Category Archives: Basketball

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.”

Chester Cokaliong and the Dragons of CEC

Twelve months ago, there was a catastrophe. The Cebu Eastern College high school basketball team played the University of Cebu and lost—not by a mere 19 points, but with the score, 159-28. That’s a 131-point disaster. Days after, an even worse hurricane pounded: Against UV, the CEC squad was massacred, 178-23. That 155-point deficit was the worse mutilation in Cebu basketball history—possibly in this whole rotating universe.

“This is humiliating!” I complained in an August 2 article last year. “Cebu Eastern College, a highly-reputable school, has been transformed into a laughingstock.”

Well, look who’s laughing now… Last Thursday, the CEC Dragons were once more fed to UC but—Ripley’s Believe It Or Not—from a 131-point loss last year, they beat their tormentors, 96-77. Computing both games, that’s a turnaround of 150 points! Now, that’s a Ripley’s story.

“This turnaround started right after those embarrassments,” said Chester Cokaliong, the three-point king of Cebu and one of our most august of basketball stars. “Last year, the CEC school officials came for a meeting at my office in Cokaliong Shipping. We met at the boardroom. Everyone was there: the principals, important faculty members, the alumni, Jefferson Go, Samuel Sia, Wilson Yu, and the leader of the group, Frederick Ong, Jr.”

Hounded by humiliation, they wanted change. And who else can the school turn to for a turnaround but their most passionate alumni?

“When we met, they asked for a three year program,” said Chester. “I said, ‘No, that’s too long. If we’re going to improve, we’re going to have to get the best now.’ At first, the group aimed to reach the semis this year. Dili ko mosugot. Ayaw. If you want help, we have to go all the way. If we’re going to spend, let’s aim for the top.”

And so Mr. Cokaliong, armed with the backing of the school, the CECABA, team manager Samuel Sia, Wilson Yu, and the alumni, went into action mode.

“First, we scouted for a good coach,” he said. “Now, we have an excellent one named Jerry Jaranilla. We got him from Iloilo. I told Jerry, ‘You can ride the Cokaliong boat plying Iloilo anytime you want.’ If your family wants to come to Cebu, they can. Sakay siya sa iyang gusto. Walay gasto. Then we scouted for players. We paid for all the expenses. We went to Davao, Bacolod, others, to pick the best. Free sila tanan. Board and lodging. Scholarship. Plus, we added a bonus: all children will learn Chinese. Actually, what we did we just adopted from other schools. But we tried to do more. Ato nalang ni haguan, I told our group. If the other schools can do it, we can.”

How much is Chester spending? Each month, he and Frederick Ong, Jr. split in half the bill of P50,000. How much total have you spent so far? I asked. “Almost P300,000,” he said.

That’s not all. For each tournament win, the coaching staff gets a one-month bonus. And, as example of his generosity, after last Thursday’s win over UC, in mid-court he approached the boys and told them that if they reach the semis, he’ll give each of them a brand-new pair of shoes.

With this funding and dedication, CEC has been transformed from chickens to dragons. In five Cesafi games thus far, they own a league-leading scorecard of 4-1. They’ve beaten Sacred Heart School-Ateneo (87-70), USC (88-68), USPF (87-73) and UC. Their only loss was against UV, 81-76. CEC is a shoo-in for the semis and, if they continue their strong play, will likely meet UV in the finals.

Now, this “Comeback of the Decade” story can easily be defined by one word: money. That’s true. The Chinese community has plenty. And this is the primary reason the team has rebounded. But, more than Pesos, this is about a bigger P:

Pride. It’s about the alumni and faculty disallowing the good name of their school to be tarnished. It’s about rising from defeat. It’s about triumph from humiliation. For, as Chester told me two nights ago, “The lesson for all of us is this: You can achieve anything… as long as you put your heart into it.”

SMB’s beer vs. Alaska’s milk: Who’s winning?

The Philippine Basketball Association is the second oldest basketball league in the world, next only to the NBA. Since its inception on April 9, 1975—coincidentally, my third birthday!—it has become the most revered of games in our basketball-crazy nation.

Last Sunday, I watched. Not at the Araneta Coliseum, nicknamed “The Big Dome”—but at home. For two hours starting at 6 p.m., two of our most famous brands played ball: the San Miguel Beermen versus the Alaska Aces. It was Game 2 of the 2010 PBA Fiesta Conference. (The league has two conferences per season; this is the one where one import is allowed per team.)

In Game One of The PBA Final played last Friday, Alaska was supposed-to-be tired and weary, having just escaped Talk ‘N Text in a seven-game semifinal. It didn’t show. They beat San Miguel, 89-83. What a shocker. And for several reasons: (1) The SMB squad are the defending champions; (2) Alaska lost to them twice during the regular season (95-89 on April 11 and 85-74 last June 26); (3) Alaska had not beaten SMB in their last six tries, dating back to 2007; (4) Alaska was on a losing streak in The Finals: six straight defeats. Yet, Alaska prevailed in round one.

Then, Game 2. Two nights ago. San Miguel Beer—an original member of the PBA since 1975 and the winningest club in history with 18 PBA titles—fought to avert a 0-2 deficit. Their coach, Siot Tanquingcen, only 37 years young, deployed Joseph Yeo and import Jay Washington to produce the numbers. They did, scoring 20 apiece. But the Beermen played catch-up all night. Alaska led in the first quarter; SMB tied the game. Alaska took the lead; again, SMB crawled back. It was the same back-and-forth, see-saw pattern.. until the last minutes when Alaska—having gulped milk instead of beer—sprinted towards the finish line first, winning, 94-90.

I enjoyed the game. LA Tenorio, only 5-foot-8, was savvy and alert. Arwind Santos banked several against the board. My favorite play was the one of the tattoo-laden Alaska import Diamon Simpson who, at the end of the third quarter, backed up against his defender then leapt for a monstrous, in-your-face slam of a dunk.

All these must have thrilled the most famous spectator at ringside: Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who’s in Manila to conduct basketball clinics. “I was worried earlier,” said Alaska coach Tim Cone, quoting yesterday’s Phil. Star story entitled, “Charity throws give Aces close win, 2-0 lead.” “I just felt our energy in practice yesterday was very low. But thanks to coach Eric when my players heard he’s in the stadium, their eyes grew big and said ‘wow.’ They’re motivated.”

Alaska played inspired basketball. And when the pressure intensified in the game’s dying moments, they were relaxed and composed, especially at the free throw line—making seven of eight in the last 77 seconds and, for the whole game, shooting 84 percent—an extraordinary statistic that would shame Shaq.

“We didn’t expect this,” said Cone in yesterday’s Phil. Daily Inquirer article, “Unbelievable Aces halfway through Fiesta Cup crown.” “But you know, we have played two A-plus basketball games.”

Cone, now 52 years old and the winner of 12 PBA titles for the Fred Uytengsu-owned company, is hungry for this win.

Quinito Henson of The Phil. Star, in an August 6 piece, “San Miguel’s size worries Cone,” made this excellent analysis: “(Cone)… is due for another one as Alaska has been a bridesmaid in two of the last three finals. He hasn’t captured a crown since the 2006-07 Fiesta Conference. Alaska is in its 25th finals appearance entering its 25th anniversary next season. Those numbers don’t happen to come together by accident. Are the Aces destined for a championship?”

Despite the lead, he’s not overconfident. “It’s only 2-0,” said Cone. “It takes four games to win it for a reason. I’ve lost 2-0, 3-1 and all the leads that you can think of. We have to make sure we come out and put the pressure on them… It’s definitely not over.”

Abangan ang susunod na…

SkyCable, after the World Cup, continues to score

As we long suspected, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is a coward. He agreed to fight Manny Pacquiao last March 13—then retreated. He asked for a 14-days-before-the-fight drug test—which Manny agreed to—and now he’s backpedaled. What more does he want? I know. Simply, he doesn’t want to quarrel MP. The likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, minuscule in size and low-batt on power, he combats. But with our P4P No.1, he capitulates.

THE OPEN. First day, Rory McIlroy shoots a record-equaling nine-under-par 63 at the British Open. The next day, he fires an 80. This 17-stroke-difference was the worst gap for a first-round leader at a major in 20 years (when Mike Donald shot 64 and 82 at the 1990 Masters). Was it McIlroy’s fault? Not exactly. It was because of “the winds of change.”

Last Friday night, I watched The Open (isn’t the schedule perfect for us?) on SkyCable’s channel 32. The breeze swirled like Basyang. “It was brutal out there.. Probably the windiest conditions I’ve ever played in,” said Steve Marino. Added Tiger Woods, “It was certainly one of the toughest days I’ve ever faced.”

To me, the English are some of the most distinguished and aristocratic of men. At this British Open, celebrating its 150th  year, the tournament is simply called, “THE OPEN.” Same with its tennis counterpart, Wimbledon. Its name: THE CHAMPIONSHIPS. Located in Scotland, the links course of St. Andrews is dubbed “the home of golf,” while Wimbledon is considered the world’s oldest tennis tournament.

SKYCABLE. While we castigated the cable TV monopoly when it discontinued Solar Sports a few years back, now we applaud SkyCable. I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it once more: the 31-day, 64-game programming of the South African World Cup was one of the best TV coverages I’ve watched. Not only were the schedules favorable to us in the Philippines, but all games were broadcast live with excellent English commentary. Plus, replays were shown—and are still ongoing—nonstop.

Now, here’s even better news, relayed to me by John Cheu, my fellow member with the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP). For an additional P105/month, SkyCable subscribers can avail of eight new channels: History, Biography, Fox News, Asian Food, ETC, Al Jazeera, 2nd Avenue and—yes!—Solar Sports. This is their new shift to digital broadcasting. But, here’s the caveat: For now, only Banilad, Lahug, Ma. Luisa, Beverly Hills and a few areas are ready.

SAN MIGUEL CORP. In behalf of the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), I’d like to thank Manuel M. Moreno, SMC Asst. Vice President and Plant Operations Manager, and Girlie Garces, SMC Corporate Communications head, for the P50,000 donation to SAC. Those who visited the SMC office last Thursday to receive the check were Mike Limpag (Sun.Star sports editor), Caecent Magsumbol of The Freeman and CDN’s Dale Rosal.

NINOS. As explained by Rommel Manlosa in yesterday’s piece, the M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Niños won their 29th straight basketball game. “The longest winning streak of a semi-professional ball club in the country in recent memory,” wrote Rommel. This is remarkable! Playing in the Cebu City leg named “Tournament of the Philippines,” the Raul Alcoseba-coached squad beat Misamis, 78-70. This dominance is testament to the unrelenting standard set by Coach Yayoy and team owner Michel Lhuillier. Theirs is a culture of winning—and not succumbing to complacency. Said Councilor Alcoseba: “They can beat us anywhere, anytime, but not in our home. Not here, in front of our supporters.” M. Lhuillier’s winning formula: Competitive drive + Cebuano pride = Champions.

BIRDIES. From The Scottish Sun: “Five stunning blonde models – hired by a bookies chain – turned up in tiger-print T-shirts in a bid to attract his eye. One of the sexy cubs purred: ‘We haven’t been able to keep our eyes off the Tiger!’ But Woods, 34, was only interested in birdies of the one-under-par kind. And he shot six of them in a first round of 67.”

Talk ‘N Text walkout: Was it right?

The PBA was founded in 1975. Since then, of the thousands of games played the past 35 years, no team, except one in 1990 by Añejo Rum and Robert Jaworski, has ever walked out.

Until last Friday. Barely 11 minutes had passed in the first quarter when the Talk ‘N Text player Ranidel De Ocampo elbowed the head of a driving Ronald Tubid of Barangay Ginebra. The referee blew the whistle. In that Game 4 of the best-of-five quarterfinal series (with TnT leading 2-1), De Ocampo was charged with a Flagrant Foul-2 (which means “any hard contact above the shoulder”). He was ejected and would not play, if ever there was, a Game 5.

Chot Reyes fumed mad. The head coach of TnT could not accept the decision. He concluded that the referees were biased against his squad–not just in Game 4, but in all the previous games. After that foul was reviewed on videotape and the decision upheld by the referees, Reyes, having consulted team owner Manny V. Pangilinan, who was in attendance, collared his team and marched towards the dugout.

Negotiations ensued. The PBA commissioner, Sonny Barrios, pleaded for their return. Minutes passed. Finally, when it appeared that Chot Reyes wanted to play, it was too late. The PBA ruling states that any team that leaves the court is given only seven minutes to return; otherwise, they forfeit the game. Game over for Talk ‘N Text.

Two days later, the Tropang Texters reluctantly came back for Game 5 and, possibly feeling deflated, lost 113-110. Ginebra advanced to the semis and last night played (and lost Game 1 to) the top seed, Alaska Milk. In the other semis, it’s San Miguel Beer versus Purefoods Giants.

Why did MVP’s team walkout? They argued that De Ocampo should not have been meted a flagrant foul-2. (I reviewed the replay on YouTube and, true enough, the decision was questionable.) But more than that episode, TnT believes the overall officiating was biased. One specific complaint was Ginebra having been “awarded” too many free throw attempts (from Games 1 to 3, Brgy. Ginebra had 42 vs. 28 from TnT). Biased officiating, they protested.

But here’s the question: Was their form of protest the correct thing to do? From the viewpoint of the fans–the thousands inside the Araneta Coliseum that evening who only saw 11 minutes of game time to the tens of thousands more watching on TV–it was upsetting.

Dennis Guillermo, a top U.S.-based Filipino journalist, wrote in Examiner.com last Feb. 8: “There are a thousand ways to protest and voice out your displeasure against officiating or anything in general. Injustices are prevalent in the world, but let me ask you this: What about those fans who paid to see that game? What about that father who took out a couple of hundred pesos from his hard-earned money to take his son or his family to watch a game of exciting, spirited basketball? Did they deserve to be jiffed like that?”

Good point. Adds Bill Velasco of Philstar.com in his piece, “Notes on walking out,” last Monday: “A walkout upsets the fans… In this case, however, fans were treated to an abrupt cessation of what many consider a regular treat: an exciting PBA game. For those trying to jumpstart their weekend with a heavy dose of basketball action, it was a disappointment. As in any form of entertainment, spectators are often there to forget their problems, not to be affected by a whole new set of them. Fans paid good money to watch a basketball game, regardless of the internal conflict within the organizing group, in this case, the PBA. Some fans don’t really care that much who wins, as long as the game is thrilling.”

I agree with Dennis and Bill. The biggest losers, apart from TnT itself who, despite a 2-0 lead, lost three straight games (and were fined P1.25 million), were the PBA fans. TnT’s act was emotional. It was reactive, not objective. It was an outburst derived from their sense of outrage. They were exasperated.

But was their exit justifiable? No.

Michel Lhuillier opens up on life, basketball

He is the owner of the most dazzling and victorious basketball organization outside of the PBA. The team that carries his name, “M. Lhuillier,” has won just about every single regional tournament among our 7,107 islands. Yet, for all the trophies the M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Niños has accumulated, Michel Lhuillier himself he has not watched—in person, live—an M. Lhuillier ballgame in a long time.

“It’s been four or five years since I’ve seen my team play,” he said. “I get nervous. And I don’t want to die of a heart attack!” We laughed.

Michel Lhuillier, the business tycoon who owns the most extensive fleet of pawnshops in the nation, sounded overjoyed when we spoke yesterday. He has reason to be. In the 2009 Smart-Liga Pilipinas Super Leg Conference 3, his team won a record 21 games—undefeated—including an 89-54 annihilation job on the Misamis Oriental Meteors in the championship game last Sunday at the Cebu Coliseum.

“We feel very good. Fantastic,” said Lhuillier, who is also the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission. “We worked hard for it. If feels good when you prepare and work hard and win. I congratulate our team. It was a team effort and it was not an easy thing to do.”

Lhuillier credited his players, the Cebuanos, his support staff and, above all, one person. “Coach Yayoy. Councilor Yayoy. Businessman Yayoy. I don’t know what to call him anymore,” said Lhuillier. “He’s been with me for more than 23 years. What can I say about him? I believe in him. He’s good. He’s outstanding. He has a knack for it. He feels for it. He’s so involved in the game and some misunderstand it when he reprimands players. He loves the game. He also knows all about the NBA and the PBA. In terms of scouting, he knows what positions to shop for when the team has weaknesses.”

Do the players ask for your advice? I queried. “Me? They call me ‘Mr. Bonus.’ Because, after the team wins, the players expect a bonus!”  Again, we laughed.

How about the future of the M. Lhuillier outfit? Unbeatable in the Liga Conference 3, is it true that, having conquered the regional basketball scene all over the nation, it’s time to try the PBA?

“It’s getting to be difficult now. I don’t know of many teams who want to play with us anymore. That’s why we’ve got to play the PBA teams in exhibition games. And, of course, they’re much taller and bigger and their salaries, heavier,” he said. “I’ve been offered to put up a PBA team. But it’s not for my business. It’s too expensive. You need P100 milion to maintain a team. Now, they’re offering me P40 to P50 million for a PBA franchise. With those amounts, I have better use of my money. I’d rather have a strong enough team that can play once-in-a-while with the PBA.

“The PBA is definitely a money game. I’ve spoken to Manny Pangilinan about this. It’s how much you have. It’s a money game. You buy the players. The one who spends the most, wins.”

His favorite sports? “I love basketball. But basketball was not for me. I’m not tall. I only played in the Intramurals. But I’ve always loved basketball. In La Salle, where I studied, I tried-out and came in only as the 20th player. I never made the cut. Instead, I became the ballboy. Also, the one who gives the orange juice and towels to the players. That’s why I told myself, ‘When I have enough money, I’ll put up my own team!’

“In La Salle, you have to join sports. I made the soccer team. But the sport I enjoyed the most, because of the self-discipline, was track-and-field. I aimed to be the best in college. My event was the 400 meters. I trained for 12 years and aimed to be No. 1. But, in the end, I only came in No. 3. Never mind if I trained so hard. This, compared to a guy named Nacho who barely trained but came in No. 1. Well, he had the physique of an athlete.

“But I kept on striving. I keep on trying and trying. Up until today. I’ve had defeats but, because of determination, I’ve had more victories than defeats in life. It’s by trying and trying that I get to succeed.”

Super? M. Lhuillier shoots for a ‘Sweep 21’

Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba, our Cebu City Councilor, is the most famous and triumphant coach in our land’s basketball history. Back in 1986, he started coaching for Michel Lhuillier and his cluster of basketball teams. Since then, he’s won 350… 650… possibly thousands… of games during the 23-year span. Recently, Coach Yayoy and his M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala team won 20 games in a row.

He should be smiling and contented and feeling super, right? Wrong. Yesterday afternoon, when I spoke to Alcoseba for a brief, six-minute phone interview, he sounded dissatisfied. He didn’t sound super. And don’t all super-achievers—those who endlessly win and win—always seem to have an insatiable appetite for not being satisfied?

“We were embarrassed in the last championship,” he said. That last championship, of course, was Game 5 of the Liga Pilipinas finals. That was the previous “Conference 2” tournament. Right here at home—at a city where the Lhuillier franchise rarely loses—Coach Yayoy’s squad lost to Misamis Oriental. “We’re hungry now. Today, it’s pay back time in front of the Cebuanos.”

What about the 20-game Liga winning streak in the current Conference 3? “’I told the players, ‘We’re not thinking of records. What’s important is to win. To win the national championship,” he said. The coach is right. Yayoy asked his players not to focus on their past successes but to target one game. Just one game.

The tournament? The 2009 Smart-Liga Pilipinas Super Leg. This event is on its third conference—with Lhuillier winning the first leg and Mis-Or, the second.

Still, to the ordinary fan, what makes the championship game exciting is this: Yayoy Alcoseba’s quest for 21 straight victories. When I asked him yesterday if he had an easy or difficult path winning all 20 games, he laughed. “None of the games were easy. Of course they were tough. We had plenty that were difficult.”

The Super Leg format is a first for the Liga. “Super Leg is copied from the European style of basketball. After a series of legs, it’s a best-of-five format where the teams go to one place and again play the elimination round. Then, the No. 1 has a bye, the numbers two and three play a knockout game. This format is much better for us. It means less traveling. Less expenses. It’s good for the teams.”

The M. Lhuillier squad has five ex-PBA players on it’s roster: Marlon Basco, Bruce Dacia, Mark Magsumbol, Stephen Padilla and Abby Santos. I asked about Mark Magsumbol, a new entry to the Lhuillier squad, and the husband of top sportswriter Caecent No-ot of The Freeman.

“Mark is a very big thing for us,” he said. “He’s helping us in the number three spot. He’s been scoring in double figures. Plus, he’s helping a lot on the defensive side.”

Don’t miss the final at 6 tonight, Cebu Coliseum.

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

“Humbling.” That’s the first word uttered by Eduardo Gullas, the University of the Visayas president and Congressman of Cebu’s first district, when we spoke yesterday. “Humbling because the Lord was very kind to us this series,” he said. “Many thought this would be the end of our championships. But I told the boys after, ‘You are the champions… but maintain the spirit of humility.’”

(The Freeman Photo/Paul Jun E. Rosaroso)

That word, “humility,” is a synonym for the name, “Eddiegul.” To the tens of thousands who’ve met him face-to-face, that’s one word best to describe Eddie Gullas: humble. This was most evident last Thursday night when, right before the start of the fourth quarter between the UV vs. UC final, the congressman arrived. He sat beside Cesafi Commissioner Felix Tiukinhoy. But that only lasted for three minutes. Because never mind if he had the best ringside seat inside the Cebu Coliseum, he opted to climb the bleachers and sit among the crowd. He’s simple, modest—a man for others, with others.

In our wide-ranging phone conversation yesterday afternoon which lasted over 20 minutes, I asked the Cebu Sports Hall of Fame awardee a variety of questions after UV won it’s 9th title…

“We’re now looking forward to the PCCL (Phil. Collegiate Champions League) on Nov. 23,” he said. “Meanwhile, I told the team to relax and have fun. Visit your loved ones.”

What would it mean, I asked, if UV won the national title? To recall, I mentioned to Eddiegul, “in 1957, UV won the inter-collegiate crown and you were adjudged by the Phil. Sportswriters Association (PSA) as the ‘Coach of the Year.’ What if UV wins this year? “That will be a big challenge,” he said. “The Manila teams are strong, especially Ateneo. And the NCAA champs, San Beda. Plus, the UAAP and NCAA numbers two, three and four are strong. But it’s not impossible. Still, it’s a big challenge for out-of-town teams. Also, the advantage with the Manila teams is their exposure to the PBA games.”

On his coaches Boy Cabahug and Al Solis? He said: “They are valuable. Boy and Al complement each other. If you recall, in his playing days, Cabahug was an offensive player. And Solis was point guard. And so Didi (Eddiegul’s son) made a good choice with their tandem. Boy focuses on the offense; Al on defense. Their skills complement each other. I saw this for myself several times when we had no sessions in Congress and I’d watch them practice in the UV gym.”

We also talked about Greg Slaughter, the 7-footer who wears jersey No. 7 and was named Cesafi co-MVP (with Jun Fajardo) this season. “According to Didi, he has not signed any contract yet with the SBP. Greg’s parents were here last month and they listed down four important points before Greg signs an agreement. Greg has been told to report to Manila and be with the Gilas squad. But I believe he has expressed his opinion asking if he can play for UV during the PCCL event.

(Sun.Star Cebu photo)

“As to Greg playing for UV next year? Well, there’s still a possibility although, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say it’s around 4 or 5. Personally, I’d like Greg to play one more season. Not only because our ‘Perfect 10’ dream would be enhanced, but also so that he can finish his Business Administration degree. Basketball is a contact sport and, if anything happens, it’s a big advantage. Also, if ever Greg goes back to the U.S., it won’t be difficult for him to land a job if he finished a college course.”

Finally, I queried: Why is UV unbeatable? What success secrets do you have?

“First, our coaches instill in the players a desire to be No. 1. A desire not to settle for No. 2. Second, our alumni is a big factor. They help out. In the different provinces, when they see good material, they contact us and even accompany the players to UV. This is unique. Third, I believe the all-out support of the UV administration helps. Right now, the younger boys have taken over the program. Jiji and Didi have given their full support. And now, it’s Sam-Sam. He’s very dedicated. And I believe, with the players, it has instilled in them a desire to give it their best. Fourth, prayer. I believe in prayers.”

(MORE: Read this article I wrote last May 2009 about the Gullas brothers Eddie and Dodong.)

Basketball? Like Vegas, there is only one showMANNY

Two years ago (August 28,2007, to be exact), I wrote this piece. It’s relevant given that PacMan is scheduled to play basketball again in Cebu.

I LIED. In an article I wrote two days ago, I vowed to stay five feet away from Manny Pacquiao when I’ll guard him in basketball. But when we met last Sunday morning from 10 to 12 at the Cebu Coliseum—his Team Pacquiao versus our Cebu Sports Media squad—we collided. Literally. Continue reading Basketball? Like Vegas, there is only one showMANNY

Manny Pacquiao the Basketball Star

First posted last Aug. 27, 2007

Yesterday (Sunday, August 26), from 10 to 12 in the morning at the Cebu Coliseum, I played basketball with Manny Pacquiao. I joined a bunch sportswriters and radio personalities called the Cebu Sports Media team. We dribbled and guarded and rebounded against Team Pacquiao. Read these two stories: from Sun.Star Daily Cebu “Comics steal Pacquiao’s show in fans day” and from The Freeman “Pacman KOs Cebu Media Anew.” Enjoy these photos… Continue reading Manny Pacquiao the Basketball Star

A Cebu Eastern College supporter responds

Last Thursday, a squad of 14- to 16-year-old high school students lost a basketball game… by 131 points! I wrote about CEC’s inconceivable 159-28 loss to UC and asked if any school official or exponent would explain why, after only a few days’ of preparation, their boys were permitted to join the toughest inter-school league in Vis-Min.

Well, at 2:16 p.m. last Sunday, my mobile phone rang. It was Penelope Villabert. “Call me Penny,” she said. A former parent of CEC (and one who worked, for a time, at the well-known Chinese school), Penny and I spoke for nine minutes. Later that night, she sent me this email:

“Sir, Greetings! You are one of the columnists I respect and admire. I know you will understand the concerns I will convey as regards your opinion  in your column, “With 131-pt wreckage, CEC’s name is bruised.” It is a fact that CEC has been in deep slumber especially in athletics for years. It is waking up slowly but surely under the leadership of the new administration for almost two years now. Most of the school’s concerns have been addressed to and this time they are focusing on sports. Continue reading A Cebu Eastern College supporter responds

With 131-pt. wreckage, CEC’s name is bruised

It was too unbelievable to be true. Far-fetched? Yes. Implausible? Yes. Beyond belief? Yes. It’s the story that was trumpeted two mornings ago by our top dailies with headlines that read: “131-PT ROUT” (Cebu Daily News), “UC Jrs. thrash CEC by 131 pts.” (The Freeman) and, from Sun.Star, “Horrible mismatch.”

Wrote Gabby Malagar of The Freeman: “The University of Cebu (UC) Junior Webmasters made league history with their 131-point massacre of the Cebu Eastern College (CEC) Dragons, 159-28, in an unbelievable outcome of the 9th Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI)…

“Scoring by quarters saw the Junior Webmasters leading by a mile – 65-5, 78-11, 115-19 and 159-28 – thereby raising questions of coach Rex Salvana’s logic of pushing CEC to join the tournament in which some quarters perceived as throwing a sheep into a pack of hungry lions. Continue reading With 131-pt. wreckage, CEC’s name is bruised

PBA Finals: an astonishing Game 7 statistic

I’ll make an admission: I don’t follow the Philippine Basketball Association like I used to. I’ve watched several out-of-Manila, here-in-Cebu games. Back in the 1980s, I adored Allan Caidic’s three-pointer and reminisce his rivalry against Samboy Lim. Even my dad’s younger brother, Rey Pages, donned the Crispa Redmanizers jersey. And so, yes, I did follow the PBA—but not anymore.

That changed a couple of nights ago when I watched the most awaited finale of the season: Game 7 of the Motolite-PBA Fiesta Cup Finals between Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer.

I missed the first half and watched starting the third quarter. The game? It was, sad to report, unexciting. After a 13-5 burst in that 3rd quarter, the Beermen—led by an import aptly-named Freeman—took a double-digit lead and never relinquished it. In the end, the former Cebu Gems star, Dondon Hontiveros, and his Men In White were champions, defeating the MVP Jayjay Helterbrand-led Men In Red, 90-79. It marked the 18th time that San Miguel were champions of the PBA. Continue reading PBA Finals: an astonishing Game 7 statistic

June Mar Fajardo

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(Photo from Sun.Star Cebu/Arni Aclao)

Basketball I watched the other night. At the Old Cebu Coliseum, the Enervon/UC Webmasters dribbled against the Maria Sanctuary Park/USJ-R Jaguars in Game 3 of the CESAFI-sanctioned Partners Cup.

Ramon Fernandez, a four-time MVP at the PBA, sat to my left together with his wife, Karla Kintanar, while Chao Sy, the owner of Hotel Fortuna and the man financing the SWU squad in this event, sat to my right.

Our four pairs of eyes enlarged. Fronting us stood a being so large; a gargantuan figure who towered like the Taipei 101. Standing 6’9”, ask him to point his arms to the ceiling and he’ll nearly touch the 10-foot-tall ring. With just one little hop and an orange ball on hand, he’d slam-dunk. Continue reading June Mar Fajardo

The subject named LeBronatomy 101

On the cover of the Sports Illustrated February 2 issue is one man with eyes closed. A dark blue headband wraps his forehead. His left forearm is blanketed by a giant tattoo with one word at the bottom: BEAST. The cover title? It spells it all: The Power of LeBron.

Of the thousands of articles churned about No. 23, this SI piece masterfully written by Chris Ballard is different. Why? Because it partitions LBJ literally. As if to dissect a grasshopper in Biology class to decipher why it hops, Ballard chops LeBron’s body into pieces to reveal his power. “He outweighs centers and outruns guards,” the author says. “He is getting bigger, stronger and smarter—he even sees better. To appreciate the ways in which Cavaliers star LeBron James is evolving, first you have to break him down.”

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LeBronatomy 101, he calls it. Here are snippets… Continue reading The subject named LeBronatomy 101

Rafa? Roger? Cebuanos take their pick…

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Bobby Aboitiz: Tough one, John… Federer’s control and methodical and reliable play vs. Nadal’s brilliant moments and passion… Its like Germany vs. Brazil in a soccer World Cup final… Stats would favor Federer, but my heart is with Nadal.

Steve Benitez: My pick is Roger. He has worked hard to gain back his form and confidence after going through a humbling experience of setbacks. He is now more driven to prove that, indeed, he is the best ever, and he needs this win to prove that.

Fabby Borromeo: I want Rafa to win but the odds favor Roger after Rafa’s 5-set semis match that must have drained him. I also think they should schedule both the men’s semis on Thursday cause it’s unfair to the winning player of the 2nd semis. Vamos, Rafa!

Fr. Joy Danao: I’ll go for Rafa cause he’s hungrier and he has improved his game vs. Roger; though he humbly respects the master magician and his enormous talent. Go, Rafa! Continue reading Rafa? Roger? Cebuanos take their pick…