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  1. "San Beda Na Naman 'Yan"

    That was what Mr Libog declared during our last dinner out at an up and coming Thai restaurant in our neck of the woods.

    "Honestly, sino tatalo sa kanila? Sino? Lyceum? Letran? Arellano? Sino pa," he rapidly asked away.

    Truth be told the Red Lions really do look like they can and indeed will win the Season 93 men's basketball championship of the NCAA, and that's just how it goes.

    Consider their rather successful off-season, practically traipsing through the Fil Oil Flying V summer tournament. Sure they had one or two close shaves, including the one-game championship game versus reigning UAAP champion De La Salle.

    But come the hell on, seriously, did San beda look like it was at any point worried that they would lose any game in the Fil Oil?

    "Tignan na lang natin ang roster nila, they have arguably the best college player now in the country, si (Robert) Bolick, tapos meron pa silang (Davon) Potts, (Arnaud) Noah, and that new guy (he couldn't quite remember Eugene Toba). Hindi pa nga naglaro si (Donald) Tankoua nung Fil Oil eh," he declared in between sips of the hot pot's broth.

    I reminded him that Lyceum has CJ Perez, the guy who he said was the best college player as of last year.

    "Last year 'yon, bago ko nakita ulit na maglaro ng seryoso si Bolick. Bolick now plays both ends eh. Magaling na nga gumawa, magaling pa dumepensa," he retorted.

    Then he remembered something I foolishly hoped he had forgotten.

    "Hindi ba nag-try out sa Ateneo 'yung Bolick? Bakit nga hindi kinuha? Dahil ba galing La Salle," he asked in rapid succession.

    I said it can't be because Bolick was a transfer from La Salle. The Ateneo already took in at least three former Green Archers in guard Nico Elorde, center Ponso Gotladera, and most recently forward Gabby Reyes. Although word has it that Reyes didn't pass academic muster at Loyola Heights and is once again looking for a new school.

    I could only surmise that when Bolick tried out that the Blue Eagles either had too many guys at his wing position, or he just wasn't the "type" of player the Ateneo wanted.

    "Ah ganun ba... so ang type ng Ateneo hindi 'yung magagaling. Kasi magaling si Perez, pinabayaan or inayawan or both, magaling din si Bolick, pina-try out try out pa pero hindi din kinuha. So the two best college players now mga ayaw ng Ateneo, ha-ha-ha!"

    Yes, he really did have a good laugh at that one.

    We were talking about who could beat San Beda, I reminded him.

    He was still kind of laughing, "Sira ulo ka ba? May nakikita ka bang tatalo sa Beda? Wala na 'yan, champion na ulit sila. Meron pa nga silang mga (Joe) Presbitero, (Radge) Tongco, (JV) Mocon, (AC) Soberano, (Benedict) Adamos. Sige nga, sino tatalo diyan? Lumpiat pa nga sa knaila si KMark (Carino) na inayawan din ng Ateneo. Talagang basta magaling ayaw ng Ateneo, ha-ha-ha!"

    I can't imagine how he can laugh while also partaking of the various grilled meats and shrimp, truly remarkable.

    "I'm sure naman may makakatisod sa kanila, maybe they will lose one game, maybe, tipong super init nung kalaban at super malas nila, pero other than that there is no way they can be beaten, no way," he insisted.

    "Sabi ko nga sa iyo simple lang naman ang basketball, basta llamado ka sa talent and experience sure panalo ka na. Kahit naman mga upsets like nung tinalo sila ng Letran two years ago, llamado naman sa talent ang Letran perimeter that time, and it was enough to get past Ola (Adeogun) and Art (Dela Cruz)."

    "Nakalaban naman ng Beda sa Fil Oil Finals malakas din, La Salle, na may Mbala, best import ever, so it all just makes sense, dapat lang naman na sila magkatapat sa Finals."

    So with the NCAA out of the way, how does he see us in the UAAP?

    "Mas magandang tanong 'yan, pero saka na, dessert muna tayo dun sa kabila."
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  2. 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 ...
    Tags: 3, ateneo, feu, letran, ncaa, pba, uaap Add / Edit Tags
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  3. What A Difference A Year (or Two or Three) Makes, Part 1

    There is an old saying, "age doesn't matter", which means that age does not necessarily have to factor in to the philosophical and practical matters of life. We of course do not necessarily mean here things such as age restrictions on marriage and family relations, voting and suffrage, etc.

    With that out of the way, we go back to my favorite interlocutor, and source of many a good meal on him, Mr Libog.

    In our most recent lunch together with Snorgy at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants, his topic for the day was none other than age and talent, particularly in high school basketball.

    "Hindi ba naglaro ka ng PAYA Juniors nung high school ka? Umabot ka ba ng UAAP?" he asked.

    I shook my head and answered in the negative.

    "Bakit, hindi ka ba nag-try out?" he asked further.

    I explained that I tried twice and failed twice, in my junior and senior years in high school. I said that if in my senior year I still wasn't good enough to make the UAAP team then I'll simply never be good enough, ever. Heck, a few guys from lower batches were just having their way with me during the tryouts, and I was even playing Ginebra-level dirty just to have a chance, and it still didn't work.

    "Ayun pala. Pero nag-try out ka ba ever nung freshman and sophomore years mo?"

    I said I never bothered back then, simply because I knew there was just no way I was going to beat out the older, tougher players already on the team or trying out. As an example, I said Richie Ticzon and Rico Santiago were both just a year ahead of me, and those two had to wait their turn to make the UAAP team. What bloody chance did I have?

    "That's what I'm trying to point out with this whole (Encho) Serrano (of Adamson high school) mess that was recently dug up," he said. "Ang mahirap sa Juniors kapag pineke ang edad ng isang player hindi mo malaman tuloy kung magaling ba talaga siya or magulang lang?"

    "Isipin mo na lang, kunwari 16 years old ka, kalaban mo 19, kahit na sabihin mo pang mas matangkad 'yung 16-year old, sa gulang nung 19-year old at the very least mahihirapan sumabay 'yung mas bata. Ilan beses ko na kayang nakita na 6-2 na payat na 16-year old kinakaya ng isang 5-10 na 19-year old sa high school."

    Just as a background, ABS CBN came out with an online article last week that stated that some questions had arisen regarding the true age of their star player, 5-9 guard Encho Serrano. Serrano had led his Adamson Baby Falcons to a pristine 7-0 sweep of the first round of eliminations in UAAP Season 79's junior division, and he emerged as the leading MVP contender in the high school ranks.

    Serrano may be a totally new entity to most UAAP junior division fans, but Mr Libog and I already saw him in action about a year and a half ago in both the Buddha Care tournament and the Fil Oil summer league. Serrano at that time was still with the Mapua Red Robins of the NCAA, although he never got to see action in the NCAA tournament proper.

    Serrano, Rob Junsay, and Mike Enriquez formed a heck of a backcourt for the Red Robins and even beat Jolo Mendoza, Gian mamuyac, and the rest of the mighty Ateneo Blue Eaglets in the Buddha Care semifinals. Mr Libog and I liked him but didn't exactly love him the way we did with the likes of Mark Cruz, Roi Sumang, and Jio Jalalon. The reason? Serrano is like a smaller Bong Alvarez, likes to jump over everything, doesn't really show much in terms of talent or skill, just has a stud body.

    Then he dropped off the radar and I didn't even hear his name in the NCAA Juniors.

    Then he pops up in Adamson. It never even occurred to me to look him up when the news articles for the UAAP Juniors was all about how strong Adamson had suddenly become behind this newcomer named Serrano. Mr Libog texted me that it was the same Serrano we saw with Mapua.

    And now we have this little controversy as to Serrano's eligibility, centering on his true age.

    "Alam mo bang tatlong taon tumigil ng school si Serrano bago napunta sa Mapua?" he said. "So that's three missing years, tapos siempre nag-residency pa siya for Adamson, so one more year 'yan. Assume natin he stopped schooling at age 13, plus three years na out of school siya, plus one year residency, so he should be 18 now at least. Ina-assume pa natin na 13 lang siya nung tumigil siya ha. Malay natin baka naman 14 or 15 na siya nung tumigil siya, tapos naka-residency na din siya ng one year sa Mapua. Ako ang estimate ko he's probably legit 19 by now."

    If he is 19 then he can still play in the UAAP Juniors, because the rule, as far as I know, is that you can play up to age 19.

    "Assume na nga natin na sa edad pwede pa naman siya maglaro, ang actual tanong ko is magaling ba talaga si Serrano or matanda lang for a high school ...
  4. 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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  5. Best Basketball Moments of 2015 Part II

    8. Cafe France channels their inner Blackwater to beat NLEX. Cafe France, a team made up mostly of the core of the Centro Escolar University Scorpions of NAASCU, became only the second team in the last six years to beat mighty NLEX for the PBA D League championship. 6-foot-5 import Rodrigue Ebondo of Cameroon made the buzzer-beating title-clinching basket in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Foundation Cup conference. "Ibigay ko daw sa kanya ang bola at siya na gagawa, so binigay namin sa kanya at nag-deliver siya," exclaimed Coach Egay Macaraya. NLEX has been mostly the resident champion of the D League with their always-loaded lineup. This Foundation Cup lineup was made up of the core of NCAA Dynasts San Beda. However, they had to make do without their San Beda stars in this game, as the Red Lions had to focus on the NCAA season that already opened at around this same time. They still had a formidable roster though, with eventual PBA first round draftees Troy Rosario, Chris Newsome, and Scottie Thompson leading the way. But it just was not enough to overcome the tough Bakers who were hungry for their first ever D League crown.

    9. There were some question marks in the PBA Draft. This does not pertain only to Talk N Text somehow winding up getting the top two picks - 6-foot-7 Tongan-born Mo Tautuaa, and 6-foot-7 Gilas Pool mainstay Troy Rosario - but also to some picks that just seemed not to make all that much sense. For example, how did Roi Sumang wind up all the way down into the third round? Many draft projections had him going as early as the second half of the first round. Sumang was an outstanding amateur who looked PBA-ready, yet GlobalPort still saw him available all the way down to the third round. To their credit the Batang Pier did grab him right away, and even made him the first draftee signed up by the club that picked him. "Nung nakita namin na andun pa si Roi kinuha na namin talaga, nagtaka pa nga kami bakit andun siya," said Coach Pido Jarencio after drafting Sumang. Then Letran star Mark Cruz, Don Trollano, Simon Enciso, Abel Galliguez, Bradwyn Guinto all also wound up going into later rounds. One long-time TV Panel guy perhaps summed it up best when he admitted on air, "I don't really know Don Trollano." Quite an admission considering he also covers the D League, where Trollano was an off again-on again Best Player of the Game. My money is on these guys besting at least three players taken in the first round over their respective careers.

    10. Steve Kerr and the Lacobs and make Stef Curry and Golden State NBA Champions. His draft appraisal has always been a constant source of inspiration for Stef Curry. The remarks in it, in fairness, were pretty accurate for him coming out of college: too small to be an NBA 2-guard, can't really play the point, not strong enough, not athletic enough, just a shooter. Lo and behold whoever put that together must still be getting it from all of his buddies, if not the entire scouting fraternity. But that is just making another Kerr story to add to his growing legend. If it wasn't for Golden State team owners the Lacob Brothers, and Steven Kerr, at the time a rookie coach, maybe Curry would still be just another flashy shooter type. The Lacobs put together the team that would turn the NBA on its ear, and make Curry the best player on the planet. Making it all work together is the genius that is Kerr. Who would have thought that guys like Draymond Green, Mo Speights, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Andre Igoudala would ever form the core of a championship team? All of them were the prototypes for players who would forever be "missing something" that would make them just role players or journeymen all their lives. Turns out they were all long, athletic, tempo-pushing types that could beat anybody at any time. Now they are NBA champions, Curry the MVP, and they look set to make it a back-to-back title romp sooner rather than later.

    11. The death of the big name high school superstar. Quick (and no Googling), name the last UAAP, NCAA, or Tiong Lian MVP who became both MVP and champion at least once during his college career. I'll make it a little easier: even if it was not necessarily the same year. Now I'll make it a little harder: who was the last UAAP, NCAA, or Tiong Lian MVP and champion, who also became a UAAP or NCAA MVP and champion, who also became a PBA MVP and champion? If the answer to this last question is a player who has been in the PBA for more than 10 years, I guess it is safe to say the big name high school superstar has really been dead for the longest time. Some might argue that Terrence Romeo is the closest thing, and he is relatively young. However I cannot take him into consideration because 1) He never won a UAAP senior division championship, and 2) He has yet to become a PBA champion or MVP, so he really is not even close.

    12. The truly talented Fil-Am players chose not to come ...
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