Category Archives: Basketball

UC’s pride June Mar Fajardo is PBA’s No.1 pick

I spoke to Atty. Augusto Go last Friday. We talked about the most talked-about player in Philippine basketball this week: J.M. Fajardo.

“Before the PBA Rookie Draft,” said Atty. Go, “when he was selected by Petron as the number one pick, he visited me in my UC office. Buotan kaayo. You cannot find a more humble person. June Mar was so grateful and thankful. But I told him, ‘No, it is I who should say thank you for all that you have brought to our school.’”

(SunStar/Arni Aclao)

The 6-foot-10 behemoth of a Cebuano is now a multi-millionaire Manila resident. Set to earn the maximum salary for a rookie of P150,000 per month in his first year (P225,000/month in Year Two and P337,500 in his third year), he will be dribbling and smiling his way to the ATM machine.

Out of the 39 rookies who were chosen to join the PBA—Asia’s first pro basketball league (and reportedly the world’s second oldest after the NBA)—it was June Mar who was picked by fuel giant Petron.

“This fellow is extraordinary,” continued Atty. Gus Go. “He has no airs in him. You know what? Years back, a school in Manila offered him scholarship with a lot of money and he turned that down. He is so humble. Labing grabeha ka buotan. I’m so happy for him.”

Atty. Baldomero “Merong” Estenzo, the Executive Vice Chancellor for the AWG (Augusto W. Go) Group and a huge basketball fan (he’s also a tennis player), confirms the kindhearted heart of their pupil.

“I admire his loyalty to the school and to the team,” said Atty. Estenzo. “He was offered by Smart Gilas through Pato Gregorio. I told Pato that we need June Mar more than they need him. I am very happy that his loyalty to the school has given him his just rewards.”

June Mar Fajardo’s beginnings at the University of Cebu started five years ago when he approached the school wanting to try-out for the team.

Actually, UC was not his first choice. He wanted the University of Southern Philippines (USP).     “Fortunately for us,” said Atty. Estenzo, “USP does not offer a Nautical Course which he wanted to take at that time.” With his 6-foot-5 height at the age of 17, UC grabbed him to join the varsity squad “without any second thoughts,” said Estenzo.

For five years, he donned the blue-and-gold colors of the University of Cebu. He and Greg Slaughter, who wore green for the University of the Visayas (UV), were the “Twin Towers” of Cebu collegiate basketball. For where could you find, anywhere in our 7,107 islands, two giants at 7’0” and 6’10” but in Cebu?

In Fajardo’s last two seasons with the UC Webmasters, he fulfilled his twin ambitions: CESAFI champions and Most Valuable Player awards.

As a student (from his first year in Nautical, he shifted to Hotel and Restaurant Management), June Mar was just as focused inside the classroom as he was on the basketball floor. “He finished his HRM Course last school year,” said Estenzo. “He is well-liked by his teachers because he always tries his best. I think it is indeed an achievement to graduate considering the practices he has to go through aside from his school work.”

Augusto Go concurs: “In my talks with June Mar, I would always tell him, as I do the other varsity players, that you cannot play sports and basketball all your life. It’s important to get a degree.”

Having personally overseen Fajardo’s improvements with UC, I asked Atty. Estenzo what makes his player, apart from his height, stand out.

“As a player, June Mar is determined. He does not complain about hard practices. He is always the first to arrive in practice. He is also one who is willing to sacrifice to learn. We knew then that he will have a very bright future, barring any injuries or falling into temptations. Seldom can you find a player of his height who moves fast and well. He is also easy to teach.”

GOOD NEWS. Announced Gus Go: “Fajardo is coming over with another UC alumni, Don-Don Hontiveros. Petron will have an exhibition game on Sept. 9 at the Cebu Coliseum versus the All-Star selection of Cesafi.”

PRISAA in Cebu

From this Sunday until next Saturday (April 22 – 28), our island will be hosting one of the largest sporting events of 2012: the PRISAA National Collegiate Games. PRISAA stands for the Private Schools Athletics Association and our PRISAA Region 7 (Cebu, Bohol and Dumaguete) will be welcoming collegiate athletes from all over the country.

Fr. Vicente Uy, SVD is one of the most humble, friendly and sports-loving people I know. He’s also one of the most senior officials of the SVD (Univ. of San Carlos). But more than his lofty credentials in the academe, he’s the national president of the PRISAA.

That’s a mighty job. But Fr. Vic, whom I’ve played tennis with on several occasions, has sports dribbling inside his heart—and so he’s most capable.

How big is the National PRISAA event next week? Consider this: Delegates from Regions 1 up to 13, from CAR, CARAGA, ARRM, NCR and the host Region 7 will be competing.

Each regional team has over 320 participants (270 athletes and 50 coaches/officials). If we multiply that with the 17 regions and add the 200 officiating personnel, we’ve got over 6,000 participants landing in Cebu next week. Wow. This is huge.

Events? Plenty. There’s baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, football, softball, volleyball, athletics, badminton, boxing, chess, dancesport, karatedo, lawn tennis, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo and cultural competitions such as vocal solo and Miss Mutya.

The last time Cebu hosted the PRISAA? Ten years ago. It’s about time. Plus, very timely, the newly-refurbished Cebu City Sports Center will open its doors and rubberized track oval to welcome the visitors.

CYBL: Part 2

Rico Navarro is one of the nine members of the new Board of Directors of the Cebu Football Association (CFA). The other CFA officials include Ricky Dakay, Joey Herrera, Fr. Heinz Kuiueke, Rodney Orale, Raffy Musni, Nimrod Quiñones, Glenn Quisido and Michael Veloso. I heard that the election, held last Saturday, was highly politicized. From the original 25 voting members, the number ballooned to 43. Cheska Geli wrote a story on this two days ago; Mars Alison of CDN did the same. Let’s hope the new CFA Board will be able to fulfill one of the most often-used terms in football clubs (Manchester U., Don Bosco U., Queen City U.).

The word? UNITED. Let’s kick politics out of football.

Back to Rico: will he? I mean, as suggested by Mike Limpag a few weeks ago, will Mr. Navarro become the CFA president? Maybe. Maybe not. But here’s one fact: in sports, this tall, giant of a sportsman has made an impact in Cebu. Not only does Rico lead the athletic program of Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu, he’s helped a lot in basketball.

I wrote about the Cebu Youth Basketball League on Palm Sunday. The CYBL is a brainchild project of Rico and, starting in 2007, it has evolved from four teams to 42 today.

One of the additions to CYBL 2012 was the Under-19 category, which ended last Thursday. “The U19 final was the second down the wire championship game in 2012 but it was hands down the best ever game in CYBL history,” said Rico. “The U10 finals was also a thriller where Job Reyes (Coach Mike’s son) made two free throws with 47 seconds left to lead USC South to a 32-31 win over USC North. We also had an OT thriller in the U16 championship game of 2011 when USJR defeated USC North.”

What happened in the U19 final? Adgers Sportswear was leading University of San Carlos/RDAK by six points, 75-69, with only five seconds left. They celebrated. Victory was theirs. Five seconds to go! A six point lead!

But not so fast. “Michael Rita drilled a double-pump triple with 4.5 seconds left in the game to cut the lead to 75-72,” said Rico. “And after Adgers failed to control the leather to run out the clock, John Saycon made a ‘Hail Mary’ triple from beyond the half-court line. He shot the ball from about 16 meters away from the ring (note that the full court is 28 meters long).”

Swoosh. The ball went in! 75-all. OT. After another flurry of excitement, it was 85-all. Time expired. Double overtime. Then, with only 48.5 seconds left, the score was 91-91. A third OT? No, as Adgers escaped with a 93-92 score to win the ThreeSixty Pharmacy Cup 2012 at the City Sports Club Cebu.

I spoke to Rico the day after the U19 finals and he was ecstatic. He had never witnessed a game as electrifying. More details on CYBL 2012? “The tournament started on Jan. 23 and ended on March 29 (U19 finals). However, the U10 & U13 games ended on Mar. 3, while the U16 finals was on Mar. 10 (to stay clear from the 4th Qtr Exams),” Rico said. Main CYBL venue: SHS-AdC Mango Ave Campus. Satellite venues: Don Bosco, USC South Campus & CEC.

“With our expansion, Medellin Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MSSAA) is now a regular participant in our tournaments, thanks to Vice Mayor Al Lim. They traveled every week to Cebu to play in the CYBL,” he added. “We also initiated CYBL Visayas Goodwill Games in June 2011 when we hosted St. John’s Institute of Bacolod. The faced SHS-AdC, CEC & USC North in a pre-season friendly tournament for the U12 age group. In the works: Ateneo de Davao is coming over in May for a Vismin Goodwill Games. We’ll also invite St. John’s Institute Bacolod, USLS, & Ateneo de Iloilo.”

Looking ahead to 2013, Rico’s group plans to hold a yearly coaches’ seminar with the help of Ateneo de Manila. “Cebu needs this,” he said. “Our coaches are left behind by their colleagues in Manila in terms of professional development (technical know-how, coaching philosophy, people/player management, sports psychology). Also, we need to spread the base to Mandaue & Lapu-Lapu.”

Rico Navarro’s Cebu Youth Basketball League

Rico (left) with Chito Loyzaga (center), who recently announced his resignation from the Phil. Sports Commission

Because he is a fellow sportswriter, a member of The Freeman’s pool of columnists, it would be awkward for him to receive an award given by an organization that he’s part of. Thus, the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC) did not honor its fellow member, Rico Navarro. It would have been self-serving. And Rico is too nice and honorable a person—plus, he’s our perennial emcee—to insist on getting recognized during the 30th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards. But what Rico has done the past five years deserves plenty of applause and credit.

CYBL. Spelled in long words, it’s the Cebu Youth Basketball League. It started as a vision and dream of Rico back in 2007. He posed the question, “Why are there very few basketball tournaments for the youth?”

He asked. He dared. He dreamed. Best of all, he acted. With a glaring “loophole” in Cebu’s youth basketball scene, he started CYBL. Rico explains the rationale: “CYBL is a youth-based basketball league that seeks to provide a platform for grassroots development in Cebu basketball. We work hand in hand with schools for the total and holistic development of their student-athletes. Our dream is to be able to have CYBL products present in all the major school-based leagues in the country.”

Lofty. Grassroots-based. Far-looking project. Rico, who now heads the entire sports program of the Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu, added: “Back in 2007, basketball activity for boys 16 and under in Cebu was limited. We needed a solid year-round program of activities for 16, 13 & 10 Under boys.”

And so, in 2007, CYBL started. Like any start-up, it began small. Only four teams joined in one age-group division, 12-years-and-under. That was called a Prelude.

Then, in CYBL 1 in 2008, those four teams tripled to 12. “What started as friendly games turned into a full-blown tournament,” said Rico. There were two groups: 16 and 13 Under. The champions? USC North (U13) and USC South (U16).

Word spread. Players huddled. Coaches scrambled. In 2009, more children dribbled and shot-blocked and rebounded than ever before. From four to 12… CYBL ballooned to 26 teams and three age groups (16, 13 and 10). The winners: USC North (U10), USC South (U13), UC (U16).

In 2010, the tournament was named ML Kwarta Padala Cup 2010 and the same number (26) of teams participated in the February to March event. Last year, 35 teams joined. The champions? 16 Under – USJR; 13 Under – SHS Ateneo de Cebu; and 10 Under – USC North.

What has the CYBL achieved? “The Fruits,” Rico calls them, he enumerates nine:

1) CYBL has become an important developmental venue for players.

2) Cebu (SHS-Ateneo de Cebu) won the 2010 & 2011 Milo BEST national championship (Passerelle division).

3) Cebu won both the Passerelle & SBP divisions of the 2010 Milo BEST Visayas Championships (a first for Cebu).

4) Cebu won three straight NBTC national championships: UV in 2010, SHS-AdC in 2011 & 2012.

5) All of NBTC’s players have played in the CYBL.

6) To-date: 6-8 CYBL products are now with UAAP or NCAA high school teams.

7) CESAFI’s Juniors teams are filled with CYBL players

8) CYBL products to play in Manila this SY 2012-2013.

9) Henry Asilum made it to the Philippine Youth Under 16 Team.

Wow. These are impressive achievements. In a short few years, what existed only in the mind of one passionate sportsman has evolved into a big-time, we-must-join-the-CYBL program.

How about for 2012? A new corporate sponsor has emerged, ThreeSixty Pharmacy—whose aggressiveness in their expansion and all-out thrust to help out in sports (running and basketball) we’ve all been amazed at.

This 2012, the ThreeSixty Pharmacy Cup has added a fourth age category: 19 and Under. Prior to CYBL 2012, Rico stated four goals: a) CYBL will become THE basketball activity for 16, 13 & 10 Under age groups of Cebu; b) Add an Under 19 age group; c) CYBL will become the developmental league of the CESAFI and, (d) CYBL will “complete” the basketball programs of Cebu schools or school “networks.”

Chance favors the prepared

My best friend Dr. Ronald Eullaran’s favorite saying is this: “Chance favors the prepared.” Pause for a moment and think about those four words. Chance favors the prepared.

This is the story of Jeremy Lin. You think he’s a one-shot wonder, someone who was a nobody and, due to a lucky break, was just fortunate to become the world’s newest superstar? No. All his life, Jeremy Lin prepared for that moment. That “Chance,” that one opportunity to shine, was never presented to him before. Before college, he applied to join the best basketball universities in America. UCLA. Stanford. UC, Berkley. He was turned down. He ended up in Harvard. (Not bad!)

After Harvard, he sent his resume to fulfill a lifelong dream: becoming an NBA player. He submitted his credentials to eight NBA squads. All eight said, “Sorry, kid, you’re not good enough.”

Finally, Jeremy did enter the league and joined the Golden State Warriors. He wasn’t golden there; he was a golden bench-warmer — asked to sit down and lay golden eggs on the bench. Next, he got transferred to the New York Knicks where, sleeping in his friend’s couch, he was weeks away from being cut.

Then, the moment he’d been waiting for all his life appeared. Many call it “lucky break.” Some say its “opportunity” or “good fortune” or a “stroke of luck.” It was Jeremy Lin’s chance. A couple of players from the Knicks got injured. Having few options — and in desperation after their team lost 11 of their last 13 games — coach Mike D’Antoni called the forever-sitting Jeremy Lin to play ball.

Game One, he scored 25 points. Game 2, he scored another 28 points. Against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, he shot 38. In Jeremy’s first seven games with NY, they were 7-0. From a win-loss record of 8-15, they climbed to 15-all. In the process, Lin became the NBA’s first-ever player to score at least 20 points and pass for seven or more assists in each of his first five starts. Even Michael Jordan couldn’t achieve that!

Of course, as expected, New York has slipped in their last few games, including a loss yesterday to Dallas. Still, they’re a respectable 18-20 today; having won 10 and lost five since Lin joined.

Lin is the world’s super-hero. Chance? Swerte? Luck? Yes. Of course. Everybody who’s good needs good luck. And, true enough, many who are good are luckier. But remember this: Chance favors the prepared. All his life, Jeremy prepared for the moment. In high school, he averaged 15 points per game. In college at Harvard and while studying the difficult Economics course, he averaged 16 PPG in his senior year.

Jeremy Lin is not surprised at his success — like we all are — because he prepared for it.

What does this tell us, ordinary mortals? Prepare. Whatever it is you want to pursue in life — sports-related or work-related or school-related or any dream that you own in life — be ready. Your opportunity will come. Maybe it hasn’t. It possibly won’t be today, next Friday, or this April. But it will come. And, when it does, be ready.

As inspiration to all of us, here are a few quotations…

“The will to prepare is as important as the will to win.” – Bud Wilkinson

“Don’t go to the fishpond without a net.” ~ Japanese Proverb

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” ~ Henry Ford

“Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: ‘Are your ready?’” – Johnny Carson

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” ~ Louis Pasteur

“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“Today’s preparation determines tomorrow’s achievement.”

“It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” – Whitney Young

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Weep? No, says Yayoy, as UC attempts a sweep

Never before in the 10-year-old history of the Cebu Schools Association Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) has a team come from 0-2 down in the finals to win. Not in 2001 when the league started. Not last year when the University of Cebu (UC) won the basketball collegiate crown for the first time. Not when UV — the University of the Visayas — won for the first nine seasons of the CESAFI.

Yayoy Alcoseba will change history beginning today.

“One game at a time,” said Alcoseba. “Before we can think of a full comeback, we’ll have to win today. That’s our goal. We can only think about winning a second and a third game if we win today.”

Raul Alcoseba is not acknowledged as the most successful coach — possibly of any sport ever in Cebu — for nothing. He’s won for M. Lhuillier a thousand times. He’s won for Balls. For Cebu Doctors a long while back. For ML Kwarta Padala. For many more teams and schools in the past decades.

Can Yayoy do it again with Southwestern University? Today? Win Game 3 against the behemoth named June Mar Fajardo? And win again in Game 4? Then once more in Game 5? This is impossible. It seems inconceivable. But the most trusted man of Michel Lhuillier has always been challenged by the most challenging of events.

Today’s Game 3 is such a challenge. “In the first two games of the finals,” Yayoy said, “we almost won. In Game 1, we had a chance. In Game 2, we had another chance but lost in overtime.”

That’s true. It’s not like SWU has been clobbered by UC. In last Monday’s Game 2, they should have won. With 160 seconds left in the ballgame, his SWU Cobras led the Webmasters, 73-70. They had ball possession. A two-pointer would have given them an insurmountable five-point advantage.

But, no. They made mistake after mistake. Justin Aboude was called for traveling. In their next possession, they were called for a 24-second violation. Inexperience. That’s what Yayoy calls it.

“UC has been in the finals three straight years,” he said. “In their first finals, they lost to UV. Last year, they won it. This season, they’re in the finals again. It shows. They have composure in the end.”

SWU has to play like they’ve got no tomorrow. Which is true. If, tonight at 6:45, when the two teams clash at the Cebu Coliseum, SWU once more loses, that’s it. There’s no tomorrow. They have to give it everything they’ve got — plus, plus.

“It’s the first time our players are in the finals,” said Yayoy. “We’ve had chances. We just can’t close out the games.”

Fajardo? The nearly-seven-foot-tall center who will surely be in the PBA soon?

“We cannot stop Fajardo,” he said. “What we need to do is to stop the three guards of UC. In Game 2, each of the three guards scored double-figures. We can’t win if that happens again. We have to stop that.”

The Cebu City Councilor, who’s been coaching the M. Lhuillier team for 25 years now, has never been 0-2 down. In fact, quite interesting to report it, the veteran coach has never, ever before been part of a three-out-of-five series.

“The CESAFI series is unique,” Yayoy said. “If you study the other leagues, they’re all either a two-out-of-three or a best-of-seven series. The NBA and the PBA are best-of-seven; the UAAP, NCAA and Liga are all best-of-three. It’s only the CESAFI that’s best-of-five.”

So, Yayoy has never been in this situation before. Never been 0-2 down. Never been with a youthful team in a three-out-of-five scenario.

Maybe, just maybe, if his Cobras win tonight… and, miraculously, again the next game… they might win it all. Won’t that be for the storybooks? Like CEC’s fairytale championship win last season? Amazing, if it happens.

But for Mr. Fajardo and his Team UC, that will be a tall, tall, giant, giant order.

A chat with Donnie Nietes and Greg Slaughter

We spoke in Ilonggo. “Ari ko diri sang September 16 pa (I’ve been here since Sept. 16),” said world champion Donnie Nietes, when we talked late yesterday afternoon.

He arrived in Bacolod City early. “Para maka plastar gid (So I’ll be prepared),” he said.

Speaking from the mobile phone of his trainer, Edmund Villamor, he sounded upbeat. “100 percent ready na ko,” said Donnie, who spoke while at the Hotel Pavilion in Bacolod. Donnie mentioned that he had been training rigorously at both the Guanzon Stable and the One On One Gym.

This Saturday’s WBO light flyweight world championship bout against Mexican invader Ramon Garcia Hirales will be Nietes’ second major battle inside the La Salle Bacolod Gymnasium.

ATENEO CHAMP. Also late yesterday, I talked to a man who, physically, is the opposite of Nietes. Because while the ALA boxer is diminutive and weighs less than 108 lbs., Greg Slaughter is a towering giant.

Stand them side-by-side and you can’t find a more interesting pair. Nietes stands 5-foot-3; Slaugher is a 7-footer. That’s a 21-inch height difference.

Mr. Slaughter did his slaughtering last Saturday, winning the championship. It’s the turn of Mr. Nietes this Saturday to win his championship.

How did you celebrate? I asked Greg. Soft-spoken and humble, he said that he and his teammates went to the Church of the Gesu. “We heard mass to give thanks,” said Greg. “Several of those graduating from our team spoke.”

Did you give a speech? “No I did not.”

When I called yesterday, Greg had just gotten home from class. “School’s still going on for two weeks,” he said. Their big celebration after Ateneo De Manila University won its fourth straight UAAP title will be this Saturday during a giant bonfire party, an Ateneo tradition.

“It’s always sweet to be a champion,” Greg added. “Every time you win, from my wins in UV to this one here in Ateneo, it feels good.”

I reminded Greg that, since he arrived in the Philippines, each year he’s played college basketball, he’s been a champ. Next season? “I don’t know,” said Greg. He still has one more season with Ateneo and, most-likely, will be back.

How about the PBA? “Haven’t really thought about it yet. Exam week is coming up so that’s my focus now.”

The good news for Cebuanos? Greg will take a weekend vacation here. “I want to visit Cebu, to go back,” he said. “I’ll be there this October.”

DONNIE. Back to “The City of Smiles” for this weekend’s Bacolod spectacle, I also spoke to ALA Promotions’ Chad Cañares.

“Donnie’s opponent is arriving at 5:30 this afternoon,” he said yesterday. “The people here in Bacolod are excited. Ticket outlets are doing well. Many are asking for the VIP tickets.”

Their schedule is packed. Today is the media day for Ramon Garcia Hirales at the SM City Bacolod. Tomorrow, it’s the public workout of the fighters, also at SM. On Thursday, it’s the official press conference. On Friday, it’s the weigh-in, again at the SM City. The judges arrive on Thursday; the referee, on Friday.

As to the Pay-Per-View (PPV) here in Cebu, Chad announced that, because of the huge demand, that instead of SM City’s Cinema 1 (which seats 800), the venue is moved to Cinema 7, with a seating capacity of 1,200.

PINK OCTOBER. This Sunday, it’s the yearly Pink October Run to be held at The Terraces of Ayala Center Cebu. Distances are 10K, 5K and 3K.

Me’anne Alcordo Solomon, one of Cebu’s most vibrant of Rotarians, is helping organize many of this month’s activities. To join the run and the many other activities, visit Active Zone of Ayala Center.

As the Pink October organizers would say, “Remember: Early Detection Saves Lives… Early Detection Saves Money… Early Detection Is The Cure!”

The Manny Pacquiao of Philippine business

The MVPs of sports: Monico Puentevalla, Manny P. and Manny P.

Manny makes the world go round. Or, as we’ve been taught since pre-school: “Money makes the world go round.” In Philippine business and in Philippine sports, it’s the former statement: Manny does make the earth revolve. The two Mannys I’m referring to are: Pangilinan and Pacquiao.

MannyPa. Manny Pangilinan is the MVP of our country’s world of commerce. Pitted against billionaires named Lucio, Henry, Aboitiz, Zobel, E. Razon, Gokongwei, Andrew Tan, and Cojuangco, the MVP of them all is MVP.

He may not be the richest. He did not inherit a 175-year-old company named “Ayala.” He’s not even married and doesn’t have children. But, if you make a survey among CEOs and ask who, among their fellow chieftains, is the most aggressive industrialist in today’s corporate setting, the answer is obvious: MannyPa.

He is either the chairman or the president of these giant companies: PLDT, Meralco, ABC/TV5, San Beda College (Board of Trustees), Smart Communications, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Piltel, Metro Pacific Tollways Corp…. and many, Manny more.

I write about him because of his involvement in sports. Again, compared to a long-time heavyweight in sports like, for example, Danding Cojuangco of San Miguel Corporation, nobody has done more for our nation than Manny Pangilinan.

He rebuilt Ateneo. They’re the three-time UAAP champions. And, with Kiefer and Greg, they’re expected to slaughter all opposition this school year.

He patronized the San Beda Red Lions. It was at San Beda where he studied his elementary and high school. In return, he’s helped their basketball program. The result? The Red Lions are the 2010-11 champions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. This means that, in both the UAAP and NCAA, the twin teams that MVP supported are the champions.

Smart man? In the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), he owns two teams: the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and the Meralco Bolts. Talk ‘N Text have won the 2010-2011 Philippine Cup and the Commissioner’s Cup.

The Smart Gilas squad? Of course, based on their first name, “Smart,” it’s clear who sponsors our Philippine amateur team. MVP leads the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas. In boxing, he also leads the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP). His long-term goal: to produce the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal. In taekwondo, MVP also bolsters their national program.

And, if all this success within our Philippine shores were not enough, Manny P. attempted a deal that’s never been accomplished by any Filipino, ever: The purchase of an NBA team. MVP lobbied to buy the Sacramento Kings. “I have to admit, the idea is very titillating,” he said. “It’s a great tribute to the country… Whether we do it or not, it’s a great idea for a Filipino group to own an NBA team.”

The plan was for MVP to pay as much as $260 million for a majority stake in the Kings. This whopping figure (about P10 billion in Php Pesos) would have been funded, according to reports, by “his personal capacity.” Unfortunately, it appears that the deal won’t push through. But, whether it’s next season or three years from now, expect MVP, now 65 years old, to pursue that NBA dream.

Well, here we are this weekend of July 23 and 24. On the topic of the NBA, if MVP cannot purchase a team, he might as well bring their best players to our shores. Lucky for Manila but unlucky for us taga-probinsya, MVP has invited MVPs Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose. Also in Manila are Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derek Fisher and many more are here.

Last night, the NBA selection played the PBA All-Stars. Today, at 1 p.m., Kobe and Co. will face Chris Tiu and the Smart Gilas national squad. Yesterday’s game was shown live on (where else), the IBC 13 (TV5) network of Mr. Pangilinan, while today’s game will be shown delayed at 5:30 p.m.

The venue? No longer called Araneta Coliseum, it’s recently been renamed to… “Smart Araneta Coliseum.”

Smart, aggressive, sports-obsessive… what a Most Valuable Pinoy.

Hapit! Mandaue’s Landmasters/RDAK scares Smart Gilas

Marcus Douthit is 6’11”. Japeth Aguilar stands 6-foot-9. Together, side by side, standing on the parquet floor with their arms outstretched like wingspans of two Airbus A380s, they’re unstoppable.

I watched them play last Thursday. Inside the Mandaue City Cultural and Sports Complex, the Philippine team called the “Smart-Gilas Pilipinas” faced Cebu’s latest phenomenon, the Mandaue-Landmasters/RDAK squad.

We beat them. Hapit. Almost. With 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in the 4th quarter, our locals led the nationals, 64-61. This was after Mandaue’s latest recruit, Vic Manuel, did the unthinkable against the Gilas giants: In a fast-break, with two hands gripping the ball, Manuel vaulted up on air and slam-dunked. Yes! Mandaue slam-dunked Gilas.

I arrived at the gymnasium during the start of the 3rd quarter. Of the gym’s 5,000-seating capacity, the venue was 70 percent full.

We did not lead all the way. Earlier, Gilas led by as much as 16 points when the score was 37-21. They dominated. Like they did the night before in Cebu Coliseum, against the M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala, when the Cebu Niños suffered a humbling 89-62 loss. That’s a 27-point margin.

Not in Mandaue City. I was seated between the two most influential VIPs in the coliseum that night: to my left sat Joe Soberano, the CEO of Cebu Landmasters, Inc. and the owner of the team; to my right was the Vice Mayor of Mandaue, Glenn Bercede. With them cheering from the front lines, Mandaue was invigorated. They played inspired basketball.

VM Glenn Bercede

With 92 seconds left in the ballgame, the score was 68-66. Gilas led. Then, as the seconds inched forward, the score read 72-70. Only 22 seconds were left. Imagine, our Landmasters/RDAK lineup had a good chance to tie—or possibly defeat—the much-heralded PHL team?

UPSET! Can you picture the headline-grabbing news that this will generate, nationwide? ‘PINAS LOSES TO M’DAUE!

And though this wasn’t a tournament, still, a game is a game. Nobody wants to lose. Not even in an exhibition contest.

With 15 seconds left in the final quarter, the score was 73-72. We had a terrific chance. When Gilas made a two-pointer to make it 75-72, we owned ball possession. A three-point shot to make it 75-all would have ended the game. Exhibition matches don’t extend to Overtime.

Mandaue did a trick shot. One player (I could not recall who), who was to do the inbounds pass, could not find an open man so he did a crazy yet effective ploy: he bounced the ball off the opponent’s back, caught it, then the ball was in play. He then passed it to his teammate. Smart play against Smart!

But, in the end, the 75-75 “dream score” would not happen: the Landmasters turned-over the ball in their last possession and Gilas scored one last time.

Final score: 77-72. (Had two-time MVP Mark Magsumbol played, many from the crowd, including Caecent, believed we’d have won.)

Despite the loss, VM Glenn Bercede was all-smiles. Looking fit and lean (he plays basketball, up to this day, at least twice a week), the top sportsman/ official is not only a huge basketball follower, he helps Landmasters/RDAK in all ways that he can. Two other ecstatic fans were Atty. Lito Pascual, the sports chieftain of Mandaue, and Rere King, the owner of RDAK.

Landmasters/RDAK is a three-time Liga Pilipinas weekly/leg champion. In this SMC Liga Pilipinas Conference V (fifth season), the first three legs were won not by Manny Pacquiao’s GenSan-MP Warriors… but by Jose Soberano’s group.

In the recent fourth leg, though, they lost to Misamis Oriental Meteors, the eventual champion. It all ends in the “Super Leg,” the Grand Championship, at the Xavier University Gym in Cagayan de Oro City starting this Tuesday, from July 12 to 17.

Too bad Cebu won’t be hosting the Super Leg. It would have given us home-court advantage. Still, with a 12-4 win-loss record in the past four weeks, and a performance last Thursday that had Gilas’ Chris Tiu in difficulty (he was blocked), let’s hope for a super win in the Super Leg.

Greg Slaughter: From UV to Gilas to Ateneo

“I’m doing good,” said Greg Slaughter, yesterday. “Just getting ready for the season.”

“The season,” of course, refers to the UAAP Season 74 that opens this July 9. Greg was “pirated” from the University of the Visayas by Ateneo de Manila University. This happened last year.

Are all your documents OK? I asked. “Well, they haven’t officially released the decision,” he said. “But I think I’ll be all right.”

Greg moved to Manila in 2010. But, after arriving at the Quezon City campus of ADMU, he could not wear the Blue Eagles uniform because of the one-year-residency ruling. He waited. For the meantime, he donned the Smart Gilas jersey.

This UAAP season, Greg and his Ateneo coach, Norman Black, whom I spoke to over the phone two weeks ago, are excited.

After winning three CESAFI trophies from 2007 to 2009 here in Cebu, Greg’s shift from UV’s green garb to Ateneo’s blue motif will mean one giant move for this giant: Ateneo will win Consecutive Title No. 4.

“I miss Cebu,” Greg said. “But I’ve had no time to visit. Been busy with Gilas and the PBA. And, after that, with the Ateneo training camp. Our team flew to Las Vegas. I’ve also been busy with school.”

Is Ateneo difficult? “It’s pretty tough,” said the only player in CESAFI history to have won the season MVP, the All-Star MVP, and the Finals MVP in the same season (2008). “School is tough but they help us. I’ve got tutors.”

Finally, I asked Greg, given all the good nutrition that they provide in Manila, if he’s grown even taller. (I once asked him, “When you fully stretch your arms, how near are you from the basketball ring?” His reply: “My fingers are about 8 inches away. I can tap the backboard and grip the middle of the net while standing!”)

Greg’s answer: “I’ve reached the limit. I’m 7 feet tall.”

With that height, Ateneo will stand tall this year while their enemies will have a tall, tall order.

At the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards; from left, Raffy Uytiepo, Jun Migallen, John P., Manny, Greg, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo

Past articles I wrote about Greg:

As Greg slaughters, UV marches to No. 8 this ‘08

Greg Slaughter: Q & A with the triple MVP

The ‘Tim Duncan’ of Cebu basketball speaks

With UV’s 9th prize, Eddiegul is on Cloud 9

MARIA. Ms. Sharapova is blonde, tantalizing, long-legged at 6-foot-1; she adorns the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and is the world’s richest female athlete. The sports giant Nike just paid her $70 million for an eight-year deal to wear The Swoosh. She earns $25 million total, through sponsorships, every 12 months.

Sharapova is the prettiest face and the sexiest body in sports. That’s according to me, to Mike, to you, and to Sasha Vujacic, whom Maria will soon marry.

What makes Ms. MS so appealing? Everything. Her face glimmers. Her three Grand Slam singles trophies radiate. Her seductive photos adorn Google. Her mini-skirt flutters open. Her aggressive backhands obliterate women. Her shrieks echo in Centre Court.

Maria has won Wimbledon before. This was in 2004 when, as a 17-year-old, she surfaced as the winner in a “Beauty versus the Be(a)st” contest against Serena Williams. Sadly, since that surprise moment seven years back, Maria has never won the London major title again.

Until this Saturday. Against unknowns Sabine Lisicki, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, we know the result. Three are not glamorous; one is. And the prettiest wins. It’s about time. The last time that Sharapova won a major was the Australian Open in 2008. Since then, she’s been plagued by a chronic shoulder injury.

Helped by the losses of the Williams’ sisters and of No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniaki, the path has been made easier for the California-based netter who moved from her native Siberia, Russia to Florida at the age of seven.

ROTARY. Like Pres. Noynoy Aquino, I celebrate my one year as president of the Rotary Club of Cebu West today, June 30. But, unlike P-Noy, whose term extends for 60 more months, I step down by midnight. Starting tomorrow, July 1, a new leader will guide our club—one of the oldest-running in the country, at 49 years old. Our new chief is Lenton Beltran. To all of Cebu’s outgoing Rotary officers… smile. You deserve it. To District Governor Ted Locson: Congratulations! And, to our incoming RCCW president, Lenton, enjoy the fabulous ride on the Rotary wheel!

Dear Dads: Give Presence not Presents

Dad (center, standing) with the family during Jana’s graduation

Dad with the first Filipino on Mt. Everest, Leo Oracion, and my daughter Jana

Of all the blessings that the Lord has gifted me and my three brothers (Michael, Randy, Charlie) and one sister (Mary Cheryl Anne), the most important was giving us extraordinary parents. My mom, Maria Elena “Allen,” and my dad, Manuel “Bunny,” were always there for us.

My dad taught me about sports. He biked, pedaling a “racer” (road-bike). He jogged. He walloped that pelota racket. He exchanged tennis volleys with Monico Puentevella at the Negros Occidental Tennis Association (NOTA) courts in Bacolod City.

He showed me the importance of a daily sweat. He lived it. He practiced the age-old adage: “A healthy body equals a healthy mind.”

Bunny Pages played basketball. No, he wasn’t in the PBA. That was his younger brother, Ray, who wore the Crispa Redmanizers jersey. My dad joined the Bacolod Professionals (BAPRO), a gathering of executives and businessmen—all united by the same love of sport as Moses Malone and Paul Westhphal. This was in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. As the eldest child, I’d tag along. A tall, 6-footer forward, my dad scored 23+ points, his jump-shot from the side was unstoppable, like George Gervin’s.

My brother Charlie and I played basketball. We joined the La Salle Bacolod varsity team.

One of my life’s most unforgettable moments was in our Intramurals. Facing a team in the Finals composed of the best in our Grade 7 batch, our underdog team fought. It came down to the last few seconds. I was fouled. Make both free throws and we win the championship; miss one attempt and we lose. The La Salle Gymnasium was packed. Cheering engulfed the indoor arena. At 13 years old, it was unbearable pressure.

Swish. Swish. We won.

The reason for all this? My dad. He recognized early-on our passion for basketball and he built, right at our backyard in Mountain View Subdivision, a half-court so that all-afternoon-long, after school, we’d dribble and practice lay-ups. Each night, after Charlie and I would rush to finish our homework, we’d turn on the spotlights and play until our elbows ached and our necks stiffened.

Thanks to the green-painted basketball court, our skills improved. Our La Salle elementary team won the overall championship in Bacolod. I was the point guard and was adjudged the MVP.

I cite this example because it’s true. It’s personal. And, now as a father to my 12-year-old daughter Jana, I look back at what my dad did and apply the many learnings I’ve accumulated.

My dad and mom were always there. Always. Always. Always. Always. In basketball contests, tennis matches, declamation performances, PTA meetings—in anything and everything that had to do with their most-loved possessions, their children… they were present.

Be present. Remember that presence is more essential than gifts. Children spell love. . . T-I-M-E. Above all things, our life here on earth will be measured by how much time we spent with our children. I believe in this mathematical formula: the amount of time you spend with your children is commensurate to how good your children will become. Trust me on this. That’s what I’ve experienced with my own parents.

More time + attention = Better children.

Sports? Above all things, this is one activity where you and your child will bond best. Sport means playing. And don’t children love to play? Find the game that your child enjoys. Jog together. Swim. The more time you and your child spend playing, the healthier you become; the healthier your relationship.

To my dad… I love you. Thanks to your childhood present—that basketball court—and to your presence. Happy Father’s Day!

Me and dad in Seoul, Korea

During the Davis Cup with Treat Huey and Cecil Mamiit

Joe Soberano leads the Cebu Landmasters

ROTARY: RC Cebu President Joe Soberano (third from left) during the turn-over ceremony of the Gift of Life Project of Rotary; (from left) Jun Ferreros, Romy Dy Pico, Dr. Potenciano Larrazabal, Jr, John Pages, Dr. Peter Mancao and Oscar Tuason

Last weekend, no Cebuano was happier than the president of the Rotary Club of Cebu and the CEO of Cebu Landmasters…. Jose Soberano. His basketball team, Cebu Landmasters/RDAK, beat a squad that’s invincible, M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala — not once but two times in the SMC Liga Pilipinas Conference V.

In last Friday’s elimination game, Soberano’s team, which bannered Mandaue City, bested Lhuillier, 78-68. Then, 24 hours later, in the finals, they duplicated the feat against the reigning national champs, 66-49.

“That was a rare feat,” said Soberano. “Nobody can just blow-out the winningest basketball ball-club of the country (outside of the PBA) for two consecutive games. It was unbelievable but it did happen which proved the maxim that the ball is indeed round. I wish we can win more often and I am sure that the great Lhuillier team will not take this sitting down.”

Ever gracious and humble in both victory and defeat, Joe Soberano deserves a Cebu Coliseum-packed thunderous applause.

Dr. Yayoy’s prognosis? It’s Miami vs. L.A.

Every year, I consult a doctor. His specialization isn’t centered on Internal Medicine, osteoporosis or Dentistry. It’s centered on Centers. On point guards, 3-point shots and the NBA Play-offs. Each year, I consult Dr. Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. He’s a Cebu City Councilor, now on his third term. He’s the M. Lhuillier coach. He’s the most famous and successful guru on dribbling and rebounding outside Manila. To me, he’s the best — including the PBA.

He’s a doctor. He screens patients (players), analyses their defects, he corrects, supplies medicine (more weight-training?) and ensures that they’re robust. Like a true physician. Plus, he owns a degree that none of is will ever achieve: Doctorate on Basketology. (Shouldn’t UC or UV confer such a title on Dr. Alcoseba?)

The Coach with Freddie Roach

“Between the NBA’s Eastern and Western conferences, I prefer the East,” the coaching wizard explained by phone from his City Hall office yesterday morning. “The Lakers lost in Game One. Same with the Spurs. These are upset victories by the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies. Los Angeles and San Antonio no longer have the home-court advantage. At this level of game, in the playoffs, you cannot afford to take any seed for-granted. You have to concentrate all the time. Everybody has to be 100 percent.”

The Lakers were dismal in their 109-100 defeat. “I watched that game,” said Yayoy. “They had no defense. No intensity.” Aiming for their third straight NBA crown, the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, said Alcoseba, will have difficulty winning No. 3 in a row. “The hardest thing is a three-peat,” he said. “It’s mental. I’ve been in such situations with many teams before. It’s so difficult to maintain the intensity, that level, after winning two straight titles. Sometimes, the edge is gone. It’s mental. At times, a team becomes complacent. Or overconfident, mo-kompyansa. With Game 2 against the Hornets, that’s a must-win for L.A. One more loss and they’re down 0-2.”

If that happens and the Lakers proceed to lose to New Orleans, it will be one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. “The Hornets is the No. 8 seed,” said Yayoy. “They were not even expected to be in the playoffs. They had, what, a 1-7 start to the regular season? Still, I expect Kobe and his team to defeat the Hornets.”

San Antonio Spurs? They’re the No.1 seed in the West, right? “Yes, they are,” he said. “But they lost (101-98 loss to Memphis) because Manu Ginobili, who averages nearly 20 a game, did not play Game One. I’m sure when he returns, the Spurs, who are the top-seeds, will bounce back.”

For the Western Division, the doctor predicts the two first-game losers, L.A. and San Antonio, to make it to the second round. But his prediction on the finalists? “I think the Lakers and the Oklahoma Thunder will be in the Western finals.”

In the East, Yayoy prefers Youth versus Experience. “I don’t see Boston, with their three older players — Garnett, Pierce and Allen — making it to the conference finals.” In fact, it was only minutes before we spoke that I checked the results via the internet: Boston escaped with an 87-85 victory against the New York Knicks when Ray Allen made a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.

“It’s Miami vs. Chicago in the East,” predicted Yayoy. As for Chicago, one player stands out: Derrick Rose. “He will be the MVP. He has everything. He owns double-double numbers. He scores (averaging 25 points per game) and assists (7.7 APG). He hits big shots in crucial moments. He’s a clutch player. Hands-down, he’s the NBA’s MVP.”

The Bulls or the Heat? “I’d choose Miami. The three — LeBron, Wade and Bosh — will be too strong. In the end, the Finals, it will go down to the contest that everybody wants to see: Heat vs. Lakers.”

A self-confessed Lakers fan who correctly predicted the wins of L.A. the past two seasons, does Dr. Alcoseba anticipate the same result in 2011? “The Lakers will have a hard time. As I said, a three-peat is extremely difficult. I think LeBron will prevail over Kobe.”

From San Miguel Beer to Petron? Why?

Last Friday, on board Cebu Pacific and flying to Manila, there was turbulence in the air. My head shook. My face frowned. My mind trembled. It was hard to believe. No, the sky was clear and the wind did not howl–the jolt came from the Philippine Daily Inquirer article I was reading.

Ronnie Nathanielsz wrote a stellar column last Friday entitled, “Big risk – why the name change?” Born in Sri Lanka, Nathanielsz has since resided in Manila for many decades now. He’s an icon in sports media: in print, in boxing, in TV, in tennis, basketball…

“While we recognize the inherent right of San Miguel Corp. to change the name of its San Miguel Beer team in the Philippine Basketball Association to Petron, we are certainly baffled over the name change,” wrote Nathanielsz in the very first paragraph.

Starting next season, the SMB franchise has requested the PBA Board of Governors to change its name to Petron. There’ll no longer be San Miguel in the PBA. Why this perplexing move when the words “San Miguel Beermen” are not only the most famous but also the most historical?–leaves SMB loyalists baffled.

“To millions across the nation who love the sport of basketball with a passion,” Nathanielsz continued, “San Miguel Beer was—and will always remain—a team they could identify with through the years as the flagship representative of San Miguel Corp. It was inherently Filipino and carried the San Miguel Beer name with remarkable distinction. To change the name to Petron and to expect the same dedicated following is a tremendous risk that the corporation is taking.”
Ronnie has a point. Although SMB has a losing record in today’s PBA second conference (one win/four losses), this short-term negativity has nothing to do with its positive, winning name. San Miguel to Petron?

“Simply put, there is absolutely no synergy between beer and gasoline,” added Nathanielsz. (Well, Ron, there are indeed similarities: Gasoline fuels the Toyotas, Hyundais and Mazdas; Beer fuels the body.)

Studying further this issue in a few more websites, I noticed that this appears to be a purely business-driven decision. Phoenix Fuel, a Petron competitor, has purchased the Barako Bull franchise and wants to enter the PBA. This move by SMB (which owns a major stake in Petron) to change its PBA name to the oil giant will disallow Phoenix from joining the oldest professional basketball league in Asia. Why? Because the PBA rules, if I understood them well, state that no direct competitor of an existing team be allowed to join the league.

But Ronnie counters this analogy. “Surely Petron cannot consider Phoenix a competitor in the accepted sense of the word because it is basically a small player in the Visayas and Mindanao regions,” he said. “What is even more perplexing is the effort to keep out Phoenix when the firm, to its credit, has invested in the PBA by sponsoring the out-of-town games which serve as one of the major boosts to the acceptance of the pro league in the provinces.”

Truly, this is an unusual move by Danding Cojuangco, Jr., Ramon Ang and San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Digging further into history (thanks to Wikipedia), the SMB franchise has been in existence since 1975. This was when the Philippine Basketball Association started. This was 36 years ago. In all, SMB holds the record for the most number of league titles at 18. To delete “San Miguel” from the pro league is bewildering. It’s like saying the L.A. Lakers will quit the NBA or the Celtics will change its name to the Boston Green Horns. It’s implausible. San Miguel is Pinoy basketball.

“We believe that with San Miguel Corp.’s right to rename its team, it comes with the need to exercise responsibility in relation to the millions of fans of the San Miguel Beer basketball team,” said Nathanielsz. “The Beermen have a storied history and San Miguel Beer epitomizes a Filipino product of unmatched quality. We will grieve to see it removed from our cherished PBA memories.”

I’ll drink to that.

Kobe, cold in the Heat, shoots for more

Mr. Bryant faced Mr. James last Thursday. It was a meeting of two MVPs: Kobe had won the award in 2008 while LeBron snatched the Most Valuable Player trophy the past two seasons. On an eight-game winning streak in the city where the Wild Card Gym resides, the Lakers team was on a roll. Miami? They had lost steam. They lost five games in a row. But, when the two squads played three nights ago, it was LBJ who beat KB. The score: Miami, 94; L.A., 88.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“By snapping a five-game losing streak and completing a two-game sweep of the defending champions,” wrote one of my favorite NBA analysts, Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, “the Heat reminded everyone — and most importantly themselves —they can compete with the elite when the Big Three get a little help from their soldiers.”

Miami did not win the NBA title. Not yet. Or, in the eyes of cynics, they won’t. Not in 2011. And, one victory doesn’t epitomize the whole season. They’re still in third place in the Eastern Conference. Against the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls (the top two), they’re a combined 0-6. Still, a win is a triumph–especially against the two-time defending champions.

“Had Miami lost Thursday night,” said Whitlock, “the Big Three were toast. There would be no reason to take them seriously the rest of the year.”

True. Last week was a Crisis Scenario. They had lost five straight. Calls for coach Erik Spoelstra to resign—again; in an echo we’ve heard many times before–resurfaced. Miami felt the heat. They were pressured. “A loss Thursday night would’ve destroyed the Heat mentally and emotionally,” added Whitlock. “It would’ve been a repeat of the Chicago game, complete with postgame tears.”

But, against LA, they responded positively. The game was close. With five minutes left to play, the score was 80-all. Then, after Kobe sank two three-pointers, it was 88-88. Two minutes were left. Then, Kobe–the NBA’s best closer–closed the door on himself. He failed miserably. Kobe attempted another 3-point shot. Wade blocked it. Down four points with 20 seconds remaining, he made another attempt. This time, 29-feet away. Again, he missed. In all, he was 8-for-21 and, in the crucial second half, was 2-for-11.

Kobe failed. But do you know how he responded? Over an hour after the Miami-L.A. game had finished, he came back on court and shot hundreds of jumpers.

“Bryant wanted the workout, wanted the chance to cleanse himself of missed shots and missed opportunities in the final minutes,” wrote Adrian Wojnarowski for Yahoo! Sports. “Mostly, he wanted James and Wade to understand the lengths they’ll need to go to take his title away. ‘This is my job,’ Bryant would say 2½ hours after the game, slumped in a chair courtside. ‘This is what you’re supposed to do …’”

Here’s the Wojnarowski narration: “All those Heat stars breathed a sigh, packed up and left American Airlines Arena. Bryant marched back onto the floor at 10:45 p.m. and started sweating again. Three Heat ball boys fed him passes, and Bryant marched to every corner of the floor and lofted his shots. Security staff and other Heat officials stood befuddled, unsure what to do. One security worker insisted he had never witnessed this in his eight years on the job. The Lakers were gone and Bryant was still dripping sweat on the Heat logo.

“Sometimes, players will do this in their own arena, but never on the road. This was a spectacle and no accident. Bryant’s still the player they’re chasing because he’s the MVP of the back-to-back NBA champions. Bryant knows these Heat will get it together and become a problem for everyone in the Eastern Conference. Wherever James and Wade had gone late Thursday, Bryant clearly wanted word to reach them: He won’t accept losing to the Heat. Not on Christmas, not on Thursday night and not in June.

“Hours later, when asked about his motivation in a text message, Bryant responded with the words of Achilles: ‘I want what all men want. I just want it more.’”

Chester’s Birthday

Like Bobby Nalzaro, I attended last Saturday’s 50th “Golden” birthday of one of Cebu’s top businessmen/sportsmen: Chester Cokaliong.

The ballroom of Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and Spa crowded with government heads (Mayor Mike Rama, Rep. Pablo John Garcia, Judge Gabby Ingles, Councilor Ed Labella, among many), relatives, friends, and, of course, Chester’s basketball buddies. I sat with Bobit Avila, Bobby Inoferio, Choy Torralba, Jerry Tundag and Jack Huang. We stayed up until 11 p.m. The entertainers–Hajii Alejandro and Willie Nepomuceno, who mimicked Dolphy and Sammy Davis, Jr.–were terrific. Chester’s birthday cake? Why, of course, a multi-layered basketball ring for Cebu’s 3-point King.

CIS Reunion

Rannie, Serge, John, Jonel, Iker, Anton and Brian

Two nights ago, I had a high school get-together. From second to fourth year high school, I studied at the Cebu International School. Only 16 of us stepped on that stage to receive our diplomas. The school was small; we were that few.

Last Tuesday? It was a long, long time coming reunion. We were seven who met at the Maya Restaurant for dinner and drinks: Iker Aboitiz, Jonel Borromeo, Serge Cuasito, Brian LaRosa, Rannie Misa, Anton Perdices and myself. At CIS, we played basketball and–as was one of the highlights of our team–got to beat, once, the strong Sacred Heart squad of Michael Aldeguer, Grant Go, Chad Cañares…

I remember Iker Aboitiz “kicking” Christian Ventic, Jonel Borromeo rebounding at the center and, effortlessly nailing 15-footers, the sharpshooter who now resides in New York, Serge Cuasito.

Basketball’s best is found in Milo BEST

From Sun.Star Cebu, Nov. 22

Typing the word “Best” in the online thesaurus elicits several synonyms: “Ace,” “Outstanding,” “Foremost,” “First,” “Champion,” and “Cool.” These words are perfect for the event held in Cebu last weekend: the 2010 Milo BEST SBP/Passerelle Twin Tournaments.

“SBP and Passerelle. Have you heard of these words before?” asked Rico Navarro, one of the top organizers of this event, last week in his popular sports column at The Freeman. “SBP stands for Small Basketeers Philippines while the term Passerelle is used for an age group of young teen-agers. Where are these terms used? In a more commonly known basketball tournament called Milo BEST…

“Milo is the chocolate energy drink that we’ve grown up with while BEST stands for the Basketball Efficiency Scientific Training Center. Although these are two distinct entities, Milo and BEST have had one of the longest-running partnerships in organizing two major activities: basketball clinics and an age group tournament with a nationwide reach.”

How long has the Milo BEST tournament been going on? Since 1985–or for 25 years now. That’s a long time.

“What do the UAAP Finals Jrs. MVP, NCAA MVP, UAAP Most Improved Player, the PBA MVP and the NCAA Juniors Coach of the Year have in common?” Mr. Navarro further asked in another story. “Kiefer Ravena, Baser Amer, Emman Monfort, James Yap and Britt Reroma.”

Rico is right. Is there a better youth basketball program than Milo’s BEST? None. Is there any other Philippine company today that invests more millions in grassroots sports than Nestle and Milo? None.

Last Sunday morning, I visited the USC Main gym. It was hot. Hotter than Cebu Coliseum. Did the hostilities contribute to the heated atmosphere inside the gym? Absolutely. Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu represented the Visayas. The opponents came from Manila: the Xavier School of San Juan. It was an all-Jesuit battle. Even former president Joseph Estrada was inside the gym the whole of Saturday. His son — wearing No. 8 with the all-caps “EJERCITO” — played for Xavier. But what a lopsided game last Sunday for the championship–in favor of Cebu. The score: 102-53.

The green-colored USC gym was painted blue. A couple of hundred Ateneo spectators — parents, schoolmates, friends — cheered for their blue team. Xavier School — color gold — was no match in the gold-medal game of the Passerelle division.
Last weekend, when eight schools representing four regions battled inside the USC gym, was the start of the Milo BEST. It was the finale, the national finals.

Rico Navarro explained it best in his column last Sunday entitled, “Best”…

Read Rico’s full article here

“One of the most interesting developments of the Milo-backed BEST tournament has been how it has become an annual must-have activity for schools with basketball programs across the country. More importantly, it has now become the necessary steps of development for today’s basketball players. Most of today’s collegiate players trace their roots to having played in the SBP Passerelle tournaments when they were younger.

“It has become a tradition for many schools to launch their programs with SBP activities composed of clinics and tournaments. Nine to ten-year-old kids start to play more for fun, then eventually get more serious once they turn 11 to 12 years old. As they get to be really better from a technical and skills level, the competition also gets tougher along the way into the Passerelle division which features players between 12 to 15 years old.”

Back to the USC gym last Sunday: Seated beside me was Nestle assistant VP Pat Goc-ong. He beamed with pride. A former national weightlifting champion (who was USJ-R’s varsity star in college), Pat oversees all of Nestle’s sports programs. Seated together with Brando of the Cebu City Sports Center, we talked of Milo sports — their marathons, summer clinics, BEST programs. The conclusion: no company is better than the best. Go ask Ovaltine.

Ateneo scores a three-peat as FEU turns blue

Jourdan Andrew Dunque Polotan is the president of the Ateneo Alumni Association, Cebu Chapter. The color of his blood is not red or pink — it’s blue. Back in 1987, he finished his B.S. Management (Honors Program) along Katipunan Avenue on 100 percent scholarship. He considers those ADMU years as “one of the best times to be in university.” Why? Jourdan narrates: “1983 – Ninoy was assassinated. 1983 – ‘85 Protest Movement. ‘86 People Power. ‘87 Constitutional Commission. 1987: first of our back-to-back victories in the UAAP.”

Last Thursday, “Brother,” as I call Jourdan — one of my best friends from the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) — was out gallivanting in Manila. Inside the cavernous Araneta Coliseum, he cheered for Team Blue to slaughter the Green Squad. Yes, blue was Ateneo but, no, green wasn’t the usual green, La Salle. It was FEU and the game three days ago was Game 2 of the UAAP Final.

“I arrived in the Big Dome at least two hours before,” said Jourdan. “Cubao was a sea of blue. And most anyone you met in blue would smile at you, as if we were all long time friends. You just gravitated to the restos and coffee shops teeming with Blue Eagle fans — they came in all sizes, shapes and ages. Teachers, students, administration, Jesuits… A nod, a smile, it was great to be part of one big family. You were bound to bump into someone you knew.”

It was Mr. Polotan’s first UAAP Finals live game to watch. “The tickets were always very, very hard to get,” he said. “I asked a friend for a ticket or two. ‘Best efforts’ lang daw. Even before Game 1, I asked to buy tickets to Game 2. I knew Game 2 would be hard fought — the winner of Game 1 would like to finish it there, and the loser would like to extend the series. Three days… two… one day before the game, still no ticket.

“The day before the game, I flew in to Manila for a business meeting. I told my friend that nag leap of faith na lang ko. I was in Manila already. He asked for a few more hours. A few hours passed, and I got a text to call his office. Viola! I had one ticket in the Patron Section at the original price of P300.

“On the morning of game day, I had one more meeting then I rushed to Ateneo to pay and pick-up my ticket. On the way, I called one of my professors and asked him out to lunch. Of course, he said yes. Him and his wife, dear friends of mine, treated me to a Japanese lunch just across campus. Sa resto pa lang, you saw families all decked out in blue talking about the game to come. Coach Sandy (one of the assistant coaches) walked in. We said, “Hi coach.” He approached our table, shook hands and we wished him and the team luck. “Tapusin natin ito, coach,” I said. You could see in his face they were ready.

“The noise in the Big Dome was loud. The drums were so loud that you could feel your chest pounding. I sat between two total strangers, both in blue, but it was as if we knew each other a long time. We shared notes about the players and team strategy. We agreed on one thing: it seemed like our team’s strategy was to take out FEU players one by one thru foul trouble. True enough… There were ‘graduates.’”

Jourdan, a sports buff and muscular left-hander like Nadal who adores Federer, saw—from Cebu—Jack Huang and his sons. He also saw a few batch mates… “one of the more famous ones — SC spokesman/administrator Midas Marquez.” He added: “Chito Loyzaga was in the row in front of me. When we won, we were high-fiving.”

Finally, I asked why coach Norman Black, of all his victories, would call this championship–especially Game 2’s 65-62 win—Ateneo’s “sweetest victory.” Jourdan explained: “No super stars. You can say we had ONE HELL OF A TEAM. Can you imagine — not one Blue Eagle was in the Mythical 5? It means no one stood out as a superstar. Everyone was a superstar, a clutch player. You never knew who would step up and carry the team on a particular game. That is why it was so sweet. Our opponents just did not know who to pounce on.”

Breaking News: It’s play ball in Hoops Dome!

Lapu Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza was my brother Charlie’s high school classmate. I’ve known him for two decades. Ever since we were schoolmates at the Cebu International School, Harry was known to be the sports fanatic. Basketball. Later, flag football. Now, running—Harry has always been the hyper-active, go-go-go type.

Today, after being elected last May 10 in his first attempt, he is a City Councilor. And, what better position to give the sports expert? Of course, the chairmanship of these committees: Sports, Youth, Tourism.

“We have a brand-new stadium!” Harry announced a few days ago when we spoke.

This is significant news! For Mactan. For our province. I pressed Harry for the details. Here are the facility’s nuts-and-bolts as he explained:

“The new stadium dubbed ‘HOOPS DOME’ was conceived by Congressman Boy Radaza while he was still mayor. Being an avid basketball player, he understood the importance of sports in the community. Construction started in 2007 and the stadium will be finished this month. We are just waiting for the step-down generators.

“Seating capacity is about 7,000. It’s fully-airconditioned. Also, air-conditioned locker rooms for teams are available, same with dressing rooms for concert activities. It has a square (cube) scoreboard in the middle if you look at the center of the stadium. Built-in sound system with sound room. The floor is covered with protective blue rubber matting, when needed. We also made sure to have the standard cushioning below the floor installed according to NBA specifications. There is a stage at the far end of the stadium for events.

“Hoops Dome is located in Brgy. Gunob behind Crown Regency Hotel—just five minutes from the old bridge. We are looking to open it to the public this Oct. The annual fiesta tournament, which I organize, averages around 100 teams each year—that should be our first event. Eliminations will be held in our open basketball court at the Lapu Lapu Auditorium and the playoffs starting last week of Oct. will be held at the Hoops Dome. So basically, it will be athletes of Lapu Lapu City who will be able to use the Hoops Dome first. I am in talks for a PBA bearing game to be held sometime Nov. as one of our Fiesta activities. This will be our first major event.”

I asked Councilor Radaza: Considering that the bigger Cebu and Mandaue cities have not built a near-world-class coliseum in decades, what does this tell the public about Lapu-Lapu? How did you do it? What’s the cost?

“Of the 400,000 tourists that arrived in 2009, a huge 65% were billeted in Lapu Lapu City,” he said. “We are focusing on tourism. Now, tourists come here for the natural resources that Lapu Lapu City has to offer. Sports tourism is a new approach that Mayor Paz Radaza is supportive of and Rep. Boy Radaza has laid down the infrastructure for this.”

Harry related to me another “Headline News” which, if realized, will complement Hoops Dome. “We plan to construct a new Lapu Lapu sports complex. Facilities like a track oval, an Olympic swimming pool, a diving pool, tennis courts and more are targeted to be built at a property adjacent to the old bridge. Being the Chairman for the Committee on Sports and Committee on Tourism, I am focusing on creating unique events which can bring in domestic and international athletes. We are looking beyond PBA games. We are looking to invite international teams and to organize international-caliber events.

“Camarines Sur is a success story that is worth studying. There is no reason why Lapu Lapu City, blessed with natural beaches, cannot do the same. Marine and Aquatic sporting events are being considered now.

“The Hoops Dome roughly cost P350M. To help it generate income, I am exploring the idea of renting out the naming rights to corporate sponsors; just as they do in the US although that approach has never been done here in the Philippines.”