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Sam Miguel

My Best Basketball Moments of 2015

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When this was a column and not a blog it used to be called The Morning After. Now that it is the middle of January it might as well be called the year after. And in truth the year 2015 was quite a year for basketball, not just here but everywhere else. Here are my best memories of basketball for 2015, in no particular order, just listed down as I recall them:

1. Junemar Fajardo finally emerges as the best damn PBA player ever. He led San Miguel Beer to two out of the three conference championships at stake last PBA season. He is without a doubt the best player in the league. He has the size and strength advantage over everyone except Greg Slaughter, but is a much more instinctive player; the game just comes so naturally to him. Fajardo will compile the numbers, the individual accolades, the championships, and hopefully the international titles that will eventually make him the greatest PBA player ever.

2. The San Miguel Group decides not to join the National Team. Well, except for Marc Pingris, and even that was perhaps due to the fact that he was the least superstar-y of the players the Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas wanted for Gilas 3.0. Fajardo, Slaughter, Marcio Lassiter, LA Tenorio, Japheth Aguilar all were simply not made available for Gilas 3.0, whether or not that really was SMC Management's call or not, perhaps only Al Chua will really ever know. In truth not all of them were needed. But the ones who were - Fajardo (backup at 4 and 5 to the naturalized Andray Blatche), Lassiter (arguably the best game-time shooter now in the country), Aguilar (FIBA-level size and atlheticism at the 3, 4, 5) really could have made a huge difference in FIBA competition. The basketball public just plain hammered the SMC Group for this decision.

3. Gilas 3.0 gets royally screwed by the Chinese in the FIBA Asia Finals. Seriously, no one who knows the game, or even those who only casually follow the game, all said the same thing: Chine, as strong as they already were, still decided to pull a fast one on the Philippines during the FIBA Asia Finals. Jayson Castro's inexplicable travel while he was STILL DRIBBLING was only the highlight. Throughout the entire championship game, the officiating was all about making absolutely sure that China would make a return trip to Olympic Basketball. We should've known. They already pulled the same thing against Iran in the semis. Still, a silver medal finish with a team that was less than ideal, and heavily derided, isn't bad at all.

4. Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva get some unequivocal love from the fans thanks to their Gilas 3.0 stint. Abueva probably said it best, "Ngayon lang ako nakaranas na buong Pilipinas sinusuportahan ako, ganito pala feeling." When The Beast made the cut and was named to Gilas 3.0 many fans were wondering how the barely 6-foot-2 forward would fare against the giants of international play at his position. Turns out he either stayed toe to toe with them or best them using the same things he uses that infuriate non-Alaska fans: toughness (ok, gulang, and even good old fashioned pananalbahe), a nonstop motor, that extra gear, and his all-out relentlessness on both ends of the court. Romeo on the other hand could not have picked a better time to dye his hair. He put so many veteran international players on skates. He shot over guys that supposedly would finally be big enough, athletic enough, and tough enough to cover him, and that he would never get away with what he gets away with at home. Yeah, right. I was never a fan of either of these guys for purely non-basketball reasons. But as a basketball fan, c'mon people, these guys had a heck of a coming out party with Gilas 3.0.

5. Letran pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball memory, wresting the crown from San Beda. How on earth a team that small, without an import, could have made the run that they did, still amazes fans to this day. When last season's NCAA Finals match-up turned out to be San Beda-Letran, everybody and his brother just knew that this would be another cakewalk for the Red Lions, all the way to their sixth straight NCAA championship, and ninth in the last ten trips to the NCAA Finals. Lo and behold, the Knights played their own version of small ball and show-mismatch all the way to the title. Too bad the coach that led them here then signed up with Lasalle just a few weeks after.

6. FEU ends its own 10-year title drought by taking home the UAAP championship. Just like Letran in the NCAA, the Tamaraws last had a championship in 2005. Unlike the Knights however, the Tams were simply overwhelming last season. There were games they seemed to simply be on cruise control, toying with opponents they knew they could easily take, and literally taking them to school. Their comebacks never had that feeling of dread in them at all. It just seemed inevitable that regardless how big the deficit was, they would eventually win. They did that all the way to the championship.

7. John Apacible impersonates a public official, in the worst way. John Apacible was having a heck of a season, coming off the bench as the backup 4 and 5 for the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Then it all went wrong one night in Quezon City. Not only was he clearly driving drunk, but he got into a near-fight with another motorist, then touted himself as a Councilor, even holding up the license plate to make the point stick. And in the age of social media, he suddenly just found himself in the center of a controversy he could not handle. Yes, he is young and young people make mistakes, and as expected the news cycle soon turned and this incident was forgotten. Not for this old man though, and certainly not for a certain faction of alumni supporters of the Ateneo, who have vowed never to support the recruitment of players without a certain "pedigree", whatever that means.

(To be continued with the Golden State Warriors, Recruitment, and a host of others)
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