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  1. Expectations

    Here is how the UAAP Season 80 landscape looks like after the end of the first round of eliminations last weekend:

    Ateneo De Manila : 7 - 0
    De La Salle : 5 -2
    Adamson : 5 - 2
    Far Eastern : 4 -3
    National : 3 - 4
    State : 3 - 4
    University of the East : 1 - 6
    Santo Tomas : 0 - 7

    Some preseason expectations were met, some were not, and there were surprises all around.

    Expectations: Ateneo De Manila came into Season 80 a year older, wiser, and stronger, after an unexpected runner-up finish last season. They were supposed to be rebuilding last season, yet somehow they made it into the Finals, and became the only team to beat archrival and regining champion La Salle in the eliminations.

    They returned this season intact, and they are playing truly beautiful, team-oriented, system-based basketball. "I always emphasize proper spacing, and movement, and that is what we are trying to do every game," explained head coach Tab Baldwin in one interview.

    With the exception of their cardiac classic of a game to end the first round against the Green Archers, the Blue Eagles have indeed made a good living with Baldwin's spacing and movement, beating the six other teams by double digits. Sure there were some anxious moments, particularly when UST came within 80-81 in the fourth period of their encounter, but for the most part the Blue Eagles have just been a joy to watch for basketball technicians and students of the game.

    Thirdy Ravena, now in his fourth year in college, and his third playing year, is the undisputed leader of the team. While he struggled against La Salle, he has basically done as he pleased against everyone else, and at one point was averaging a double-double. He remains in the Top 10 in the MVP race.

    Surprise: As good as the Ateneo was expected to be, even their most ardent fans probably did not expect them to sweep Round 1. They now have an even larger bulls eye on their collective backs going into Round 2.

    Expectations: La Salle is the reigning champion and as long as the mighty Benoit Mbala is on their roster they remain the prohibitive favorites to win back to back titles.

    Lets face it, Mbala is the best player the UAAP has ever seen. Ever. He is not only big, strong, fast, and athletic, but all of his skills are at very high levels. Heck, the man just came back from the FIBA Afrobasket tournament after emerging as the leader of a veteran Cameroon squad. He led his country to the quarterfinals, quite a feat for a guy who is not even on any NBA radar. Well... he WASN'T on any NBA radar in any event.

    Mbala also enjoys a very good support crew, albeit one whose core players are on the young side and sometimes how their youth at inopportune times, such as that inexplicable meltdown against State U. Aljun Melecio, who up to that point was La Salle's best complement to Mbala, scored only five points, while the La Salle defense allowed UP star Paul Desiderio to light them up for 30, built on six treys.

    Melecio was sorely missed in their other loss, the one to the Blue Eagles, as no one proved capable enough to play off Mbala. Ricci Rivero had 19 points in that loss but it was mostly off his own strong moves to the basket.

    "Mayhem got exposed to System," quipped long-time basketball observer and former varsity coach Alan Taule.

    La Salle was the one who was supposed to sweep Round 1. They may yet turn the trick in Round 2.

    Surprise: That loss to UP. Maybe it was one of those games where all the stars just seemed to align for the Fighting Maroons. For Mbala though, "We have to be more consistent, to play our game, and to play our defense." He was practically screaming to Melecio and Rivero to get him the ball, "I have (the) mismatch!" he screamed practically all game.

    Expectations: Adamson was supposed to be a legitimate contender this season, and with their slow start (Ateneo walloped them, so did La Salle) they looked like they were stuck in second gear.

    They are similar to the Ateneo in that their team returned virtually intact, and their key players are all a year older. Unfortunately it seems as if they did not actually grow wiser, or stronger. That is a yes and a no.

    There are times this Adamson team seems like they didn't really show much improvement, as in how they played last year is still how they play this year, for the most part: Jerick Ahanmisi is still primarily a jump shooter, Philip Manalang is a feisty, crafty point guard who can score in bunches from time to time, Sean Manganti and Simon Camacho are long, tall, athletes who occasionally show flashes of brilliance and exploit mismatches. Import Papi Sarr still does his best work within five feet of the basket and is still iffy from the freethrow line. ...
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  2. Will the Big Offseason Moves Pay Off in NBA 2017-2018?

    It has certainly been a very active offseason for a number of NBA teams. Some players have changed addresses, none more hyped so than Kyrie Irving's move to the Boston Celtics.

    Irving will have newly-minted superstar Gordon Haywood keeping him company in Boston.

    He isn't the only one of course. Isaiah Thomas, supposedly Boston's Next Legend, traded addresses with Irving and is now with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Dwayne Wade has reunited with James in Cleveland in what is shaping up to be a super team of sorts. They also signed former MVP Derrick Rose out of New York.

    Paul George and Carmelo Anthony - who have 14 All Star appearances and a few Olympic gold medals between them - are now teammates. With reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, over in Oklahoma City.

    Chris Paul and James Harden are also teammates now, over with the Houston Rockets.

    Rudy Gay was signed - almost without fanfare - by the ever efficient San Antonio Spurs.

    Jimmy Butler rejoins his old coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, where he will team up with rising stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns.

    Golden State gave Steph Curry the biggest contract extension in NBA history with $201 million, only to have Oklahoma City top that by giving Westbrook his own extension for $205 million.

    And the season hasn't even started yet.

    So how do all these big moves translate into the actual season? Well, we'll have to wait and see when the actual season rolls around won't we?

    But still, as an academic discussion, let us see where this leads us, Praxedes...

    Undoubtedly the biggest development was the Irving-Thomas trade. It was basically an All Star trade, but as we have commented in this space, it seems the normally astute Danny Ainge gave up too much to secure the services of the 25-year old Irving.

    Aside from the 28-year old Thomas (who was coming off a career year) the Celtics also gave away backup big man Ante Zizic, two-way forward Jae Crowder, and most importantly, an unprotected first round pick in the 2018 Draft from the normally woebegone Brooklyn Nets. So yes, that is going to be a sure Top 5 pick come 2018.

    Granted Thomas probably won't be playing until January due to a hip injury, still, quite a package Ainge sent to Cleveland.

    Westbrook for his part not only got 200 million clams richer but he now has two other legitimate All Stars beside him. The usual takl is that there won't be enough touches and shots to go around for three of the best scorers in the league. It should be intersting to see what GM Sam Presti and head coach Billy Donovan have in mind other than running opponents into the ground.

    "The NBA landscape has changed and we need to change with it," Presti said in one interview. So from building through the draft he suddenly built a new super team.

    The same might be said for the Timberwolves, with the three young stars getting a chance to try and build a stronger team. "We want to be in a better position to win," said Thibodeau in one interview.

    Harden transformed into an elite point guard last season with career highs in assists and became a much better creator, especially on the drive and draw. Paul is also a top-tier point guard, which means Harden might be reverting back to his shooting guard position, and taking away his ability to create for his teammates, a job that will now fall to Paul.

    Gay will be playing alongside emergent superstar Kawhi Leonard, and both play similar games, mostly creating and scoring from the perimeter, although Gay should be able to slide easily into a super sidekick role for Greg Poppovich.

    All of this of course still boils down to whether or not anybody, including the reloaded Cavaliers, can knock Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors off their throne.

    Curry and Durant might have surprised a lot of observers and analysts when they actually played well together, but that means taking on the Warriors only became that much more difficult.

    As much as Oklahoma and Minnesota have improved, it doesn't look like they've improved enough to be a meaningful challenger to Golden State. It remains to be seen if the addition of Gay to San Antonio has given the Spurs the extra weapon they need against Golden State.

    All told it will make for a very interesting and exciting NBA season, one that hopefully will prove to be more entertaining than last season.

    It still looks like a Warriors-Cavaliers Finals, but hopefully the road to the NBA Title will prove to be a little more bumpy.
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  3. The Ugly Basketball Mercenary

    How precious is the Filipino citizenship of Juan dela Cruz?

    To many, it?s a badge of honor so sacred that he would even be so willing to die for his country.

    Let no one cheapen or trifle with the word ?Filipino.? It is priceless and not for sale to the highest bidder. You may sell your soul to other countries ? I don?t really care ? but do not do it here and insult the intelligence of nationalistic Filipinos by selling the country country down the river for several pieces of silver.

    It is in this scenario that I say: Good riddance to this ugly basketball mercenary. Sure you had played for the national flag for some time but you, too had been handsomely been paid for your services.
    But now, you have opted out of your national obligations for reasons that no sane hoops follower can fathom.
    Was it all about money? And without a contract? You want more moolah to suit up for the national colors after bankrolling $2.5 million in playing 30 games in five months for a Chinese professional team this past campaign? And because it was not here, you opted out?
    For security reasons? Scared because the FIBA Asia Cup (the precursor of the Asian Basketball Confederation then FIBA Asia Championship) is being held in war-torn Lebanon in the next two weeks (August 8-20)?

    An American, of which you truly are, is scared of setting foot on Lebanon soil? But are you not also a Filipino now by virtue of a ?quickie? naturalization act by Congress that cheapen the value of Filipino citizenship? You acquired Filipino citizenship on a silver platter even BEFORE you had first seen the light of day in the Philippines or eaten balut or adobo; you simply visited the Philippine embassy in New York to secure your naturalization papers there perhaps even believing you were going to be the Savior of Philippine Basketball.

    Some ordinary people who were born and lived here for decades needed some time and effort to obtain naturalized Filipino citizenship, but here is somebody who got one in a jiffy, simply for basketball?

    The Filipinos are a brave race. You only have to look up to our battle-scarred soliders out fighting local and foreign extremists in Marawi City for the past three months.

    And now it?s time that this basketball mercenary to show how Filipino you are, you chickened out. What a blast!

    So close to the 16-nation FIBA Asia Cup then this former NBA journeyman pulled the plug from the national team and left it with an empty bag.

    Sure, Filipino-German Christian Karl Standhardinger is his replacement as the team?s naturalized ?import? but I just wonder why the 6-7, 28-year Munich-born frontliner on the PH contingent, which placed fourth in the club-based 39th William Jones Cup competitions won by Canada last July, has been designated as our ?import? if he owned Filipino blood unless he did not declare any Filipino lineage before his 16th birthday, a FIBA policy to prevent teams from circumventing the one-naturalized-player-per-team rule.

    Basketball mercenaries have mushroomed all over the world because of FIBA?s decision to allow one naturalized player per team (it was two in the distant past). Show me your money and give me some love and I?m willing to play for your country without sacrificing my American (or other) citizenship. This is bastardized basketball at its worst.

    Unlike the aforementioned mercenary on the PH team, I like the attitude of his predecessor Marcus Eugene Douthit who, too, acquired Filipino citizenship through a quickie act of Congress. In the case of this 6-11 native of Syracuse, New York did not abandon ship. The Providen College product, who now plays for the Hanoi Buffaloes in the fledgling Thailand Basketball Super League (TBSL), was relieved by the national basketball federation following a four-year stint due to old age (he?s now 37 years old).

    This brings me to another point. If Douthit officially became a naturalized Filipino citizen on March 11, 2011, why did he have to play as an ?import? for Air21 Express in the professional Philippine Basketball Association league during the 2011-12 season?

    Was there a double standard committed? In the past, some players of Chinese descent who later became naturalized Filipino citizens (Fortunato ?Atoy? Co Jr., for example) also played in Asia?s first pro league but they were considered as ?local? players with no restrictions whatsoever. Is not the sauce for the gander also the sauce for the goose?

    Something is strange. I wonder aloud.
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  4. Young Korean Prospect

    With the influx of Koreans matriculating in various schools in the Metro Manila area during the last decade or so, it?s no small wonder that the more athletic ones have also taken up the national pastime of Filipinos that is basketball.

    It did not take long for Korean Youth Basketball to flourish with the establishment of the Lee Sang Myeon Basketball Club. The youth-based club is named the first player of Korean descent to suit in the local National Collegiate Athletic Association during his stint with the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta Altas during the 2000s.

    One of the products of the Lee Sang Myeon Basketball Club is 13-year-old Korean Lim Geon Woo of Montessori De San Juan.

    ?I started playing basketball when I was eight years old,? said Lim, an athletic 5-7, 154-pound forward. ?A lot of my critics discouraged me from playing basketball since I was small and skinny at the time. But I persisted and persevered as my ambition is become the second Korean to play in the National Basketball Association (after 7-foot-3 Ha Seung-jin, who saw action in 46 games with the Portland Blazers from 2004-06).?

    ?I have worked hard on my game the last few years even as I grew taller and heavier and my skills further enhanced,? added Lim, who was born in Busan to parents Jung Young Mi and Lim Jong Dae.

    Lim?s game has expanded under the tutelage of coach Lee, who took him to his club five years ago.

    With the LSM Basketball Club, which caters to Korean-born students in the Philippines with ages 12 to 15, Lim once chalked up 68 points in a game and earned a number of individual awards along the way. He earned Most Valuable Player and Mythical Five honors in one tournament for his offensive wizardry.

    In an inter-San Juan competition, he knocked in 35 points for his school Montessori de San Juan.

    For a high-scoring marksman like him, it?s ironic that Lim finds more gratification in playing defense. ?It takes a disciplined effort to play defense as defense never rests,? said Lim, ?I have had several games when I could not shoot well but I compensated it with good defense.?

    Lim expectedly is enamored with several prominent players from the professional ranks. Among them are Jayson Castro from TNT, compatriot Lee Sung Jun and Rajon Rondo (New Orleans Pelicans) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) in the NBA.

    ?I like the ?Greek Freak? Antetokounmpo because he?s all-around player,? declared Lim, noting that the Bucks forward became the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots in the same season during the 2016-17 campaign.

    Lim and the LSMBC team are scheduled to play a series of games in Taiwan this month.
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  5. The Trade

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are becoming the NBA franchise for milestone events in the Internet Age.

    First there was "The Decision". Then came "The Return". Now we have "The Trade".

    The first two events centered around LeBron James, without a doubt the biggest damn star in all of Cleveland sports history, no disrespect meant to Mr James Brown.

    That third event though, that is something that has gotten quite the buzz.

    Allow me to explain, Praxedes:

    Kyrie Irving, the top pick of the 2011 NBA Rookie Draft, an All Star and USA Basketball stalwart, asked Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to trade him a couple months back, reportedly because he "wanted to be more of the focal point" according to media articles and features.

    Fair enough, a man can certainly make his own decisions regarding his career.

    Fast forward to less than a few hours ago (as of this writing) and that trade has been consummated.

    Who did Cleveland get for Irving?

    Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and an unprotected 2018 draft pick.

    Thomas, picked 60th and last in the same draft where Irving went first overall, became a bona fide superstar last season, at one point averaging 30 points per game and eventually settling down to a little over 28 ppg.

    Had this been a one-for-one trade nobody would be talking about it much. After all, it was basically score-first superstar point guards swapping places.

    But the Celtics threw in Crowder, a lottery draftee, who is one of the best two-way players in the league and a top defender at both forward spots. They also threw in Zizic, still a work in progress as another 7-foot project but one with pretty good upside according to scouts.

    But the ultimate throw-in is that 2018 unprotected draft pick.

    Praxedes, do you know how Boston got that pick?

    They got that pick during their massive housecleaning that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. Yes, those Brooklyn Nets, a team so bad that draft pick could easily be a Top 5 player in a draft year projected to be top heavy with the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Mohamed Bamba among those the Cavaliers could take.

    For one Kyrie Irving.

    Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge seems to think Irving is worth it. "You want a high quality player you have to pay a high price," he said in one interview.

    But is this a price that is too high?

    Ainge has built a reputation as an executive who has generally managed talent very well in Boston and everywhere else he's been. How did Cleveland get him to give up so much for Irving?

    Truth be told Irving and Thomas are certainly one of a type: score-first, clutch-shooting point guards who need the ball in their hands a lot, and both aren't exactly known for their defense. Irving in particular put up career numbers last season with over 25 ppg while shooting a little over 40% from three-range. He hit the title-clinching three in Game 7 of their historic resurrection from 1-3 down to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

    Yet his defensive metrics can charitably be described as "mediocre".

    Thomas for his part went on a tear last season and might have made even more noise is the playoffs were it not for a hip injury.

    For all his greatness, Thomas is still just 5-foot-9, and players that small tend not to last very long, playing at that level, in the league.

    So it was the throw-ins that really made this a fleecing for Cleveland, fleecing the fleecer as it were.

    And as fate would have it, or maybe it really was part of the plan, Cleveland and Boston take on each other on opening night this October 17.

    I guess, Praxedes, we will find out right away who really fleeced who then, eh?
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