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  1. My Memorable Basketball Moments for 2017

    It is officially a new year, and yes Praxedes, we somehow survived the annual mandatory blood alcohol poisoning that is part of the rituals of ringing out the old and ringing in the new.

    Below, numbered for enumeration and not for order of importance, are my memorable basketball moments for 2017:

    1. Kevin Durant made the move and won his championship ring.

    There are those who think Durant ought to be commended for finally coming to terms with the fact that he and Russell Westbrook will never win an NBA world title together in Oklahoma City.

    There are also those who think Durant should never ever be allowed into the Hall of Fame because he took the easiest way out of that little conundrum by signing with the Golden State Warriors, effectively ensconcing the NBA title in the West for all time, or at least the next decade.

    Durant did what he had to do, and did it at a time when he can still win multiple championships in Oakland. Yes, if he was as great as he thinks he is then he should have stayed in Oklahoma and proven it.

    But then again, he doesn't owe anybody any explanation or excuse about making a move that is simply a no-brainer if he wants to have the one thing that all the true greats have, a championship.

    Unless LeBron James is cloned in Cleveland then the NBA has become boring for the next decade or so.

    2. Ginebra retains its Governors Cup title.

    Ginebra San Miguel and Meralco played to a record crowd of over 54,000 fans at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan in the Mother of all Game 7's as the Gin Kings retained their PBA Governors Cup championship.

    Greg Slaughter, who sat out the 2016 title run due to injury, finally got his first PBA championship on the hardwood floor.

    Meralco put up a heck of a fight, but in the end the superior size of Ginebra proved just to big (literally) an obstacle to overcome.

    If the Game 7 box office and television share was any indication, Ginebra is still the lifeblood of the PBA.

    3. Lyceum went from shit to sweep in the NCAA.

    Talk about the Lyceum Pirates in the NCAA and you'd normally get word associations such as "cellar dweller", "league doormat", "whipping boys". At least until this season.

    This season the Pirates completed an historic 18-game regular season sweep of the NCAA, including two tough games against reigning champion San Beda.

    Granted they eventually folded when it mattered most, getting swept 2-0 in the Finals as the Red Lions went on to continue their NCAA Dynasty.

    Still, no one can ever take away what Coach Topex Robinson, CJ Perez and the rest of the Pirates achieved this season. That si probably a record that will stand for the better part of this century.

    4. Christian Standhardinger, through no fault of his own, is now June Mar Fajardo's teammate.

    Mention Christian Standhardinger and what automatically comes to mind is the controversial trade that allowed the already powerful San Miguel Beer franchise to draft him with the Number 1 pick in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft.

    No one except the most hardcore of hoops fans even heard of Standhardinger before this year.

    He is a strapping and active 6-foot-8 Filipino-German forward who spent his college years in the US NCAA.

    Then Gilas head coach Chot Reyes summoned him for national team duty and he answered the call.

    Although he was classified by FIBA as a naturalized player and not a local, he saw action with Gilas and showed Pinoy fans why Reyes wanted him.

    Fast forward to Draft Day 2017 and Kia gives up the rights to the Number 1 pick in favor of some role players, allowing the Beermen to nab Standhardinger.

    He now gets to play alongside four-time MVP Fajardo, although not right away since he still has an active ABL contract to play out.

    5. Chito Narvasa resigns as PBA Commissioner following the Standhardinger controversy.

    Kia, as mentioned above, gave up the chance to get Standhardinger in the draft essentially for three role players: JR Reyes, Ronald Tubid, and Filipino-American Rashawn McCarthy. Uh, who? Yes Praxedes, that was what everybody thought as well.

    Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Narvasa.

    This trade would not have been consummated had Narvasa not approved it as Commissioner.

    This then led to a "schism" of sorts within the PBA Board, with five team allied with the San Miguel Corporation on one side, supporting Narvasa, and seven teams led by the PLDT Group on the other side asking for Narvasa's head on a platter.

    Although Narvasa held out for a while, he did eventually give up and resign.

    Truth be told nobody would ever in a million ...
  2. Reclamation, Upset

    "It was over, we are champions, that is all I could think of," said an ecstatic Chibueze Ikeh, the 6-8 center, in the aftermath of the Ateneo De Manila's thriller of a title clincher against arch rival De La Salle 88-86. This is Ikeh's final playing year. He is graduating in a few months.

    After three of the most grueling and emotionally-wrenching games in UAAP Finals history, the Blue Eagles reclaimed a championship they once owned for five straight seasons.

    "I just lay on the floor of the Araneta (Coliseum)," said point guard Matt Nieto after that last heave from La Salle went in. "I knew it was all over and we were champions," he added happily.

    Indeed, this had to be the toughest, and to use that millennial term, epic title series in maybe the last 15 years.

    Last year, the Green Archers were the veteran-laden team bringing in Benoit Mbala, arguably the best player ever to see action in the country's most popular varsity league. Somehow the Blue Eagles managed to get into the Season 79 Finals to square off against La Salle, and expectedly, the Ateneo bowed in a two-game sweep.

    Fast forward to winner-take-all Sunday just a year later, and suddenly the Ateneo looked nothing like the easy pickings they were just a year prior. "We learned there is no substitute for working the hardest you can," remarked Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, the American-New Zealand mentor who preached "playing the right way" right from the get-go.

    Game 1 had its fair share of controversy, as videos from that game continue to make the rounds in social media showing at least four instances where La Salle players were taking cheap shots at their Ateneo counterparts, including at least three instances of closed fist strikes from the La Salle side that should have merited at least a one-game suspension on the errant players. The Ateneo still pulled off the 76-70 victory in this game, with center George Go completing the and-1 clincher.

    Game 2 saw the Blue Eagles go up by as much as 21 points, only to have the Green Archers turn that around and build up as much as a 13-point lead themselves, as they knotted the series at one game apiece with the 92-83 victory.

    Game 3, well, was a classic.

    The Ateneo was up 10 early on, but La Salle stormed right back in the third period, taking a 59-62 lead on a one-hander by forward Abu Tratter.

    But the Ateneo kept its composure and got an 80-70 spread midway through the payoff fourth period.

    La Salle would come to within 82-80 on a three-pointer, with over a minute left.

    Go however would reprise his hero's role, taking the perfect kick-out pass from a driving Thirdy Ravena to nail a clutch three-pointer from his favorite quarter-court spot to give the Ateneo the 85-80 breathing space it needed.

    "The whole team is clutch. I would not have made that shot if it wasn't for the coaches who design our plays, my teammates who were all in their proper spots," said the 6-7 Go, an Applied Chemistry Major now in his senior year in college.

    Nieto and Anton Asistio would nail the insurance free throws to negate the buzzer beating three-pointer from La Salle for the final count.

    This is the Ateneo's ninth senior division basketball diadem, and without a doubt the one they had to work for the hardest.

    Their 1987 and 1988 back-to-back titles, where Nieto's father Jet played, was a tall, tough, talented team.

    Enrico Villanueva, LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Rich Alvarez, and Wesley Gonzales all went on to have very good pro careers, with a couple of them even seeing National Team duty, after they won the 2002 championship.

    Forget the 2008 to 2012 5-Peat dynasty under Norman Black. Those teams were so ridiculously loaded it would have been a crime for them to lose. Yes, even the 2010 team in between the Rabeh Al Hussaini-Nonoy Baclao and Greg Slaughter years.

    This championship was probably the only one among the nine when the Ateneo was the clear underdog in terms of sheer talent.

    I mean, come on, Benoit Mbala was playing for La Salle, and he had swingman Ricci Rivero, point guard sniper Aljun Melecio, 6-5 slam dunk champion power forward Leonard Santillan, and Tratter.

    "Sa totoo lang kung kunwari jak en poy tayo, tapos pipili ka ng players mo, sino ba mas pipiliin mo? Hindi ba talaga namang mas may talent and players ng La Salle lalo na si Mbala," queried Mr Libog over lunch before Game 3.

    "We need to get hot from three-point range, and hope for some foul trouble on Mbala at least, para may laban tayo," he added.

    Mr Libog got his wish.

    Baldwin did a heck of a job accentuating the strengths of the Blue Eagles while doing his best to minimize their negatives, not the least ...
  3. Grey Matters

    We used to call them zebras, because they used to wear shirts with bold black stripes.

    Now however it seems there is an explosion of colors in referee fashion. In some games they wear a bright yellow, reminiscent of emergency signals.

    In some tournaments they wear orange, like life savers and lifeguards sometime do.

    For the most part however, the modern basketball referee wears grey. Even in the ongoing UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament, it has been their uniform color of choice.

    For those of you who've watched the post-season of Season 80 you already know where this is going.

    It all began with the Final 4 match between reigning champion De La Salle and Adamson. That was a game won handily by the Green Archers 82-75, coming back from as many as 15 points.

    And that is where things start to get interesting.

    Franz Pumaren, head coach of the Soaring Falcons and a UAAP veteran, called it "the worst officiating" he had ever experienced in a few interviews after that game.

    Considering there was a free throw disparity of 39-5 in favor of La Salle, it seems Pumaren wasn't merely going all sour grapes or whining. Let me repeat that: 39-5.

    Now La Salle is a strong team, the reigning champion, and the consensus Number 1 seed going into this year's tournament. Surely they - of all teams - wouldn't need any help from the referees just to win a game. Right?

    That sort of misses the point. The actual point is that glaring disparity in free throws. It was so glaring that even people who had nothing to do with either side took notice and had opinions about it.

    "For the first time in three years, it was a first that aside from the losing team which you expect the complaint from, there are some sectors who checked what happened. So of course, I cannot be insensitive to the public cause at the end of the day, they are the audience. We have to address the outcry," said Commissioner and Executive Director Rebo Saguisag.

    Saguisag, a lawyer, and son of former Senator Rene Saguisag, also suspended all three referees who worked this game. At least two of these referees were already singled out in previous controversies. That they were even calling a critical playoff game is beyond me.

    Hardly had the sound and fury of this game died down when suddenly Game 1 of the Finals rolled around, and was done.

    Both the league and ABS CBN had its dream match, with the Ateneo De Manila disposing of Far Eastern in their knockout Final 4 game in overtime to set up the title series with La Salle.

    Leaning on the clutch baskets of center George Go in the last few seconds, the Blue Eagles went on to take Game 1 76-70.

    Once again however, the referees were in the thick of the conversation.

    Videos circulating all over the Internet, especially social media, showed at least four specific instances when La Salle players had committed clear violations while the referees inexplicably did not blow their whistles.

    1. Ricci Rivero low-blowed Vince Tolentino after Tolentino had taken a free throw, with a closed fist.

    2. Benoit Mbala hit a driving Thirdy Ravena in the face, with a closed fist. This time with Referee Number 59 right there at the baseline with a clear view of this bit of action.

    3. Abu Tratter punched Raffy Verano in the side as Verano hit the deck to try and go after a loose ball.

    4. Benoit Mbala, on a cut, snapped an elbow into Tolentino's chin as the latter went to cover the former.

    5. Prince Rivero also had a closed fist throughout his attempts to get rebounds and box out.

    It is one thing to try to get an advantage through tough / clever play, "kung ayaw mo masaktan, mag-chess ka na lang," as my good friend Wang-bu always says.

    It is however quite another thing for an entire team to make it part and parcel of strategy and tactics to go out and deliberately hurt the opponents.

    This might be an opportune time to remind the league that closed fists are such a huge no-no in this game that just brandishing them (such in a "fighting stance" as the FIBA rules say) could get a guy tossed from a game and even suspended.

    "I'll do whatever it takes to win. But I won't go out there and deliberately injure a fellow player," explained former UP star Jett Manuel in one interview.

    You'd think after the Ateneo had been given 29 free throws in the first half of this game that La Salle would tone it down, but no, the Green Archers just kept going.

    "I've never in 35 years had a consultation with a referee at halftime. I thought it was reduntant. They were just saying what is obviously happening and what will obviously continue to happen," said Tab Baldwin, ...
  4. Ateneo-Lasalle Finals Looms (Season 80 Edition)

    And just like that the flagship UAAP Season 80 men's basketball senior division tournament is about to come to a close.

    After 112 elimination games spread over two rounds, it looks like the consensus Top 2 teams really are going to have rematch in the Finals.

    ABS CBN and the League itself could not have planned it much better.

    Reigning champion De La Salle is just waiting for arch rival Ateneo De Manila to dispose of stubborn Far Eastern as of this writing, and the two best teams of the tournament will have another blockbuster showdown to cap off the 80th season of the most popular collegiate caging tournament in the country.

    Ateneo could have been first into the Finals, except that La Salle beat them in the last game of the eliminations 79-76, preventing a regular season sweep by the Blue Eagles and the automatic Finals berth that went with it. It was a reversal of sorts, as the Ateneo had prevented La Salle from sweeping last season on the last game day as well.

    La Salle already booked their return trip to the Big Dance with a controversial 82-75 decision over third-seed Adamson University. The Green Archers came back from as much as 15 points down to pull the rug out from under the Soaring Falcons in their Final 4 match.

    This game however came with quite a lot of baggage, and has (as of this writing) become subject of an official protest from Adamson. The heart of the matter: La Salle was awarded 39 free throws while Adamson only got five. Yes sir, that is no typo, the free throw difference was 39-5 in favor of the Green Archers.

    The League responded to the Adamson protest by immediately suspending the three referees that worked this game, "with two strongly recommended for being banned for the rest of the season," in their response to Adamson. "If only to preserve public confidence in our league," the response further stated.

    Adamson head coach Franz Pumaren repeatedly said this was the "worst officiating" he had ever seen, and it seems the free throw statistics support him, Ironically, Pumaren was once head coach of La Salle and even led the team to a 4-Peat from 1998 to 2001.

    What other steps the league will take on this matter however remains to be seen. It is very rare that a re-play of a crucial playoff game is held, for whatever reason. In my rusty memory banks I think the last tiem a crucial game was re-played was between FEU and National University, during the heyday of the Terrence Romeo-Ray Parks shootouts, and the details now elude me. Perhaps someone can clarify the details (or even my memory of this) in the comments section.

    A similar controversy erupted sometime in 2014, during the Round 1 Ateneo-UE game, when the Ateneo got a 40-24 advantage in free throws - with league darling Kiefer Ravena getting 25 free throws just for himself - and the Blue Eagles going on to overhaul a big UE lead to win that game in overtime. Ravena had a career 38 points in that game.

    The Ateneo for its part succumbed to the Tamaraws last November 19th 80-67. FEU led by as many as 18 at one point, led by veteran Ron Dennison and former Blue Eagles, forward Arvin Tolentino and guard Hubert Cani.

    "We haven't done anything yet. We just took away their twice-to-beat advantage," said FEU head coach Olsen Racela, himself a former Blue Eagle and part of the 1988 Ateneo title team.

    Their knockout Final 4 game is set for tomorrow, November 22.

    This is another deja vu situation, as the Tamaraws and Blue Eagles also went the distance in last season's Final 4, with the Ateneo eventually making it to the Big Dance.

    FEU held the Ateneo to a little over 36% shooting from the field, including a nightmarish 3/17 from three-point range in the second half. "We just shot abysmally, and I can't even tell you how or why," said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin after the game.

    FEU for its part shot nearly 50% from the field and even got the lucky ones, like a 28-foot buzzer beater by Cani in the third period.

    As the Season 80 Host School, Racela and the rest of the Tamaraws are hoping to make a different outcome in the KO match tomorrow.

    Still, no one is betting against a rematch between the Blues and Greens.

    Because seriously, can there be a bigger blockbuster in present day Philippine basketball than friggin' Ateneo-La Salle?

    Who will take the title?

    Smart money says the Green Archers get their back-to-back championship.
  5. Andyan Kia Na Naman

    While every PBA fan's attention is on the ongoing Finals between Barangay Ginebra and Meralco (currently with the Gin Kings leading the series 3-2), a bit of news suddenly diverted a lot of attention away from the Finals and on to the 2017 PBA Draft set in a few days from this writing.

    Apparently Kia, the league's doormat, owns the Number 1 pick in this year's draft, a pick they could use to select either 6-foot-8 Filipino-German forward-center Christian Standhardinger, or 5-foot-10 multimedia darling and former Ateneo superstar guard Kiefer Ravena. Yes, Praxedes, those two are the consensus Top 2 picks, with the German lad most likely to go first overall.

    For a team as down on their luck as the Picanto, Praxedes would be justified in thinking that Kia ought to be drooling and jonesing even, for the chance to get either Standhardinger or Ravena, both of whom could become franchise stars for them. And no, Manny-bloody-Pacquiao does not count.

    This is where things suddenly went all deja vu.

    News reports have it that Kia and San Miguel Beer were looking to put a trade together.

    San Miguel would get the Number 1 pick from Kia, while Kia would get a slew of Beermen bench players, ranging from the immortal Ronald Tubid to the who-the-heck-is-that Rashawn McCarthy.

    Let's let that sink in for a while: Kia is willing to trade a probable (not just possible) franchise star for a bunch of so-so players who are either unproven or nearing the end of their careers.

    But wait, there's more!

    Later reports have it that the Beermen were also willing to give up Filipino-American forward Matt Ganuelas, steady veterans Gabby Espinas and Yancy De Ocampo, along with all the other players aforementioned.

    You can just imagine the shit storm the news stirred up. It was so monumental that buss for the proposed trade (not yet approved by the Commissioner's Office as of this writing) was at one time generating almost as much media buzz as the Ginebra-Meralco Finals.

    "Pwede ba 'yon? Magpapamigay ka ng mga bulok para maging magkakampi sina Kraken (four-time MVP Junemar Fajardo) at German," asked a long time college and pro scout. "Or sige, kahit pa si Kraken at si Phenom, pwede ba 'yon?"

    The scout's sentiments were pretty much echoing the general sentiments among basketball fans and sports observers.

    Of course Mr Scout has a day job that allos him to have other information that the typical fan might not be privy to. "RSA (San Miguel boss Ramon S Ang) bailed out the owners of BMW, who are also the owners of Kia, so hindi na mahirap mag-one plus one na hawak ni RSA sa leeg ang Kia."

    But they gave Troy Rosario away too when they had a chance to draft him, said I.

    "It only goes to show na may ibang gustong mangyari talaga ang Kia," he replied.

    Indeed, the Picanto have given away not just Rosario, a Gilas mainstay, but also the likes of bull strong Bradwyn Guinto, the versatile KG Canaleta and Aldrech Ramos (the two guys they got for Rosario), Alex Mallari, Karl Dehesa, etc etc.

    It should therefore not come as a surprise that Kia is once again in the thick of a questionable trade.

    If ever, San Miguel Beer will add a high quality, internationally proven big man to a team that sent four of its starters to the season's Mythical 5, including MVP Fajardo. Standhardinger or Ravena would definitely give them a high quality sixth man, or even a new starter while sending a Mythical 5 or MVP awardee off the bench. They almost completed a Grand Slam, how much better will they be with this year's Number 1 pick?

    For PBA Commissioner Chito Narvasa, he's still trying to sort things out on this proposed trade.

    "I'm talking to Kia and San Miguel officials," he said in one interview. "People say it is about parity in the league. But teams have the same right as anybody else to decide their fate. At the end of the day, it has to be about what is good for the PBA, families themselves, and the teams themselves," he added.

    Those aren't exactly words to reassure fans and media alike about what the league is going to do about a trade no sane person would ever consider fair.
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