REDEMPTION IS the word that best described the Philippine basketball scene in 2016. Teams and individuals rose from the rubble to achieve their goals making for good storylines.
Nothing could be more dramatic than San Beda College’s saga, easily the most dominant team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association of the last 10 years. After losing their crown to bitter rival Colegio de San Juan de Letran a year earlier, the Red Lions regrouped and survived a season littered with injuries and intrigues to reclaim the trophy via a two-game sweep of Arellano University.
As the Seniors rejoiced in Mendiola, it was tears in Taytay, Rizal as the Red Cubs ceded their seven-year grip on the Juniors title to Malayan High School of Science despite topping the elimination round. The Red Robins and Coach Randy Alcantara thus completed their first NCAA championship since entering the league in 2008, suffering loss after loss in their early years including a few blowouts of 100 points or more.
Coach Jamike Jarin though did not stay long enough to savor the Red Lions’ redemption. Weeks after hoisting the trophy at the Mall of Asia Arena, he announced his resignation in order to fill the coaching vacancy at National University and San Beda did not waste time in recalling two-time NCAA champion coach Teodorico “Boyet” Fernandez to active duty.
Redemption was also the battle cry of the Saint Clare College of Caloocan Saints. The school tasted their first National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) Seniors championship way back in 2012 but it was followed by three consecutive runner-up finishes that finally came to an end in 2016.
Despite a roller coaster elimination round, the Saints still managed to make the playoffs and disposed of first time finalist Our Lady of Fatima University in a classic three-game series. It was a double celebration indeed for the school as Coach Jinino Manansala also successfully steered the Junior Saints to its second title in three years in the Juniors Division for players aged 19 and below at the expense of AMA University.
The NAASCU also saw the coronation of new queens in the Women’s Division in newcomers Enderun Colleges Lady Titans under former national coach Haydee who sent Rizal Technological University to their fourth straight bridesmaid finish. Enderun was among several expansion teams that made the NAASCU a 14-school league and enjoyed landmark media coverage thanks to a partnership with Basketball TV and Solar Sports.
Meanwhile, De La Salle University breezed through the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). So dominant were the Green Archers that their championship series against archrival Ateneo de Manila University was a mere formality.
As early as the summer, DLSU gave a portent of things to come by bulldozing through the opposition and emerging as the undefeated champion of the FilOil Flying V Premier Cup. First year coach Aldin Ayo just had too many weapons at his disposal led by graduating Seniors Jeron Teng and Thomas Torres and eventual UAAP Most Valuable Player Benoit Mbala.
Other schools earning hoops hardware of their own include the University of the Visayas in the CeSAFI, Manuel L. Quezon University in the UCSAA and PATTS College of Aeronautics in the ISAA. Earlier in the year PATTS carted away the UCLAA while Philippine Merchant Marine School successfully defended their NCRAA championship.
Perhaps still reeling from the controversies of a year ago, the Philippine Collegiate Champions League became suddenly silent. Still, hope remains that the organization could recover and crown a true national champion before the current academic year ends.
The professional Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) saw the rise of three different champions to signify parity in the league with San Miguel Beer taking the All-Filipino Cup by overhauling a 0-3 deficit by winning four straight games against Alaska and Rain Or Shine the Commissioners’ Cup against the same Alaska quintet. Still, basketball fans remain amazed by the thriller of an ending to the Governors’ Cup wherein import Justin Brownlee hit a triple at the buzzer to give crowd darling Barangay Ginebra San Miguel their first champion in eight years by beating Meralco.
In the amateur commercial scene, the year belonged to the Phoenix Accelerators after they bagged back-to-back PBA D-League crowns, the first squad to do so since the days of the NLEX Road Warriors. Coach Eric Gonzales thus became second coach after Coach Fernandez to win multiple D-League titles.
Continuing from their impressive debut in 2015, the Pilipinas Commercial Basketball League (PCBL) opened 2016 with a bang as Jumbo Plastic Linoleum Giants annexed its second straight trophy in the Chairman’s Cup. Sadly, the PCBL could not sustain its momentum and up to now, fans are still awaiting word on the league’s status for 2017.
While fans hope that it is not goodbye for the PCBL, Philippine basketball bid farewell to the iconic Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga. The many-time national team stalwart was also joined in hoops heaven by legendary coach Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan as well as Coach Baby’s many-time deputy Adriano “Bong” Go, Toyota Tamaraws team owner Ricardo Silverio, broadcasters Emy Arcilla and Ronnie Nathanielsz, MBA pros Bob Allen and Jonas Mariano and FIBA referee Medardo “Butch” Felipe Sr.
Of course, the outlook for 2017 remains bright with a new league looming in the horizon in the National Capital Region Universities and Colleges of Luzon Athletic Association (NCRUCLAA), a product of the union between the NCRAA and UCLAA. The 16-team league will begin play in January with television coverage by BTV and Solar.
For sure, expect a few alphabet soup leagues to sprout left and right as well a few one-hit wonder tournaments, living proof that basketball is alive and well in the Philippines. Again, as long as there is a bouncing ball, big chance we will be there to capture the story.