philippine basketball in June Mar Fajardo, the strong and agile 6-foot-10 Cebuano center who is on his way to his third straight MVP award, and perhaps also yet another championship for his Beermen.

    As mentioned they not only have talent and depth, but they have it at every position. Fajardo, dominant as he already is, also enjoys the luxury of having the likes of Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, and Marcio Lassiter for teammates. They are so deep and talented they could afford to waive the injured but equally talented Chris Lutz. The likes of Gaby Espinas, Ronald Tubid, and Chris Ross are their rotation guys for cryin' out loud.

    Their record speaks for itself, and right now the only ones who can beat them are they themselves.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Only an Act of God could prevent the Beermen from taking the Philippine Cup Title. Or overconfidence of the killing kind.

    If there is one thing that kills done-deal championships, it is always good old fashioned hubris. Maybe Coach Leo Isaac decides to start newcomer RR Garcia and keeps him on the floor longer than he ought to. Maybe Santos and Lassiter decide to take more three-pointer attmepts than they should. Maybe Tubid decides to sashay and do his shimmy one too many times.

    Talk N Text ___

    Conference Record: 6-5

    How Did They Get Here: Barely. They are only one game above the .500 mark, and at one time it looked like they might miss the playoffs. But they caught just enough breaks to make it this far, including drawing GlobalPort in the playoffs, a team they could handle at this critical stage of the conference. TNT however will need to pull out a few more rabbits out of the hat to return to the Finals.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Like San Miguel they have some talent and depth on their roster. They still have the best pointguard in Asia. That's right, Asia, not just this country, but the entire continent. Jayson Castro may be in the twilight of his career, but the man they call the Blue can still play the game at the highest levels. Just look at the weekly highlight reels and he is still there.

    Aside from the Blur TNT still has a few dependable stalwarts led by the mutli-talented Ranidel De Ocampo. "Hodor" as he is affectionately called by some teammates and fans (after his hilarious role in one of their company's TV commercials) remains one of the top inside-outside players in the league, and is arguably the second best stretch 4 after Reynel Hugnatan.

    Others who can answer the call include Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams, Larry Fonacier, and all-purpose 6-foot-7 youngsters Troy Rosario and Moalla Tautuaa.

    Rosario and Tautuaa need to grow up plenty fast though, and De Ocampo and Williams better help them along, because they will be needed up front in their semis.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Let's face it, this really is you daddy's Talk N Text, and they sometimes show it at the most inopportune times. Imagine the average age of the core players of Coach Nash Racela, and they are essentially the same crew that was winning under Chot Reyes some five or six years ago.

    In the end their series will be determined 90% by how Castro plays. Even if all the other key players show up, as long as Castro isn't up to his usual high par, TNT will have a very short series.

    (To be continued)
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  3. What A Difference A Year or Two (or Three) Makes, Part 2

    (Continued from the previous)

    "May mga cases kasi talaga na ang galing-galing nung high school player pero it turns out he's just older than the kids he plays against, at nabibisto din naman siya pagdating pa lang niya ng Seniors," Mr Libog exclaimed.

    I then recalled that a coach from a well-known high school basketball program actually admitted to me something that has long been making the rounds in local high school basketball: Yes, he admitted, when a recruit comes to their program, and that recruit is either just the right age or a little younger for his curriculum year, they make him repeat a curriculum year and max out his age eligibility for junior division play.

    He went on to explain that this wasn't done willy-nilly, that there were practical reasons for doing so: First, their program wanted to maximize the recruit's available playing years, especially if he is a transfer who has to sit out a year to establish residency anyway. Let's say a recruit already finished Grade 8 in his previous school, and he was only say 13 years old, or a little young for a Grade 8 student. When he goes to their program, they talk the recruit into repeating Grade 8, and make that repeat year his residency year. That way they will still have the recruit for four playing years, from Grade 9 to Grade 12. By the time he is in his last year of junior ball he will already be 18, in this given case. There were even times they made recruits repeat two years if they were really young.

    Second, they recognized early on that a player who is older than average in junior ball can more easily take on younger players, even if those younger players are objectively more athletic and more talented than he is. Forget about the difference between a 17-year old and an 18-year old; imagine instead the difference between a 15-year old and a 17-year old. Only in the rarest of cases can a younger player whip an older player at the high school level.

    Third, there is of course that adjustment period needed for a player to get used to more organized, more regimented basketball, especially if he came from an unstructured or barely structured background, like say if he came from the countryside and there really wasn't a regular varsity tournament where he comes from. It'll take at least a year even for the most talented and smartest high school player to get used to a more rigorous system than the one he was used to.

    The bottom line, the coach therefore emphasized, is that it makes sense to use older players in high school basketball, just so long as you do not break the rules. If the rules of your tournament allow you to play high school ball up to age 19, then the perfect team, as far as this coach goes, is one where all of the players are 19, or at least half of them are 19 and the other half are 17 to 18. Pit them even against a team of sky walking, slam dunking, running and gunning younger players, and he will put even money on his older team every time.

    "Diyan na lumalabas nga 'yung big question: Kapag nakakaita ka ng player sa Juniors na obvious naman sa itsura pa lang na mas matanda kesa sa mga kalaban niya, at nilalamon niya mga kalaban niya, hindi ba dapat lang naman ganun ang mangyari? So maybe what we are looking at is not an elite player who will be a sure PBA star in the future. Maybe what we are really looking at is nothing more than an older kid beating the shit out of younger kids, in a manner of speaking of course," expounded Mr Libog.

    "Bigyan kita ng example. You remember when we went to watch Rey Nambatac mga six or seven years ago sa Buddha Care? Sino 'yung nakaagaw sa pansin natin? Kilala mo 'yon," he inquired.

    It took me a few seconds. "Si (Koko) Pingoy?" I asked-answered.

    "Correct. Si Nambatac ang pinuntahan natin, pero nakaagaw ng pansin natin si Pingoy. Guess who's older sa kanilang dalawa?" he asked.

    "Si Pingoy?" I asked-answered again.

    "Si Nambatac, by about a year. Pareho silang born 1994, pero Nambatac was January, Pingoy was December, pero parehong 1994," he said.

    "So magkaedad lang pala sila technically speaking, mas matanda pa nga si Rey," I said.

    "Correct. Coincidence kaya na silang dalawa 'yung pinakamagaling sa respective teams nila at that time? At that time they were both around 18, or sa case ni Pingoy pushing 18 na din siya," he said.

    "So nung nag-champion ang Letran under Ayo, legit 21 na si Rey. Nung time naman na nag-champion sa Fr Martin ang Team B ng Ateneo, 'yung first championship nila dun sa Trinity, turning 20 na din si Pingoy, and take note may mga imports siya that time," he added.

    I pointed out that Joma Adornado was on that title team too, as was Mikey Cabahug and a then under-residency Ponso Gotladera.

    "Yes they were. And how old were all of those ...
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  4. PBA History: Homegrown Players with 50 points-or-more Games

    Among the most prolific offensive players in the 41-year existence of the local professional league Philippine Basketball Association, only seven ?homegrown? Filipino athletes were able to score 50 points or more in a single game during their distinguished careers.
    All seven players are no longer active in the PBA.

    Five actually broke the 60-point barrier ? ?The Triggerman? Allan Caidic , ?Mr. Excitement? Paul (Bong) Alvarez, William (Bogs) Adornado, Danilo Florencio and Abe King.

    As if scoring a 60 was not mind-boggling enough, two men ? Caidic and Alvarez ? even went over that mark to collect a 70 on separate occasions.

    This is truly a remarkable feat when one considers that their singular individual performances during the PBA?s early years could easily have been the total output of a team in a 48-minute game in today?s era.

    In one shining moment, Caidic chalked up 79 points in a game ? the highest ever by a homegrown Filipino player in league annals ? for Tivoli (Presto) on November 21, 1991. The former University of the East gunslinger also had a 68 for Presto on November 2, 1989.
    Alvarez tallied 71 points for Alaska on April 26, 1990. Adornado knocked in 64 scores for U-Tex on December 23, 1980; Florencio netted 64 points for Seven-Up on November 5, 1977; and King collected 60 points for Toyota on June 21, 1979.

    All the aforementioned efforts happened between 1977 and 1991.

    Of the six 60 points-or-more feats, four came on a winning note ? Caidic (79, Tivoli 162-Ginebra 149), Alvarez (71, Alaska 169-Shell 13, Caidic (68, Presto 175-Alaska 159 OT) and Adornado (64, U-Tex 126-San Miguel Beer 111).

    The two that were recorded in a losing cause: Florencio (64, Seven-Up 121-Toyota 136) and King (60, Toyota 142-Crispa 172).

    Venancio (Benjie) Paras and Fortunato (Atoy) Co Jr. are the two other homegrown Filipino cagers with 50-point games in the past.
    Paras, who has moonlighted as a comedy actor on television and in the big screen since his prime playing years, once made 50 markers with Shell in 1989.

    It was the year that the amiable 6-5 Paras became the first and only player in PBA history to secure Rookie of the year and Most Valuable Player honors in the same season.

    Like Paras, Co only had a single 50-point performance during his outstanding PBA career.

    Monikered ?The Fortune Cookie,? Co, who was famous for his difficult turnaround, fadeaway jumpers, got a 50 with the fabled Crispa Redmanizers franchise in 1979. He, too, gained the MVP plum that year albeit in a controversial fashion.

    Co was way behind Toyota?s Ramon Fernandez in the MVP statistical category but subsequently collected all the media votes ? following a get-together with the sports editors of the top national dailies by the late Crispa team manager Danny Floro ? to walk away with the MVP award.
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  5. Returning, Debuting

    And so it is down to two: Barangay Ginebra and Meralco will dispute the PBA Governors Cup Finals starting tomorrow, 7 October, at the Big Dome, in a Best 4-out of-7 series.

    It took quite some doing for both teams to make it this far. Ginebra needed the full five games of their semis series to oust sister team San Miguel Beer. In their win-or-go-home Game 5, Ginebra leaned on rookie guard Scottie Thompson's 24 points (4/7 on triples) and 15 rebounds (yep, no typo, 15 rebounds from the 5-foot-11 guard) to rip San Miguel 117-92. It was fitting payback after the Beermen forced a Game 5 by shredding the Gin Kings in Game 4.

    Meralco needed four games to also pull the rug out from their own sister team Talk N Text. Cliff Hodge, the jumping jack Fil-Am forward who has spent his entire career with the Bolts, electrified his side with 32 points (12/19 field goals overall, including three triples) to lead them to the 94-88 victory.

    In both series, the "dehado" had turned back the "llamado".

    Ginebra last won a PBA championship in 2008, when they had mighty 7-foot-1 import Chris Alexander leading the way. Fast and Furious backcourt mates Mark Caguioa and Jay Helterbrand were still very much living up to their monickers back then. They are still with the Gin Kings up to now, although more as elder statesmen. It has been three years since Ginebra was in the Finals, the last time around they bowed to the Alaska Aces.

    Merlaco last won a major basketball championship before there was even a PBA to speak of, when the Reddy Kilowatts (as they were then known) won the old MICAA championship. This is the franchise's first trip to the PBA Finals in its modern incarnation.

    What to watch out for in this Finale?

    1. Two rookies who were teammates for a while in the PBA D League will now take on each other.

    Chris Newsome, whose two in-traffic dunks during the critical waning minutes in Game 4 are still making the video and GIF rounds all over the five digital platforms, is showing everybody why he is widely considered to be (in the words of our very own Joescoundrel) the last genuinely elite player to come out of the Ateneo. Newsome, the 6-foot-2 high-flying guard, has emerged as a vital cog and a legitimate starter for the Bolts. Newsome is playing "like an extra import" in the words of long-time Ginebra fan Gener Crescini. "Parang may maliit na import ang Meralco, tiyak pahihirapan niya mga bata ko," Crescini said over (what else?) shots of Ginebra San Miguel and grilled pigs ears.

    His fellow rookie Thompson, who has emerged as a legitimate starter himself, is quickly justifying the high pick Coach Tim Cone used to nab him in the recent draft. "He just needs to keep building his confidence, keep taking shots, even if they aren't falling," said Ginebra veteran LA Tenorio. "Sinabi ko nga sa kanya, kahit tumira siya ng 50, kahit sumala siya ng 40, just keep shooting, kasi 'yun ang binibigay ng depensa," Tenorio added. Turns out that was advice well-given, and well-taken.

    "A lot of people probably don't know that Scottie and I were teammates with Hapee in the D League," Newsome said in one interview. "I'm happy he's doing well, and it'll be fun and a challenge to go up against him in the Finals."

    If they wind up as each other's match-up, Newsome will enjoy a tremendous edge in athleticism and strength, as those two Game 4 dunks showed. Thompson however has proven to be as brilliant an all-around player in the pros now as he was when he was the MVP of the NCAA. Thompson's versatility should allow him to neutralize somewhat the physical advantages of Newsome.

    2. Size versus size.

    6-foot-9 Japheth Aguilar, 6-foot-6 Joe De Vance, 6-foot-5 David Marcelo have more than held the fort up front for Ginebra in the absence of 7-foot Greg Slaughter. Slaughter was lost to injury this conference and is expected to miss another few months. Aguilar possesses arguably the best combination of size and athleticism in the entire league. He is still easily pinballed in the lane though, because he's such as long and lanky presence. But few big men have the range, running, and hops of Aguilar, and he is also averaging a little over two blocks per game. De Vance and Marcelo have provided solid support for Aguilar at both the 4 and 5 spots.

    Meralco relies on 6-foot-6 Kelly Nabong, 6-foot-4 veteran Reynel Hugnatan, 6-foot-5 Bryan Faundo, 6-foot-4 Jared Dillinger, and the 6-foot-3 Hodge up front. Meralco has nowhere near the size of Ginebra up front, unless they can get something from two former UAAP MVP's whose careers have not been as illustrious in the PBA thus far: 6-foot-5 Ken Bono, and 6-foot-7 Rabeh Al-Hussaini. Al-Hussaini was the cornerstone upon which Black built his 5-Peat title reign with the Ateneo in the UAAP, but hasn't seen much action lately. ...
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