IT’S THAT time of the year again we look back at the different events that made an impact on the world of Philippine basketball. If there was to be a color of the year, it has to be pink with a few accents of blue.
No team or program was more dominant in 2015 than that of Centro Escolar University. Since 2012, Coach Edgar Macaraya and his staff have whipped up contenders through sound recruiting and no-nonsense training that could be the envy of most other varsities.
The Scorpions made biggest news in their mother league, the 15th National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU), wherein they became only the second school to ring up three consecutive Senior championships after the University of Manila Hawks’ five-year romp from 2001 to 2005. Coach Macaraya himself earned his fifth title after a back to back with the San Sebastian-Cavite Baycats from 2008 to 2009, matching the five titles won by the legendary Loreto Tolentino Sr. of the Hawks.
So dominant were the Scorpions that they took home the rest of the NAASCU hardware. The Lady Scorpions had another immaculate season to stretch their reign as Queens of the Women’s Division to five seasons while the Junior Scorpions managed to wrest back the title they lost last season to the Saint Clare Junior Saints.
Prior to their college ball domination, the Scorpions gave a strong warning to the field. Carrying the colors of the CafeFrance Bakers, they won the PBA D-League Foundation Cup in June over a star-studded Hapee Fresh Fighters side with Rodrigue Ebondo hitting the championship-winning basket in the waning seconds of winner take all Game Three.
2015 proved to be a very fruiful year for the CEU program, winning two other tournaments. In February, the Scorpions bagged the Men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (MNCAA) plum and the National Collegiate Basketball League (NCBL) just a week before the 15th NAASCU began in September.
During the summer break in between, the Scorpions participated anew in the FilOil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup against the top teams from the NCAA, UAAP and Cebu’s CeSAFI and they gave a good account by topping their preliminary round group. However, they lost in the first round of the knockout playoffs to Far Eastern University.
San Beda College under their new coach Jamike Jarin eventually annexed the FilOil Cup at the expense of defending champion De La Salle University while De La Salle-Zobel of Coach Boris Aldeguer took the Juniors Division over rival Ateneo de Manila. But as we would see later on, a good performance in the preseason does not automatically translate to championship gold in the mother league.
Losing in the Foundation Cup did not take away much luster from the Fresh Fighters, who marked their grand return to the mainstream basketball scene with an amazing title run in the Aspirants Cup that concluded in February. Parading the core of the San Beda Red Lions, the wards of Coach Ronnie Magsanoc made easy work of the Cagayan Rising Suns via a sweep of the best of three series.
Aside from the winners, the D-League had its share of side stories. Rising Suns head coach Alvin Pua was heavily fined and banned for life after punching referee Ben Montero during a game and Mary Jane Umana entered the history books as the league’s first female referee.
The Red Lion’s display of might in the preseason easily installed them heavy favorites to grab a sixth straight NCAA championship. However, the Letran Knights under another rookie Coach in Aldin Ayo pulled the rug from their bitter rivals in what could be the biggest upset in the past decade.
Still, all was not lost as the San Beda-Rizal Red Cubs of Coach JB Sison kept the NCAA Juniors crown for a seventh consecutive year by beating the Arellano Braves. As we write this, the UAAP Juniors competition is still ongoing as seven other schools try to unseat current holder Ateneo de Manila.
Far Eastern under former SBC coach Nash Racela ended their 10-year UAAP title drought by upending a tough University of Santo Tomas. Speaking of an even longer drought, the University of San Carlos Warriors under Coach Britt Carlo Reroma ended 57 years of frustration dating back to the days of the old CAAA to capture the 15th CeSAFI over the University of the Visayas.
Going back to the D-League, a decision to revise their calendar moved their next tournament to January, 2016. Suddenly dormant, several of the member teams signed up with the newly-formed Pilipinas Commercial Basketball League (PCBL) and the new association definitely showed its vast potential.
Jumbo Plastic Linoleum Giants of Coach Stevenson Tiu and manager Horacio Lim emerged as the very first PCBL champions, defeating top seed Caida Tiles-Malolos. With a successful first foray, the PCBL is looking towards a heavy schedule in 2016, including a tournament that might feature foreign reinforcements.
Sadly, the feel good stories from all the varsity squads’ successes in 2015 had a not so favorable ending as controversy hit the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL), the tournament tasked to determine the one true national champion. A typhoon in the middle of the tournament forced organizers to cancel the two semifinal games and having the same pairings play the following day with the two winners declared as co-champions, a move that drew a lot of flak from basketball observers.
In the end, defending champion San Beda retained “half” of the title by exacting revenge on Letran while FEU took their share by blasting San Carlos. In the course of the games, the PCCL continued to be subjected to criticism for its forever changing format and management of the games, punctuated by an incident that saw the UV Lancers push their broken down bus along the tollway en route to a game in Tanauan City.
Meanwhile, the PBA saw San Miguel Beer capturing the Philippine Cup and season ending Governors Cup. A grand slam eluded the storied franchise as Talk ‘N Text carted away the Commissioner’s Cup in between.
Of course, any yearend report will not be complete without remembering those that went ahead to the big basketball court in the sky led by Cebuano local legend Woodraw Enriquez whose untimely demise in January resulted in record traffic for this website. Also shooting their last baskets in 2015 were PBA legends Lim Eng Beng, Ernesto Estrada, Anthony Dasalla, Egay Gomez, Frederick Canlas and Jun Carmona, MBA star Ramil Cruz and legendary coach Ron Jacobs.
Only time will tell what will happen to local basketball in 2016. One thing is certain though, we will be there on the scene to chronicle hoops history as it unfolds.