WINNING A championship is tough, repeating as champion is tougher. Dynasty-building became a recurring theme in the basketball scene for 2014 as varsity powerhouses reasserted their mastery of their respective leagues.
San Beda College experienced its “worst” elimination round in years by finishing with a 13-5 win-loss card but still topped the 10-team table en route to collaring their fifth consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) seniors championship and eighth since 2006. The Red Lions recovered their lethal form to crush the Arellano University Chiefs in two games, 74-66 and 89-70.
Coach Boyet Fernandez ended his two-year winning tenure at the Red Lions’ helm in order to focus on coaching in the professional level, setting the stage for the entry of Coach Jamike Jarin next season. Forward Anthony Semerad distinguished himself as the Most Valuable Player of the Finals while Perpetual Help’s do it all guard Earl Scottie Thompson bagged the regular season MVP plum.
Not to be outdone, the school’s Red Cubs under Coach JB Sison romped off with their sixth consecutive junior championship. The Red Cubs were pushed to the limit, disposing of the gritty Malayan High School of Science Red Robins in overtime in Game Three, 78-65.
Right across the street, the Centro Escolar University Scorpions of Coach Edgar Macaraya began building a dynasty of their own by retaining the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) seniors crown. Meanwhile, the Lady Scorpions under Coach Jay Cambarihan banked on a nine-player roster to claim their fourth consecutive women’s title while Saint Clare College of Coach JR Manansala surprised the favored Junior Scorpions for the junior championship.
2014 was indeed a banner year for NAASCU as its members also struck gold in other tournaments. The Rizal Technological University Blue Thunder of Coach Johnedel Cardel won the Universities and Colleges Athletic Association (UCAA) for the second year in a row, newcomer Diliman College ruled the National Collegiate Basketball League (NCBL) while Saint Clare of Coach Jinino Manansala swept the National Capital Region Athletic Association (NCRAA).
In the course of the summer, NAASCU squads CEU and Saint Clare acquitted themselves well at the preseason FilOil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup that was won by De La Salle University over San Beda. The Scorpions and Lady Scorpions both took Third Place in their divisions.
Come the postseason, San Beda finally stamped its claim as the best basketball varsity in the land by winning its first Philippine Collegiate Champions League by thumping preseason tormentor DLSU in the finals, 2-0. CEU, Saint Clare and Diliman also did well in the tournament, raising hopes that more NAASCU entries would be invited in the future.
Aside from celebrating the champions, the Lyceum of the Philippines-Cavite Junior Pirates created a lot of buzz by finally ending their 59-game losing skid with the first NCAA win in school history last July 25 by clipping Immaculate Conception Academy, 59-57. In the end, the wards of Coach LA Mumar finished with a 4-14 win-loss card good for Eighth Place and showed a lot of promise for the coming years.
The college teams also competed in commercial leagues as part of their preparations. The Saints as Racal Motors annexed the Danny Espiritu Cup while the Scorpions continued their participation in the PBA D-League as the CaféFrance Bakers.
Buoyed by their Espiritu Cup success, Racal Motors got accepted as an expansion franchise in the D-League. Sadly, the partnership with Saint Clare ended after three straight losses.
San Beda and Coach Fernandez as the NLEX Road Warriors took home the D-League’s Foundation Cup last June, fittingly the franchise’s swan song. After winning six of the league’s seven tournaments since 2011, the Road Warriors graduated to the pro ranks after buying the Air 21 Express.
Still, San Beda found a new partner in Hapee Toothpaste in time for the Aspirants Cup. Coach Ronnie Magsanoc, the man responsible for the Red Lions’ 2012 NCAA conquest, has piloted the star-studded roster to eight straight wins as of this posting and is a big favorite to pocket the championship and start their own dynasty.
Basketball fans also got a humongous treat with separate visits by NBA icons Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury. Other stories that caught the fans’ attention in 2014 include the return of the Philippine Christian University Dolphins to mainstream hoops via the NAASCU, the hiring of Filipino Nomar Isla as the national coach of Brunei Darussalam and the untimely passing of PBA legends Ely Capacio, Bryan Gahol and Boysie Henares.
The basketball scene looks promising for 2015. This early, a pair of novel leagues are in the works with one showcasing the game’s legends while another hopes to rekindle the market for regional hoops.
For sure, basketball will remain the Filipinos’ passion. Basketball never stops in the Philippines.