WHEN the 14th season of the Petron-National Capital Region Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament gets under way on Saturday, there is one school team raring to fulfill a date with destiny.
This is no other than the Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals, who are looking forward to be enshrined in NCRAA history as the only team to win three championships in a single year since they last did the trick in 2004.
EAC coach Nomar Isla believes destiny is again at hand for the Generals, especially after the team ruled the Universities and Colleges Athletic Association and the University Games held in Bacolod this year.
But first, the Generals will have to get past 10 other schools, which will likewise gun for the title, including powerhouse squads St. Francis of Assisi Doves, the defending champions, and the Flaming Arrows of Arellano University.
“We are looking forward to duplicating our accomplishments in 2004. Our two championship will motivate us and boost our morale going into our last tournament for the year,” said Isla, a few days before hostilities reel off at the Olivarez College Gym in Parañaque.
The Three Kings
With playmaker Bong Melocoton completing his tour of duty as EAC’s five-star general, the team’s championship aspiration will be centered on three veterans—6’4” Gester Ebuen, 6’5” Alain Musni and 6’1” Ronjay Buenafe.
They are sometimes known as EAC’s Three Kings, or its 1-2-3 knockout punch.
“We can do anything when the three are on the court. They are my most senior players kaya malaki ang naitutulong ng experience nila,” Nomar said.
Buenafe can play either the no. 2 (off guard) or no. 3 position (shooting guard); Musni usually mans the middle, while Ebuen, with his versatility, can play all positions with ease.
They are the reasons why the Generals remain as one of the deadliest squads in the NCRAA this year.
“Kapag isa sa amin ang nawala, parang hindi maganda ang performance ng team. Kapag kumpleto, OK,” said Buenafe.
Ronjay’s final year
Buenafe, a 22-year-old management student, is playing his final year for the Generals. He started his playing career with the Philippine Christian University Dolphins in 2000, but his problems in academics got in the way. Eventually, Buenafe transferred to EAC, which took him as one of the team’s mainstays three years later.
Since then, Buenafe said his experience as a player has taught him so many things.
“Marami talaga akong natutunan sa EAC sa paglalaro namin sa NCRAA.
“Malaki ang naging improvement ng game ko. Siyempre, gusto ko ring matupad ‘yung mga pangarap ko na mapunta sa PBL at sa PBA. Kaya step by step, natututo ako sa mga pagkakamali ko, gaya na lang nu’ng hindi ako nakaka-attend ng practice o kaya nale-late,” said Buenafe.
Buenafe was on his second year with EAC when the Generals won their first grand slam, with Niño Songco scoring crucial baskets to help the school win the UCAA, the NCRAA and the Unigames, and lead EAC to 17 straight victories in his last playing year.
School officials, including Isla, retired Songco’s uniform, which bore jersey no. 9. It is now displayed on a glass frame at the mezzanine floor of the EAC Sports Center.
Buenafe hopes to follow Songco’s footsteps. “Sana maabot ko rin ‘yung nagawa niya para sa EAC.”
Big man Alain
It’s hard to miss Musni. At 6’5”, the 22 -year-old Musni is literally head and shoulders above most of the students at EAC.
So, it wasn’t surprising when the coaches of EAC approached him one day when he was about to dine at the school’s food court.
Interested only in playing streetball, Musni, a nursing student, eventually joined the team’s roster, after a brief scrimmage. After some time, Musni was designated as the alternate center for another big man in Mark Du.
“He only gets on the court if our big men get into foul trouble. But one summer, we realized that he can contribute in defense and rebounding, not so much in scoring, but enough to help the team,” said Isla.
Versatile and deadly Gester
Ebuen, a 25-year-old management student, is the Generals’ most versatile player.
He started playing ball as a young kid in Tarlac. Upon reaching high school, Ebuen tried out with the University of Baguio, but was sidetracked when a cousin asked him to try out with the Generals instead.
His decision to come to Manila four years ago boosted the Generals’ already-deadly lineup.
This year, Ebuen is considered to be EAC’s top gun, especially now that a new generation of Generals are taking over the trenches.
Ebuen had his share of winning moments for the Generals. He scored two pressure-packed freebies in the last four seconds to lead the Generals to a 69-68 win over West Negros College Mustangs, 69-68, during the Final Four of the 2006 Unigames.
The win steered the Generals to the finals where they won over the Adamson Falcons.
New season, new challenges
Last year, life wasn’t as kind to the Generals. They failed to defend their crown when they were suspended from seeing action for the NCRAA for a year after the Generals competed in the Home and Away Invitational League.
According to NRCAA rules, the Generals violated certain provisions that prohibit member-schools from joining other leagues while the season is in progress.
Isla said they have already gotten over the sad event and they are now looking forward to a fresh start.
Aside from their “three kings,” the Generals will rely on the contributions from John Valderama, Carlo Castillo, Nico Hubalde and JR Manansala.
“Panibagong simula na ito. Kailangang mabawi namin ang title from St. Francis. So far, nakita namin na maganda ang itatakbo ng team,” said Isla.
The youthful EAC coach will also give rookies Yester Taculan and Leo Pat-An their baptism of fire starting this tournament. The 21-year-old Taculan is a 6’0 guard from Cebu, while Pat-An, is a 5’10” point guard from Taytay, Rizal.
With a firm resolve, the Generals are back in the trenches, armed and ready to win another cage war in the NCRAA.
balita sa barangay namin, may issue daw si gester ebuen at yung manansala...
ano ba ang tunay na nangyari at hindi nakalaro ang dawala kahapon kalaban ang SFAC kung saan natalo ang Generals?
jr manansala was benched because of his absence prior to last practice going to the game versus sfac the next day. gester ebuen got the usual axed for his not so often misbehavior in practice.suspending its player is a common thing in an organization which gives premium to game preparation.
EAC will field its Team B players in the upcoming HAIL tournament. This is a different team than the one that is currently competing in the NCRAA. Therefore the NCRAA has no grounds to suspend the Team A Generals. Coach Nomar Isla will be elevating several players from this team since his top players Ronjay Buenafe, Gester Ebuen are on their last tour of duty with the team.