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  1. Knights Shine

    It took me quite a while to get around to writing about the epic (no other word would suffice) Finals Series of the NCAA Season 91 senior division basketball tournament. I was lucky enough to have been able to cover all three games, and this was truly one for the ages. As my friends and I have discussed over the last few days, this championship is arguably the best we've seen in the last 10 years. Allan Gregorio, a basketball lifer who also covers the NCAA as part of the TV Panel, perhaps said it best when he wished that two trophies could be given, one for each team. It was that kind of a series.

    In the end the Letran Knights ended a dynasty that many thought would continue well into the near future, defeating the San Beda Red Lions 85-83 in overtime in the winner-take-all Game 3 last Thursday, 29 October.

    Letran took the series opener on 23 October, 94-90, in a game that turned into a shootout in the last period. San Beda evened things up at 61-68 in Game 2 on 27 October, relying on their vaunted team defense and the hard work of sophomore forward JV Mocon.

    Kevin Racal, now a rookie for the Alaska Aces in the PBA, was the star in Game 1, exploding for 28 points and waxing hot from three-point range. He also led the Knights in the title-clincher in Game 3 with 23 points. Even as the 6-1 Racal pulled out all the stops though, it was the diminutive pointguard Mark Cruz, at all of 5-6, who would be named Finals MVP.

    Cruz, younger brother of ex pro and UP Fighting Maroon Marvin, provided critical scoring and playmaking support to Racal. He used his unmatched foot speed and ability to carve up opposing defenses to provide a steady driving presence for the Knights of rookie coach Aldin Ayo. His fast driving game put a lot of pressure on the San Beda defense, since he was a lot faster than any Red Lion guard. Keeping him in front and away from the driving lanes was not something the San Beda perimter could easily do.

    Jomari Sollano was another revelation in the series for the Knights. Generously listed at 6-4, probably closer to 6-3 in his sneakers, the newcomer provided relentless and well-played defense against 6-8 Nigerian import Ola Adeogun, the man chiefly responsible for anchoring the stout San Beda interior game. With his perimter shooting and ability to catch-shoot off the feeds of Cruz, Sollano was a match-up problem for which Red Lions head coach Jamike Jarin had no solution. Adeogun had no choice but to leave the paint whenever Sollano got the ball, leaving the San Beda defense vulnerable to the slashing and short-shooting of Cruz, 5-9 guard Rey Nambatac, and 5-7 guard McJour Luib.

    Ayo played the mismatches so well in Letran's favor, it seemed Jarin had just been completely bamboozled and discombobulated. "We just played to our strengths, which is speed and shooting, kasi alam naman namin na hindi namin kayang sabayan ang laki at lakas ng San Beda sa loob," Ayo explained in one interview. It was that speed that also allowed his Knights to jam passing lanes, and steal passes from the weak side angles. Once they got the ball it was off to the races, and the Red Lions just could not keep up in transition.

    Letran actually looked like it had the title all wrapped up in regulation of Game 3, erecting an eight-point spread 75-67 with time down to under two minutes in regular play, thanks mainly to back-to-back three-pointers by Racal. But San Beda hunkered down on defense, and Baser Amer, a first round PBA draft pick, completed a steal off Luib and raced down court to force overtime at 75-all. Letran still had the last possession to try and win it all but could not get off a good shot.

    In the overtime, it became a war of attrition, with big shot after big shot coming from either side;s stars, Racal and Cruz for Letran, Amer and Adeogun for San Beda. It would be the unheralded Sollano however that would finally ice the game and the title for the Knights. Sollano nailed a baseline jumper to give Letran the lead for good at 83-82. He added a freethrow to make it 84-82.

    Letran also benefited from a double lane violation called by the left sector referee near the baseline. This happened with Sollano's second freethrow from the previous play. Sollano still had the ball in his hands when slow motion replays showed a Letran player entered the lane first. But Adeogun, with the ball still unreleased and in Sollano's hands, also entered the lane, thereby resulting in the double lane violation, as Sollano missed that freethrow. Under the current rules, that resulted in a jumpball, and a referral to the possession arrow. That arrow was pointing in favor of Letran.

    As critical as the call was, it was the right and proper call, and the videos would prove it. San Beda team manager Jude Roque, usually a reserved person, was so upset with the double lane violation that he went ...
    Tags: ncaa, pba Add / Edit Tags
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    Philippine Basketball
  2. NU Freego Cup Champ

    National University High School hung tough in an ugly game to annex the Pilipno-Chinese Amateur Basketball League Freego Cup championship versus a hardfighting Lasalle Zobel 58-52.

    Zobel had a fiery start, soing up as much as 21-12 late in the first period behind the eight quarter points of 5'7" superstar guard Aljun Melecio. Melecio got plenty of help from the hustle of chunky 6-foot center Robbie Mariano and 5'9" swingman Brent Paraiso.

    Melecio, Paraiso, and 5'7" guard Marvin Sario made a living off playing the passing lanes and intercepting plays from the NU guards. 5'7" Keith Peralta and 5'7" Daniel Atienza just could not get the ball to their big men down low with the pesky defense of Zobel.

    NU however was able to regain its bearings to turn things around in the second period behind the combined efforts of tournament Mythical 5 member, 6'1" forward John Clemente, and 6-foot backup forward Carl Penano. Clemente and Penano were able to assert their superior size and strength against the overmatched Zobel frontline players especially with Clemente taking it hard to the rack in transition.

    NU took a 32-26 lead going into the lemon time break.

    Second half action proved to be a battle of futility, with both sides finding it hard to make a basket, not so much because of tightened defenses but simply because of errant passing and seemingly sure shots rolling off the rim.

    Melecio at this point had been all but silenced, with the much bigger Clemente shadowing him, and RP Youth Team member, 6'2" forward Rhayyan Amsali helping jam him at the perimeter, preventing him from taking his three-point shots.

    NU however wasn't faring much better at the basket, as their guards just could not get anything going. Clemente had also become frustrated with turnovers piling up and was unable to sustain any scoring momentum he built during the first half.

    Zobel put together a mini-run towards the end of the third period behind 5'10" forward Martin Romero and 5'6" guard Miguel Fortuna to give Zobel back the edge at 41-42.

    In the payoff fourth period the war of attrition continued. It looked like the game would go into extension. But NU somehow found enough of a finishing kick to build a seven point lead 49-42 going into the last three minutes.

    Another stretch of bungled passes and missed baskets ensued until Melecio suddenly nailed a three-pointer to bring Zobel within 52-50.

    Amsali and Penano however hit a couple of insurance points to keep the Junior Archers at bay. Peralta almost gave Zobel a chance to go for overtime with a dribbling error right in front of his coach, Jeff Napa, earning him a tongue lashing. NU held on for the title win though.

    Penano had 10 points for NU while Melecio had 18 for Zobel. Melecio was a woeful 4/14 from three-point range.

    In the game for third place Mapua titally shredded reigning UAAP champion Ateneo 104-79 behind the 30 points of 6'1" Mythical 5 member Sherwin Concepcion.
    Tags: 3, ateneo, la salle, ncaa, uaap Add / Edit Tags
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  3. Not Hapee

    Hapee is a brand long associated with amateur basketball. It was among the later stalwarts of the now-defunct Philippine Basketball Leage. They joined the PBA D leage last conference, basically taking over the multi-titled NLEX franchise made up of the core of NCAA Dynasts San Beda. As expected they won the championship against the hardfighting Cagayan franchise to usher in a successful return to amateur basketball.

    Unfortunately things are not going quite so well for the Fresh Fighters in the current PBA D League Foundation Cup.

    At 3-3 they're fifth in the 10-team standings. They needed an overtime to beat Cafe France in their last game at the San Juan Arena. 6'8" San Beda import Ola ADeogun tossed in an awkward miss by Troy Rosario with only 3/10 of a second remaing in regular time 63-63, sending that game into overtime.

    Prior to that, Maverick Ahanmisi, a US NCAA Division 1 product, looked like he had sealed the win for the Bakers, nailing back-to-back three-pointers to push Cafe France to a 61-53 spread with a little over three minutes to go. Ahanmisi wound up with a superb all-around game with 16 points (three treys), seven rebounds, and six assists to lead the Bakers. His speed and strength clearly rattled fellow Filipino-American ballers Ray Parks, the two-time UAAP MVP, and Chris Newsome, the two guys tasked to match up with him.

    Parks and Newsome are both highly athletic and talented UAAP stars, but clearly the US NCAA Division 1 product was indeed on a higher basketball plane, at least in this game. Ahanmisi ran hard in transition and the early offense, and hit the outside jumper either off his own dribble or off passes on the drive-draw.

    Hapee had already lost to Jumbo and Keramix, two teams that, on paper, should not have been able to stand toe to toe with the Fresh Fighters, much less beat them. They also got blown off the floor by their first Finals rival, Cagayan. Granted Hapee was without Adeogun and the five other San Beda stalwarts prior to this game. The Red Lions arrived right in time. Had Hapee lost this game they would have gone down to 2-4, precarious with only four games remaining on their schedule.

    Another San Beda stalwart, 6'4" forward Arthur De La Cruz, was named best player in this overtime victory with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "We just want to help our team win," De La Cruz said in one post-game interview. Help is needed plenty from the way Hapee was going before this game.

    Comes now the question: Even without the San Beda players onboard, Hapee still had plenty of talent. Rosario, Parks, Newsome, have former Ateneo standout Kirk Long, reigning NCAA MVP Scottie Thompson, former JRU star Marvin Hayes, and quality reinforcements in former St Benilde gunner Mark Romero, and banger Tonton Bringas, as teammates. So how could they have started off at 2-3? Just with that roster, shouldn't it have been a 5-0 start for Hapee?

    Let's do a little deeper digging:

    1) Parks cannot do it all by himself. Parks was also last conference's MVP. His talent is without question. But his ability to literally carry a team on his own shoulders remains in doubt. He never won a UAAP championship with National University for example. Ironically NU won that elusive championship after Parks left. Everyone from coaches, to teammates, to the TV Panel guys, all seem to think Parks is this unstoppable one-man gang. His record so far suggests he is not.

    2) Troy Roasrio needs to have a strong all-star center beside him. Rosario just came off a championship with NU in the UAAP, where he spent four years trying to get better. At a legit 6'6", with long limbs and strong springs, he looks like the Top 3 PBA Draft Pick everyone expects he will be. As in the case of Parks there is no doubting Rosario's talent. Unfortunately, Rosario needs to be paired with another good big man to be effective. He isn't one of those franchise cornerstone types who will do well on his own. In the NU championship run in the UAAP he had arguably the best import in the league in 6'6" Alfred Aroga. Before that he had another top import in 6'6" Jean Mbe.

    3) Isolation plays and pounding the low post are no longer the only keys to success. Having Parks and Rosario on the roster makes it tempting to think just giving them the ball and letting them operate will ensure win after win after win. That is precisely what Hapee has done throughout their first five games. That is not really surprising though considering that...

    4) Keeping a supporting cast strictly as a supporting cast makes teams predictable. That however presupposes that the supporting cast can also deliver, and this suporting cast can deliver, IF they get the chance. Thompson, the NCAA MVP, gets the ball a lot with Perpetual Help, which allowed him to pile on the stats that made him MVP. On this team that ...
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  4. Slim Pickings

    With a longer offseason thanks to the change in the academic calendar for many schools, more interest has been shown to both the high school and grade school basketball tournaments (such as the ongoing UAAP Juniors season) and the developmental tournaments like the ongoing Fr Martin Cup Open Division.

    I've had occasion to watch several of these games either by myself or with other hardcore hoop nuts. May I just say our conclusions are pretty common: there really isn't much eye-popping, game-changing, obviously-elite talent out there.

    Two weekends ago I watched the Fr Martin Cup at San Beda along with GFY and Kid Cubao. I swear to all that is holy that there was maybe one or two players there that caught our attention. There was this one kid, wore Number 15 for UE, who was shooting very well against Perpetual Help. I think Number 15 nailed like four straight three-pointers, and he was making them as jumpshots, not set shots. But that was about all this kid was good at, and he may have had a good shooting day.

    There were also imports for most teams, with Perpetual's 6'5" banger Akouthe Bright, and his sidekick 6'6" pogo stick John Eze standing out. Mapua had a lean 6'7" import who was also very athletic, but he wasn't very skilled.

    All told there simply was not much to be excited about.

    This is in direct contrast to the era some eight or ten years ago when the Fr Martin Cup had the likes of Bonbon Custodio, Mark Borboran, Pong Escobal, Sudan Daniel, Orly Daroya, Mark Fampulme, RR Garcia, Pipo Nuondou, Zion Laterre, Nonoy Baclao, Ronnie Bughao, Chito Jaime, Calvin Abueva, Norbert Torres, Mark Barroca, Aldrech Ramos, Reil Cervantes, Mac Baracael seeing action.

    In this current crop of Fr Martin players, minus the imports, I was hard pressed to find any player who looked elite.

    Over in the major high school leagues it is more of the same. Again some eight to ten years back there were a lot of very good high school players. Keith Agovida, Louie Vigil, Arvie Bringas, Ryan Buenafe, Eric Salamat, Paul Lee, Almond Vosotros, Jamil Ortuoste, Nico Salva, LA Revilla, Baser Amer, Arthur Dela Cruz, Ponso Gotladera, Mike Pate, Martin and Mikee Reyes, Arnold Van Opstal, Gwyne Capacio, Ael Banal, Kiefer Ravena, Kyle Neypes, Kevin Ferrer, Kevin Alas, Roi Sumang, Oda Tampus, Glenn Khobuntin, Ken Acibar, Mike Tolomia, Russell Escoto, Terrence Romeo, Jeron and Justin Teng, Justin Chua, Joseph Eriobu, Gelo Alolino, were all priority recruits and/or RP Youth mainstays.

    Over the last two years high school superstars came few and far between, and they certainly were a far cry from the high school stars that preceded them. Currently the best high school player in Metro Manila, and probably the only one good enough to play right away in college is 5'7" guard JV Gallego of Chiang Kai Shek.

    It seems we are in some sort of talent recession era, and it does not look like there will be any end to it soon.

    Imports and Filipino-foreigners seem to be the priority now, and with the soon-to-be-implemented import ban, getting real talents will prove to be even more challenging.

    It seems even the provincial well has not produced that many instant-impact, elite-level players. FEU's Mac Belo emerged as a bona fide star this season, but was mostly a scrub in the two seasons prior. Don Trollano needed all of four years to emerge this season as well, and his emergence might have more to do with the middling roster of his Adamson Falcons, where he got every opportunity to shine. Lord only knows how long guys like 6'5" Daryl Pascual, and 6'7" KMark Carino will take to realize their full potential.

    This is when the decision of Filipino-American talent to stay in the US is even more felt. Since 2012, the likes of 6'10" Aaron Rodenas, 6'8" Brandon Rosser (younger brother of TNT's Matt Ganuelas), 6'7" Keith Datu, and 6'8" Troy Rike, and 6'6" Jamie Orme have all decided to stay put and try their luck in American colleges. Rosser and Datu are not even in mid-major programs.

    Filipino-Australian Jordan Heading seemed at least 99% sure of coming to the UAAP via the Ateneo, until he decided he'd try his luck with a US Division II school instead.

    College basketball is dependent solely on recruitment to get talent. You can't really go out there and hire talent. Yes, all of these "compensation packages" for superstar recruits is getting out of hand, but I will save that for another discussion. The point simply is that even with the most generous offers out there, there does not seem to be a recruit who will come in immediately and literally change the game.
    Tags: ncaa, tiong lian, uaap Add / Edit Tags
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  5. Development and Imports

    So the UAAP has finally done it.

    Rod Roque of the University of the East, the UAAP Secretary-Treasurer for this season, declared in a sportswriters forum, "Starting Season 78 only one foreign player will be allowed in the lineup."

    “We are also thinking of the possibility that by 2015-2016, there will be no more recruitment of foreign players. Soon, there will be no foreign players na nandito. Patatapusin na lang,” Roque added further.

    That means that schools have up to academic year 2015 - 2016 only to recruit foreigners to play, at least in UAAP basketball.

    Considering the school that Roque represents has three African imports - Charles Mammie, Moustafa Arafat, and Bernard Awana - it is mighty strange that this policy should be passed during the year UE is the UAAP host. I mean, for cryin' out loud, a school with three imports of its own already in tow, one would think they would be among the most vociferous to object to such a policy, if only for selfish reasons.

    We are not privy to how the process went in arriving at this policy; a policy that has a profound impact on all UAAP schools. Roque was not able to elaborate too much if this just applies to college basketball or to all UAAP sports. I think this will be - even more controversially - confined only to the flagship men's senior division basketball event.

    I'm not sure how and why any UAAP school, especially the weaker programs, could go along with this policy.

    First of all, in basketball, height is still very much might. In our country, finding a quality player six feet or taller, especially in that sweet spot big man range of 6'4" and taller, is inherently difficult. Filipinos are on average only 5'4" or so in height. At 5'8" your humble servant is already considered tall in our country. Yet no one ever has, nor ever will be confused for a quality basketball player. Finding a credible, UAAP-senior grade guard (the usual position played by guys my size) is difficult as it is. How much more difficult could it be finding a credible UAAP-senior grade big man, 6'4" or taller, in a country that is made up of guys mostly a foot shorter?

    How then to make up for that gap? Recruit a quality import, usually from Africa. UE's Mammie, 6'7" and 250 pounds, built like the proverbial brick outhouse, arguably the most powerful board cleaner in the league, more than makes up for the lack of quality UE big men. Where would UE be without him?

    Some might say, without imports then nobody has an edge, especially in size. Tell that to National University, who had a 6'7" pogo stick with a jumpshot in Troy Rosario, or to Far Eastern, who has 6'4" do-it-all forward Mac Belo, or Lasalle, who had the pair of 6'6" Norbert Torres and 6'7" Arnold Van Opstal. FEU even has its own 6'7" pogo stick in Russell Escoto, who sat out part of this season with an assortment of injuries. All of these guys bring quality size up front.

    UE was somehow able to compete toe to toe with them just because they have Mammie, and Arafat as well. Next season they can only line up one import. What happens if Mammie gets into foul trouble?

    History will also show that imports do not offer much of an advantage. Look no further once again than newly-crowned champion NU. NU is the first team to have a star import win the men's senior basketball title in 6'6" Cameroonian Alfred Aroga. As good as Aroga is he got plenty of help from Rosario up front, and from the likes of Glenn Khobuntin, Gelo Alolino, Jay Alejandro, and Rev Diputado. So in 77 seasons the UAAP has crowned exactly one champion that had a star import. So it isn't as if NU won strictly, exclusively, and only because of Aroga.

    This of course is not the same with the NCAA. In eight of its last nine seasons, a team with a star import won their men's senior basketball title, the San Beda Red Lions.

    But again, it would be a fallacy to think that it is strictly, exclusively, and only because of their imports that San Beda has won eight of the last nine NCAA championships. Simplistically speaking, one might even argue that in 2009, the one gap in what should have been a 9-Peat dynasty, an All-Filipino San Sebastian squad beat a San Beda squad that even featured an American import in 6'8" Sudan Daniel, thus ending any talk that all it takes is a good import to guarantee a championship. The NCAA beat the UAAP to the punch in imposing its own import ban.

    That is why this total ban on imports makes no sense to me. It is as if college leagues are afraid of their own shadow.

    I submit that this will not really level the playing field all that much. Think back to say 1993, when Santo Tomas won the first of what would be a 4-Peat. There was a gap in 1997 when FEU won the title behind Onak Magtulis and Robin Mendoza. Then Lasalle had its own 4-Peat ...
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