Category Archives: Cesafi

Dr. Rhoel Dejaño reflects on SHS-Ateneo’s win

Dr. Rhoel Dejaño is one of Cebu’s top sports doctors because, apart from spending time inside his clinics at Perpetual Succour and Chong Hua, he ventures out to personally supervise the fitness needs of his patients and athletes.

The Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu is one such school. Since 2011, Dr. Dejaño has assisted the school’s basketball program. (In 2010, he also helped CEC win the Cesafi trophy.)

After SHS-Ateneo triumphed last Saturday in the deciding Cesafi Game 3 against the University of the Visayas, I asked Rhoel to ponder on his team’s success and his personal involvement.

Here’s Dr. Dejaño: “As their team physician and conditioning coach, preparations started when the team was completed last summer. Daily strength and conditioning sessions were done.

“I had to individually assess each individual’s fitness level… see how they move, how they run, how they jump. In other words, look at their physical attributes or athleticism. From there, I can design a program that will improve whatever inadequacies they have and make them perform better.

“I also teach them proper diet that includes what type of food to eat and what not to eat and what to drink and what not to drink. You’d be surprised that our players do not drink soft-drinks and most sugared drinks.

“Injuries are also addressed right away so that when the game season comes, they are in tiptop shape. One thing that is very admirable with Coach Rommel Rasmo is that he has a very open mind. He collaborates with me on matters concerning the health and fitness of our athletes.

“In game 2, when SHS-Ateneo lost to UV, the players were too tense. They felt the pressure of trying to win the championship. Most of our players did not have the championship experience as this was probably their first time to play in front of a huge crowd. Plus, most of their parents traveled great distances to watch the final games.

“In game 3, the coaching staff told them to just enjoy the game and improve on their defense. For my part, during the game preparations and warm up (which I personally handle), I gave them relaxation exercises (e.g., closing their eyes for a few minutes and just think of the happiest moment in their lives ) and some drills to make them focus on the game aside from the regular warm up and stretches that we do. They were fired up and warmed up. This time around, they were ready both physically and mentally. That’s why in the first quarter they exploded with 26 points. The game was physical and fast but I think we prepared them enough for the rigors that come with this type of play. In the end, they kept their cool and composure that made them last the distance. Skills plus Science in the works!”

Dr. Dejaño’s job isn’t done yet. Because while he has won the trophy in high school, his other team (USC) played Game 1 of the collegiate championship versus SWU last night.

Said the tennis-playing doctor: “Can’t relax yet. Feeling the pressure and tension in the college finals. The game preparations are more intense and different because of the scheduling of the games. Imagine playing 3 straight games in 3 days and 2 more games one day apart if it goes the distance. Hopeful USC will make a good fight.”

CESAFI LIVE. For those who can’t visit the Cebu Coliseum, Sun.Star has live coverage. Just visit

Boy Tiukinhoy speaks

Green wins big in collegiate basketball. The UAAP or, spelled in full, the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines has followed the script of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. or CESAFI.

Cebu and Manila are the same. At exactly 5:55 yesterday afternoon, the La Salle Green Archers defeated the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers, 71-69.

This is significant for several reasons. It is the first time in six years that a non-blue-colored team won the UAAP. To be more specific, for five straight seasons (2008 – 2012), the Ateneo Blue Eagles won the UAAP collegiate basketball crown. This season, Ateneo — minus coach Norman Black and several top players — missed out on the Final Four playoffs.

In the 2013 UAAP Final, it was La Salle versus UST. Why do I say that UAAP can be likened to the script of CESAFI?

One, the championship series was decided on the very last game. With Cesafi, it was Game 5; last night at the MOA Arena — just two nights after the NBA’s Pacers and Rockets played — it was the UAAP Game 3 finals.

Two, La Salle lost the first game and came back to win their final games. Same with UV: trampled by SWU in the first two outings, they came back to win their final games.

Third, the color — my favorite: green. La Salle and UV both sport the same color while UST and SWU wear the gold shade.

TIUKINHOY. He just arrived from Cologne, Germany two days ago but, forgetting the jet lag, he still managed yesterday to send me some CESAFI highlights.

Felix “Boy” Tiukinhoy, Jr. is the CEO of Virginia Foods, Inc. He is the national head of the Phil. Association of Meat Processors, Inc. On top of that, he was named chairman of the Cebu Business Month next year — a daunting assignment. And, on these sports pages, we know his hot seat position. He’s the Commissioner of CESAFI — an unpaid, pressure-filled, many-people-are-against-you role that he’s assumed since the league started in 2001.


Tiukinhoy (right) with CDN sports editor Rick Gabuya

“SWU beat UV five times during the season (one game in the preliminary games, twice in the semifinals and twice in the finals of the best of 5 games),” Tiukinhoy said. “The 3rd (finals) game would have been the icing for SWU.”

Tiukinhoy estimates the crowd in Game 3 to be only about 1/4 full in the general admission. Fans expected a route against UV.

“I already bought a return trip Cebu to Manila for the 3 referees from Manila thinking that the series would end that night,” he admitted.

But UV won. In Game 4, he estimated the crowd to be only one-third capacity because the fans did not think UV could beat SWU twice in a row.

“Game 5 was a miracle for UV, their fans came in full force, and the general admission was in excess of capacity. I don’t want to get the championship away from UV but with the 24 shot clock that conked out, it was something eerie,” he said.

“A championship game with more than full capacity stadium and only a small blackboard for the scoreboard and a table official watch to monitor games such as 20 seconds to go, 15 seconds to go, 10 seconds to go, 5 seconds to go, etc. — only in the CESAFI finals!

“Kudos to this arrangement goes to coach Yayoy Alcoseba for making these suggestions just to continue the game for the sake of the fans.

“Even if SWU lost the championship, Coach Yayoy Alcoseba was my champion that evening. Congrats Yayoy.”

AYING CASE. On the controversial case, Tiukinhoy had this to say: “I pity Scott Aying at this early stage in his tender years; he has been taught by his parents not to follow rules and regulations and at the same time sanctioned by a Judge.

“You and I know that interference in a league of the rules and regulations from a court of law not from basketball or tennis court would create chaos to any tournament. I will just wait for the final resolution of this issue be it in the Court of Appeals or SC.”

Gullas family savors UV (Unexpected Victory)


UV is the University of Vengeance. After leading last year’s Cesafi Finals 2-1, they lost Game 4. Then, in heartbreaking fashion, they squandered an 18-point fourth quarter lead and lost to SWU. That’s last season. This year, they lost five consecutive times — a demoralizing seven-game losing streak to Southwestern.

In the pivotal Game 3 Finals last Sunday, they trailed again; in every single quarter, they were behind. Nine-time champions in the past, we coined the term for UV: “University of Victory.” But it didn’t look that way up until they were victorious in the double overtime triumph in Game 3. Then they won Game 4. And, the “sweetest of all endings,” as the Gullas family would term it, they won Game 5 last Thursday.

“It taught me the lesson that when pride is at stake and when times get hard,” Rep. Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas told me the other night, “you have to take the punches, adjust and never give up. Thats exactly what UV did.”

For the youthful 28-year-old Cebu 1st district congressman, those are mature and significant words.


Want to know the secret of UV, how they adjusted? Here’s Samsam: “SWU’s biggest strength are their starters who play about 37-38 minutes per game. They rely heavily on Tallo, Arong and Mohammed for their 1-2-3 rotation. The main adjustment we made was to play a running game and make all three of them work on defense. We guarded the three of them with all out full-court pressure and we took advantage of our deep bench. Due to this we subbed each player who guarded Tallo and Arong every 3 minutes with instructions to give his all in the 3 minutes he was there. Run on every fast break while also giving him hell on defense every square inch of the basketball court. The result: Arong was too tired to make 3’s during the end of games and Tallo looked winded at the end of games.”

DON VICENTE. The Gullases are known sportsmen. It started with Don Vicente Gullas, the lolo of Samsam. In the 1969 book Man of Vision, Susana B. Cabahug wrote: “Vicente was very sickly as a boy but came through with infantile paralysis, typhoid fever and cholera by intensive physical invigoration and exercise for four years in Maasin, Leyte. When he went back to Cebu he developed his physique by turning to sports. He became an all-around athlete: baseball player, basketball skipper, amateur boxer, tennis player, Roman ring (argulla) artist, and fencer.”

Eduardo or “Eddiegul,” is another sports fan. A Cebu Sports Hall of Fame awardee, he was adjudged “Coach of the Year” by the Philippine Sportswriters Association, the season his UV squad won the national title.

His brother and tennis doubles partner, Jose “Dodong” Gullas, was co-captain of the UV Green Lancers that captured the 1957 national title (they defeated the NCAA champs, Ateneo Blue Eagles, in the first-ever televised game in RP.)

Basketball has dribbled for generations among the Gullases. But Samsam cites one family member who, this 2013, deserves the most praise: his uncle Leo Lucero, the son of Eddiegul’s sister, Cering.

“If there is someone who should be recognized, it’s him,” Samsam added. “Last year he was made the Asst. Team Manager. When the campaign period started, he was the one who handled the team full-time, especially now when I’m usually flying to and from Manila. He is basically the Team Manager. He attends all practices and games and gives the best inspirational speeches before games. Aside from Coach Donbel, Uncle Leo should be given full credit.”

SUNSTAR. Kudos to this newspaper you’re holding, added Samsam: “Papa Eddie, Uncle Dodong, Uncle Jiji, Daddy Didi and the rest of the family have SunStar to thank that they can watch the game (live streaming) right on their living rooms.”

Finally, he ended: “Definitely the best championship I have been a part of. What made it very sweet was the fact that everyone thought we were out and done. People started to quit on us. But never underestimate the heart of a champion, particularly the heart of a Visayanian.”

SWU vs. UV: Best ending for Cebu fans

History repeats itself, the cliche goes. After four games in the Cesafi Finals, it’s two-all. Last year, the ending reached Game 5. That was October 9. Today — 10-3-2013 — it’s happening once more: UV-SWU in one game that will end Season XIII.

The funny thing is, Cebu is the same as Manila. While Cesafi is contesting the final, the UAAP best-of-three is being played at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. And, if you examine the four squads involved, they’ve got something in common: La Salle and UV are color green; UST and SWU are color gold. With the UAAP, it’s their 76th season (ours is the 13th — but prior to that we had the CAAA). Another difference: our Finals is best-of-five while theirs, surprisingly, is a short 2-out-of-3. Which teams will win the gold? Tan-awon nato. Abangan.

LAST YEAR. If you forgot what transpired in the 2012 version of Game 5, it was the most improbable of victories. Against the nine-time champions, SWU was down by 18 points with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter. Second by second, John Pajantoy and his teammates chipped at the lead while UV played “not to lose.” Instead of continuing to attack, UV retreated, wanting to run the clock.

73-72. That was the final score last year; winner: Southwestern.  “I’ve been through many comebacks before but this one is extra special. Historic,” coach Yayoy Alcoseba said. Felix “Boy” Tiukinhoy, the commissioner of Cesafi, ranked that game a “Perfect 10.”

SAMSAM. One person who recalls that moment is Gerald Anthony Gullas. How one year changes a man. Twelve months ago, Samsam Gullas was the UV Team Manager. Now, he’s the youngest congressman of our nation.

“We know we have to lay it all on the table and finish what we should have finished in Game 5 of last year,” said the 28-year-old Gullas, just hours after their Game 4 victory last Tuesday.

I asked Mr. Gullas what he discussed with the team after that double overtime Sunday night win in Game 3. “I told them they weren’t playing like they wanted to win the championship,” said Gullas. “They didn’t play with heart and with pride that a Visayanian is known for.”

Getting angry. Being brutally honest. Samsam continued, “It seemed like SWU was hungrier than us. They always got the offensive rebounds; we missed our free throws and played with no intensity on defense.

“I told them I saw a bit of that in Game 3 in the final 5 minutes and both overtimes and I would want to see it in Game 4. I challenged Mike (Nzeusseu) to minimize the offensive rebounds of Sanjo and asked Wowie to show me everything that made him the rookie MVP last year.”

With these tough words from their young leader, the Lancers pierced the slithery Cobras’ game and won their fourth encounter, 71-66.

“I’m so proud of them cause they rose to the challenge,” Gullas said. “I’m so proud of my veterans Abad and Arong and my rookies as well, especially Codilla and Santillan.”

Looking ahead to their 4 p.m. game today, Rep. Gullas provided me with words that his players have to embrace in order to triumph: Passion. Intensity. Pride. “Most importantly,” he added, “the heart to come back and make history by not only winning our 10th championship but winning 3 straight games after losing I think 7 straight games to the Cobras since last year.”

For us, the fans, hasn’t this been a fun, this-is-what-we-want type of season? SWU glides through the preliminaries and coasts last weekend to a 14-0 scorecard. UV struggles and is submerged in a 0-2 hole. But then… after two overtime extensions last Sunday, it’s the opposite now: SWU has lost two straight. It’s just fitting that the season ends — like the Miami Heat did last June — with one final game.

“The final game is finally here,” Gullas said. “It all ends today. I’m just hoping and praying that we will come out on top this year. I’m going to tell my players that we should win this for my grandmother who will be celebrating her birthday on October 4.”

Congressman (Samsam) or Provincial Board Member (Yayoy), Gullas or Aznar, green or gold, 9-time champion or defending champion… ?

Can the Lancers repel the Cobras’ bite?

I called him up at 12:15 yesterday. I thought he’d be having lunch. Instead, my eardrums were greeted with a symphony of sounds: balls dribbling, rubber shoes squeaking against the wooden floor, the referees’ whistles reverberating. They were practicing. Inside Cebu Coliseum. Inside the same arena where, just 17 hours earlier, they could have won it all.

14-0. That was their scorecard before the Sunday night Game 3.

15-0. It could have been that score. They led in the 1st quarter, in the 2nd, the 3rd, the final quarter. In OT. They were just minutes, moments, heartbeats… away from the most dominant season in Cesafi’s 13-year history.

But yesterday, instead of a relaxing seafood luncheon at Yayoy’s Grill, they were there… Practicing. Inside Cebu Coliseum.

Surprisingly, the always-intense Raul Demerry Alcoseba – I call him “King Cobra” – was upbeat when he answered my call. Positive. Expectant. In a good mood. Hmmm… This is a surprise. On second thought, it’s not a surprise. This is a man who, over three decades plus, has been through thousands of pressure-cooker-type situations inside coliseums.

Been there. Done that win. Experienced that loss. It’s called reality. It’s called you-can-never-win-it-all. “I told the players that this is never easy,” Coach Yayoy said. “To win a championship, you need to win three.”

Having led 2-0 in the finals, his Southwestern University (SWU) Cobras was a game away from sweeping the previously-unbeatable University of the Visayas (UV). If you followed the beginnings of Cesafi, you’ll remember that UV was today’s SWU – it was so dominant that it won the first nine Cesafi titles. “I told the players, ‘It’s not about the streak.’ Winning is not given to us on a platter. We have to be patient. We have to learn our lessons,” Alcoseba added.

Maybe it’s the added pressure of the sweep. Maybe it’s the other team, just seconds away from oblivion, rising to the occasion. Whatever it is, it’s good for the public. “This kind of game is good for basketball, for the Cebuanos,” Alcoseba admitted.

Thrilling! That’s what Alcoseba means. And, talking to him yesterday, nothing gives him more euphoria – not even his Provincial Board membership and being a three-time Councilor of the City of Cebu – than a double-OT game with thousands of screaming fans.

“Our players have to be patient,” he said. “We can’t commit early fouls like we did. Like Sanjo. He has to give up some points so he won’t foul out early. He has to be patient in the offense, not exerting too much energy. Not running court to court. Our players have to learn to control the game. It’s called time management. They think that when they get the ball.. hala, discarte.”

Patience. That, in one word, is the command of the King Cobra.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 8.20.57 AMFrom SunStar Cebu

RYAN AZNAR. I asked for a message from SWU’s athletic director and here’s what Ryan Aznar said: “The guys still believe they can close it out on Game 4, adjustments will be made by the coaching staff for the next game. The school’s support is very important as well as the students, knowing that the entire SWU community is behind them keeps their morale high and encourages them to play hard in every game they play.”

GAME 4. Although each game, especially in the Finals, is important, I believe that today’s game is the most crucial. If SWU wins it, obviously, it’s done. They’re expected to win. After a near-perfect season, they’re still the heavy favorites.

But…. And here’s an important “but,” if UV wins today, wow, this will completely shift the momentum and have the Cobras feeling pressured.

I’ve always loved that winner-take-all ending. Remember Miami-San Antonio a few months back? Game 7? If UV snatches another steal today, imagine the excitement in that Game 5 finale?

LIVE STREAM. I’m out of town right now but, thanks to this newspapers you’re holding right now, I got to see Game 3. Watch it at

The improbable win of Southwestern University

Yayoy Alcoseba calls the date “October 6” as “historic.” Ryan Aznar, the athletic director (since 2006) of Southwestern University, credits one act of his players for their success: praying before and after each game. Felix Tiukinhoy, the commissioner of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi), when I asked him to rank this game from 1 to 10, did not hesitate to say: “The game was a 10! The best so far.”

Everybody’s talking about the incredible victory of SWU over UV last Saturday night. “We were down 18 points with seven minutes and 55 seconds in the fourth quarter,” said Yayoy yesterday. “I’ve been through many comebacks before but this one is extra special. In one final against MisO in Cagayan de Oro, my team trailed the entire game until the very last shot when we won the game. That was special. But this was historic.”

Like many classic battles, this was a seesaw contest. SWU won Game 1. UV won games 2 and 3. SWU won Game 4. Game 5? The winner-take-all finale? It appeared that UV would win. In his Facebook post, Noel Advin aptly coined an acronym for S.W.U.

SWU: “Sorry, Winner ang UV.” Noel correctly wrote that UV fans thought of that acronym for most of Game 5. Until the dramatic last few minutes that ended with SWU’s 73-72 win.

What happened? “When UV had that lead of 18 points with only minutes left, they became tentative,” Yayoy said. “They were no longer aggressive with the offense. They knew that the clock was ticking. Na usab ilang game. They were running the clock, waiting for the time.”

SWU? They had nothing to lose. That’s why Yayoy brought in John Pajantoy. They were desperate. They needed a miracle. “While UV became tentative, we became aggressive. We had no choice. We had to play catch up,” said Yayoy.

UV was playing not to lose — instead of trying to win. And it cost them. The game. The title. The season. “The momentum changed,” said Yayoy. “We fought back. Our players gained confidence.”

My fellow SunStar writer Rommel Manlosa said it best when he wrote: “UV was in total control of the game and showed it had better experience but it was SWU who had the heart and determination to win the championship.”

RYAN AZNAR. One person to be credited for SWU’s triumph is their athletic director, Ryan Aznar.

A former Cebu Country Club jungolfer who is now into practical shooting, Ryan is also a commissioner of the Cebu City Sports Commission and a board member of the Cebu Volleyball Association.

As a testament to his devotion to SWU’s sports program  — and not just the school’s basketball program — Ryan told me that while the SWU team celebrated at (fittingly) Yayoy’s Grill after the game, he head to leave early. The reason: Early the next day, the SWU girls volleyball team will play in the championship as well as the women’s team.

Ryan credits the SWU populace for the support. “Our chairman of board, Maris Aznar Holopainen, and treasurer Ana Alfonso Almario are at the forefront of our entire sports program together with the rest of the board of directors of SWU. Our university president Dr. Elsa Suralta is also credited for her all-out support and to the entire SWU community.”

Mr. Aznar thanks Coach Alcoseba. “His experience was a big factor on us winning; it was his idea that we get foreign players and even UV followed, too. Also, Coach Mike Reyes was a perfect addition to SWU’s coaching staff.”

As to the grand victory party, Ryan said that that will have to wait. “It’s our final exams this week, no time yet to celebrate.”

But very soon, the school founded a couple of years after the war (1946) will soon celebrate and party. On the 12th year of the Cesafi season, the team with the colors maroon and gold finally struck gold.

Gullas: UV ‘overconfident and complacent’

The University of the Visayas is the Michael Phelps of the CESAFI collegiate basketball league. Since the Cebu School Athletic Foundation, Inc. started a dozen years ago, they have won not thrice or five or seven times but 9 of the last 11 years. UV stood for the University of Victory. Not anymore. Not the past two years. Not two nights ago.

“We were overconfident and complacent,” said UV team manager Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, the grandson of Rep. Eddie Gullas. It’s good to hear honest and brutally-frank words from no less than the school owner. Samsam added: “We beat them twice in the eliminations and the semis as well and went undefeated until game 1.”

Compyansa? “Maybe the boys thought it would be easy,” said Samsam. “Hopefully that first game was a wake up call for my players. I hope they will step up for game 2.”

UV forgot that the Southwestern University (SWU) were the runners-up last season. UV also forgot that, last year, it was the venom unleashed by the Cobras that defeated them in the semifinals.

Last year, despite losing the first two games of the CESAFI final to UC, the Aznar-owned team won the next two. I watched Game 5 last year. SWU was minutes away from winning the CESAFI title until a 6-foot-10 giant named Junmar Fajardo and his Webmasters pulled the ball away and held it for good. UC won, 3-2.

“All I want for our bigs to do is to neutralize their bigs,” said Samsam, ahead of Game 2. “I believe the key for us to win is our guard play. If Abad, Mercader and Calo can step up their games for the rest of the series, we will come out victorious.”

UV has to win today’s 5:30 P.M. game at the Cebu Coliseum. If not, SWU will have three chances out of three to win the trophy.

As I’ve said last year, kudos to Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba, the head coach, who took over the SWU team only last season. Thus far, they were the 2011 runners-up and, just two games to go, a possible 2012 champion.

INTERNET. I could not find the time to be at the Cebu Coliseum last Tuesday for Game 1. But I watched the game. Live. How was that possible?

SunStar Sports. If you log-in the website,,  you’ll be able to watch – in real-time — the game. For free. When I started watching two nights ago, it was the end of the 3rd quarter. SWU led UV 55-50. At that time, there were 50 current users and a total of 124 views.

You will see the SunStar logo at the upper-left and a USTREAM logo on the right. At the lower-right portion of the website, real-time comments are published for all to see and be updated. This is awesome. A UV or SWU follower can be anywhere around the world and watch the game “live.”

SINGAPORE F1. I have two corrections to make. In my last column, I wrote about the Grand Prix night race. Some thought I was in Singapore. Sorry but I watched the race like many of you did… fronting a TV.

One mistake: I mentioned that the Pit Stop, where the cars zoom in and out in as fast as 3.1 seconds, is where they change tires and refuel. It turns out that starting 2010, refueling is not part of the routine. Thanks to Ivi Sumergido and Kerrwin Sanchez for pointing this out.

CCC LADIES. Congratulations to the Cebu Country Club ladies team for winning the Founders Division title in the Sept. 18 to 21 event in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo called the PAL Ladies Interclub.

Hannah Wong, a perennial CCC champion, sent these details: “Our team won Champion in the Founders Division by 30 points despite being just 3 up going to the 3rd day over Alabang. Our leading scorer, Lois Kaye “LK” Go, also won1st runner-up in Flight A and she also won the “Highest Point Scored Award.”

The CCC team: Lalay Lava – Captain; Mercy Bejar; Ryoko Nagai (mother of Gen); Hannah Jayne Wong -ex-jungolfer; Stephanie Marie Abigail “Abby” Olea – ex-jungolfer; Alyeska Yunam -jungolfer; Lois Kaye “LK” Go – jungolfer; Junia Louise Gabasa -jungolfer. Scores are available at

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.”

The Captain of the University of Champions (UC)

Three weeks ago, I stepped inside the office of Atty. Augusto Go. The room was spacious. Leather seats rested comfortably. Portraits of the young Gus Go decorated the walls. A 32-inch Samsung TV flashed images beside his cavernous, all-hardwood desk. Papers were stacked. Books adorned the cabinets.

Atty. Go was wearing his usual office attire: short-sleeves shirt. He was also wearing a smile. The reason? Plenty. His University of Cebu (UC) had just been declared, thanks to a heart-stopping Game 5 victory over the Southwestern University (SWU), the winners. UC was the University of Champions. Champions in the Cesafi last year, they repeated again this 2011 season.

“Basketball is important for UC,” said Atty. Go, a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. “Basketball is the game that everyone follows.” But UC is not all basketball. One of the largest educational institutions in the country—in a few years’ time it will exceed 50,000 students—UC focuses not on one sport but on all sports.

That morning when we talked for nearly half an hour, his Arnis team members, gold medal winners in another major event, were waiting outside his office. Also standing outside his office lobby were tall trophies.

“Sports is important,” he said, “but education is even more important. We never compromise the studies of our students for sports.”

One example, he narrated, was when a foreign student was once “imported” by UC. A photo-op was taken inside Atty. Go’s office. It turns out, the handshake deal was not formalized because weeks after, that student revisited UC’s officials and asked for more money. He requested that UC match the higher “asking price” of another university.

“I said no,” Atty. Go explained. “We’re not in it for the money.” The player moved elsewhere.

Junemar Fajardo? The 6-foot-10 MVP who’s been the best Cebuano collegiate player the past two seasons? “He came to UC because of our Maritime program,” said Gus Go.

On their Maritime program, the UC owner was at his most excited. “I’m happy to say that UC is the biggest maritime school in the world that caters to foreign companies,” he said. “Each year, we have 15,000 applicants and we accept only 500 scholars per campus. With our four campuses, that’s 2,000 students. They get free tuition, uniforms and more. Plus, when they graduate, they’re eligible to get as much as $6,000 salary per month.”

I knew UC was huge. I also knew that UC excelled in maritime education. But it wasn’t until the first-hand explanation of the founder that I understood their impact.

“Thirty percent of the world’s seafarers are Filipinos,” he said. “By the end of the decade, that will increase to 50 percent.” Today, roughly $16 billion is pumped into the Philippine economy, thanks to our modern-day heroes, the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

“John, would you believe,” said Atty. Go, “that out of the 12 million OFWs, only 500,000 are seafarers… yet they account for 30 percent of the entire $16 billion that enters our economy. That’s the financial impact of the seafarers.”

While speaking, Atty. Go was animated. Given that UC is the world’s biggest, you can imagine the impact he’s making to thousands of people’s lives. “Many who come to us are poor,” he said. “For them to be given full scholarships then work for very high paying jobs, that makes happy.”

Fulfilled. Yes. That’s the word I’d best describe Augusto Go. His work ethic, still reporting to the office daily and commanding his vast empire of schools and businesses, is outstanding. Best of all, I was amazed at his intellect and memory. He recited to me the names of every single foreign company that’s linked with UC. He even enumerated the names of the key officials who landed in Cebu to formalize deals with him. In business parlance, that’s being “hands-on.”

Like a ship commander, he steers the University of Captains.

(Note: Read my October 13, 2010 story about Gus Go here.)

Yayoy and the rise of the Cobras

I had a lengthy phone conversation with Cebu City Councilor Raul Alcoseba yesterday. No, our talk did not delve into politics. And, no, I did not ask the three-term councilor if he’s eyeing a congressional seat in two years’ time.

We talked basketball. If you recall, Coach Yayoy joined the CESAFI tournament for the first time. He led the Cobras collegiate team of Southwestern University. In just his first season, he transformed a previously unrecognized SWU team into a title-contender.

What happened this 2011? SWU lost their first two games. At that point, the critics barked on Yayoy and his prediction of the Cobras biting and unleashing venom. Naysayers laughed. But, as each game and week and month progressed, the Cobras turned lethal. They won. At the end of the First Round, they had a positive win-loss record. In the Second Round, they swept the enemies to score 6-0. They beat UC. Then, in a twice-to-beat scenario against UV, they lost the first game. Finally, they rebounded and won the decider in a lopsided (and, yes, controversial) manner.

SWU faced UC in the finals. Again, they were down. Game 1 they lost. Game 2 they lost. Nobody had ever recovered from a 0-2 score-line. But, minute after minute, SWU recovered. They regained their confidence. They won Game 3. They won Game 4.

“This whole season,” said Coach Yayoy, “has been one of downs and ups for Southwestern. We were down in our opening two games. We came back. We were down against UV. We won. We were down 2-0 against UC.”

Win? Did SWU steal that victory, like a Pacquiao over Marquez, in Game 5? No. The fairy-tale ending did not happen. Still, what an amazing, roller-coaster-like, near-championship-victory for the Aznar-owned squad.

“As each game progressed,” said Alcoseba, “more and more fans went to watch SWU. We were not this popular before. Not until this year.”

The reason? “We’re the underdogs,” he said. That’s true. Don’t ordinary followers often gravitate towards cheering for the ones not expected to succeed?

UC is a giant. I’ve coined the nickname for them: University of Champions. They’ve been—and are—winners not only in basketball but everything from athletics to tennis to swimming to name-the-sport-and-UC’s-won-it. One of the Philippines’ largest schools (they’ll soon surpass 50,000 enrollees), UC is a behemoth in sports.

SWU? In volleyball and others, yes. But not in CESAFI basketball. Not until this 2011. Back to Game 5: SWU won it…. Almost.

With three minutes left in the season, they led. It evaporated. With Pao’s double three-pointers, it disappeared. “Inexperience,” Yayoy calls it.

Still, the season was a success. “The support of the SWU management was all-out,” said the coach. Specifically, Maris Johana Aznar Holopainen, the chairperson of the Board of Trustees; Annette Alfonso Almario, treasurer; Andrew Aznar, team manager; and, my good friend and an impassioned sportsman, SWU’s athletic director, Ryan Aznar.

One name also emerged in our phone conversation: Michel Lhuillier. Though not an owner of the team, thanks to his over 25 years of close ties with Mr. Alcoseba, M. Lhuillier supported the SWU team in many ways. The uniforms. Extra support when they reached the finals. And, most of all, Michel funded the TV coverage on SkyCable.

“Showing the games on TV was important,” said Alcoseba. “The Cebu Coliseum was over-capacity. More wanted to watch but could not be accommodated. The airing of the games gave plenty the chance to see this season.”

This season, of course, turned out to be one of the 11-year-old CESAFI league’s most enthralling. Both the high school and the collegiate finals reached the precipice—the Game 5 finale.

“Our season is not finished yet,” Alcoseba said. On Nov. 27, both UC and SWU will play in Ormoc. They’ll face the Mindanao and W. Visayas champions, respectively. If both win, they’ll meet again on Nov. 28. The winner? That team will represent Vis-Min in the Phil. Collegiate Champions League in Manila.

Game 6, UC v. SWU? Abangan.

Samsam: the same Gullas as Eddie, Dodong

Few Cebuanos possess the combination of humility, riches, stature, and longevity as the Gullas brothers, Eduardo and Jose “Dodong.”

One such successor is Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, the son of Didi and grandson of Rep. Eddie.

For the past three years, he’s been the team manager of the family-owned University of the Visayas basketball teams. His UV collegiate squad? Shocking to many, they lost. It was the second straight year that the 9-time CESAFI champions were defeated. The start of the end of the UV dynasty? Not so fast. Because in the high school division, the Baby Lancers emerged victorious, besting Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu in their Game 5 clash last Wednesday, 85-82.

Of that come-from-behind win, Samsam said: “I have to admit, when Sing hit three 3 pointers to end the 3rd quarter to make the Ateneo lead at 10, I wanted to get out of the coliseum. That is why I’m so proud of my boys. They persevered and truly showed what a Visayanian is all about. We fight when the odds are greatest, and when their team manager started to quit, the Baby Lancers didn’t. When I thought it was all over, they showed poise. Truly one of the best feelings in the world. It also helps that this is the first high school championship under my watch.”

UV was not expected to win the gold. Ateneo and CEC were the favorites. “We came in as the underdogs which makes this championship sweeter,” said Samsam. “Just like my Papa Eddie, I always root for the underdog. So to see the Baby Lancers overcome all the odds, makes this the best championship I’ve been a part of, including the college level.”

As to his UV college team, who was criticized when, in their last game against SWU, the players resorted to dirty tactics, Samsam exhibits the trademark Gullas humility: “For the record, I am not proud of what they did. It was uncalled for and it is not the morals, values and principles we teach our students at UV. The game against SWU must be the lowest point since I took over as team manager; that is why we suspended our players and in behalf of the university we are very sorry to everyone. As happy as I am for the success for our high school team, this cannot overshadow what happened. That is how much we regret what happened.”

Basketball dribbles like the heartbeat of the 26-year-old Gullas. He plays almost daily, practicing with his varsity teams (“pugong sa edad,” he says). He counts on James Yap and Mark Caquiao as his PBA idols. NBA? Kobe B.

But they pale in comparison to his true idol, the man we simply call “Eddiegul.”

“I’ve been with Papa Eddie since I was three months old,” he said. “Ever since, I have been living with the best role model I could hope for. But as much as I try to be like him, that’s impossible. Papa Eddie is the most amazing and remarkable guy I know; he’s incomparable. He’s the type of guy that comes every 1000 years. Even with all he has accomplished, he still is the most humble guy I know. That’s one in a million nowadays. He’s my idol, my mentor, my life, my inspiration, my grandfather and my everything all rolled into one.”

Does his grandpa teach him basketball tips? “Papa Eddie is old school. He hates the isolation and one-on-one plays that NBA and PBA teams run today. So every time ‘mag binuhaya ko,’ he always tells me, ‘The ring is not your teammate Sam, why do you keep on passing to him?’ Papa Eddie always calls me a ‘points guard,’ not a point guard. So if ever there’s something he tells me to do more often, it’s pass the ball. Haha.”

As to UV college and their quest to reclaim from UC the trophy? “It’s all about recruitment, recruitment, recruitment,” he said. They need to tap more contacts in Mindanao and Luzon. “The good thing is, after everything that has happened this year, the UV administration has given their full support. I believe we will have a good year coming. Let me correct that, I know we have a good year ahead of us!”

Finally, with my last query… Samsam’s reply: “Pacquiao in less than 3 rounds.”

Pacquiao loses; UC is the Univ. of Champions

No, the above-mentioned title is not a premonition of this Sunday morning’s bout. It’s about a Mr. Pacquiao who, despite being the best, came up short.

The game transpired two nights ago. It was the finale Game 5 between the Southwestern University and the University of Cebu. The title: collegiate men’s basketball champion of the CESAFI.

Pacquiao, first-named Rene, was the top-scorer of the SWU Cobras. He contributed 19 points. In the previous Game 4, he again scored the most: 15.

Last Tuesday night at the Cebu Coliseum, with 150 seconds left in the ballgame, Pacquiao drilled a long jump shot to even the score, 54-all. But while the SWU fans screamed and fist-pumped, that was to be their team’s last point of the year 2011.

Edward Pao, in a sideways, awkward jumping position, hurled the leather ball from beyond the 3-point line and, swoosh, it mercilessly entered. Score: 57-54. Ball possessions exchanged and, in the end, UC were declared the 2011 champions. The final tally: 60-54.

Painful. I watched the Cobra fans shout their loudest. Though UC is owned by Atty. Gus Go who, in turn, owns Cebu Coliseum, the spectators cheered louder for SWU. Maybe because they were the underdogs and nobody expected them to be near victory.

SWU was so near victory. With 3:49 left in the game, they led 51-47. With less than three minutes to go, the Cobras led, 52-49. Yes! With less than 180 seconds remaining in the entire CESAFI season, SWU led by three….

But, never mind the lead. Never mind the loud cheering… “LET’S GO COBRAS, LET’S GO!” “D-FENSE!” “GO, PACQUIAO!” (One placard even read: “Pacquiao: Pang Las Vegas ang move mo!”)

With each tick of the clock moving closer to an SWU win, my thoughts returned to last year. Remember the improbable victory of Cebu Eastern College? When CEC was beaten by over 100 points in the previous season and returned to win the 2010 title?

I thought SWU would achieve the same. Never-before-winners until the entry of Cebu’s best ever, Coach Yayoy A.—and down 0-2 to the defending champions—was this going to be another Yahoo! moment for Cebu basketball?

In the end, it wasn’t to be. As Councilor Alcoseba relayed to me in our talk last week, his team’s problem was this: they could not finish off the lead. Sadly, he was proven right again. The veterans won. In the end, the Cobras could not unleash their venom.

Junemar Fajardo, whom I saw held scoreless in the 3rd quarter, scored 12 points (of his total 23) in the 4th quarter.

But it was Edward Pao’s two 3-pointers in the last minutes that provided the season-ending heroics.

Coach Yayoy Alcoseba, whom I saw after the game when he climbed the stairs heading towards their dugout, was mad. He and his team were so close… yet lost the grip in the final seconds. “I told them to guard Pao!” he said. “I told them to forget Fajardo in the end… to guard Pao and not let him shoot!” His boys did not follow. UC wins.

The crowd? Unbelievable. I’ve never seen a more boisterous and tighter-packed Cebu Coliseum.

Mayor Mike Rama—unknowingly and without malice, wore yellow, the color of the eventual winning team—was seated at ringside. But, on plenty of occasions, the mayor stood up, walked to the crowd, requested them to push back. He took the microphone once and mandated: If the overflowing crowd does not clear the sidelines, the game will stop.

VIP section spectators all stood up. Yellow and red long balloons danced. Drums shook the derelict stadium. The atmosphere was tense and electrifying; the crowd engulfed the rectangle floor. On a few occasions, the free-throw shooter was requested to pause because fans overcrowded and climbed the back of the goal post. It shook the ring.

UC? While I nicknamed UV, during their 9-year reign, as the University of Victory, it’s time to entitle UC, whose giant population exceeds 44,000, as the University of Champions.

SWU? Sayang. Winners. Unta.

Pacquiao? Don’t worry. He’ll win this Sunday.

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.

After UV’s tumble, SWU faces giant UC

The NBA is headed for a year-long stoppage. This is sad. It’s also reflective of the American society today: it’s broken, in particular, the U.S. politics. Look at the Republicans and the Democrats. The No.1 goal of the GOP party is simple: Ensure that Pres. Barack Obama becomes an ordinary citizen by 2013. Never mind the failing economy—it’s all politics. And we thought our Mike/Gwen vs. Tommy fight is bad? Look at America.

It’s the same with the NBA. The two sides—the players and the owners—can’t agree. No one will budge. The key word, “compromise,” has been compromised.

I spoke to John Domingo, a good friend who now calls himself “Cebuano” more than “American,” about the divisiveness in the once glorious U.S.A. and he admits it. That’s why he loves Cebu. The politics and gridlock are possibly at its all-time worst there.

With the NBA, everyone suffers if the season is cancelled. The fans. The workers at the stadiums. This certainly won’t help the U.S. economy. Plus, the league’s prestige will get tarnished.

MLB. Since basketball and the NBA are nearly gone… the American sporting populace has turned to its traditional game… baseball.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the World Series champions. They weren’t supposed to be the last-game winners. In Game 6 against the Texas Rangers, they were one out away from defeat. Not once—but twice. And, both times, they escaped. That was two days ago.

Today, they’re smiling the widest of grins. Their famous coach, Tony La Russa, entrusted the pitching to a 6-foot-6 behemoth named Chris Carpenter who, at the old age of 36, previously missed entire seasons because of shoulder and elbow injuries.

The World Series MVP? David Freese. He hails from St. Louis—so the fans know him and cheered him loudly. In Game 6, he smacked the ball en route to a two-run triple in the 9th inning when his Cardinals were down to the final strike. Then, in the 11th inning, he delivered a home run to win the game for his hometown.

I’m sure Jesse Bernad watched every game and would consider this one of the best battles in a long time.

UV. When this team won nine straight Cesafi titles in collegiate basketball, I nicknamed them the “University of Victory.” That’s because UV—the University of the Visayas—was unbeaten since the 2001 start of the Cesafi until their reign was stopped last year by UC.

Now comes the ugly part.

Mike Limpag has written about it. So has Atty. Frank Malilong, a lifelong basketball and UV fan.

What the UV players did in their final game against Southwestern University (SWU) was unsportsmanlike and appalling. It was foul. Down by as much as 20 points, they turned sore losers. They complained about the refereeing. Elbows were shoved. They could not accept the reality that, for the first time, they’d be ousted in the semifinals. They were.

I agree with Frank. The next-day request for forgiveness and repudiation of its players by Sam-Sam Gullas, the owner/team manager of UV, was classic Gullas. He has the Gullas bloodline running through his arteries and the Gullas sense of humility and fair play beating in his heart.

As to SWU, again, our thunderous applause to Raul Alcoseba, their head coach who, in his first season with Cesafi—like he does in any league or event that he joins—immediately caused a winning shock.

UC or SWU? They played last night. With Junemar Fajardo still towering over the Gus Go-owned institution that’s one of the biggest in the nation, it’s hard to not bet for UC. But, remember this: their lone loss was against the Aznar-owned team. And with Yayoy calling the tactics from the SWU sidelines, that’s an intimidating figure.

The Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc.

Metro Manila has two dominant collegiate leagues: the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The UAAP started in 1938; the NCAA, even earlier, in 1924. At the UAAP, the schools include UP, UE, UST, NU, Ateneo, La Salle, FEU and Adamson. In the NCAA, the list has San Sebastian, PCU, Letran, Arellano, Mapua, San Beda and JRU. (Why the two leagues won’t merge so that the champion is the true winner of collegiate sports, I don’t know.)

Here in Cebu, we only have one league. Previously, it was named CAAA. Those letters stood for Cebu Amateur Athletics Association. But, starting 11 years ago, a new group was formed. Today, all the big-named universities join the CESAFI.

In basketball, last year was the most memorable. For the first time, a school not named University of the Visayas was crowned the champion. For the first nine years of CESAFI, the school owned by Dodong and Eddie Gullas won the grand prize.

But last year, the University of Cebu, captained by founder Gus Go, snatched the title away from UV. “We’ve been trying to win all these years,” said Atty. Go to me last October. “But we always could not win in basketball. Finally, we made it!”

In the high school (juniors) division, last season was just as monumental. After losing by 151 points in one game the previous year (score: 178-23), the Cebu Eastern College Baby Dragons spewed fire on the opponents. Last October 10 (that’s the date 10-10-10), CEC achieved the unachievable by pocketing the championship, thanks to their alumni led by the Cebu Province “Garbo sa Sugbu” awardee Chester Cokaliong. That’s last season.

What’s new starting today, when the 2011-2012 season begins at 12 noon with a mass? “The new president of CESAFI is Fr. Enrico Peter Silab, OAR,” said CESAFI commissioner Felix “Boy” Tiukinhoy. “He is the president of USJR. He will be serving for one term.”

Today’s Opening will be different: instead of just basketball players parading the Cebu Coliseum, the players from the different sports will join.

“The reason for just one opening is to save on cost for gym expenses and costumes for the Palabas,” said Tiukinhoy. “The Palabas for the schools will be ‘free for all’ dance numbers so that the school can choose their numbers and costumes at affordable costs.”

The theme for 2011? “Reviving Ecology through Sports and Academic Excellence.”

Another addition is the choice of a Mr. CESAFI. While the previous opening acts had a Ms. CESAFI (I’ve had the privilege of being a judge on two occasions), today is the first time a collegiate male student will win the prize. “The winner for the college Mr. and Ms. CESAFI,” said Tiukinhoy, “will be the CESAFI candidates for the PRISAA.”

In basketball, seven college teams will join: UC, SWU, USC, UV, USJ-R, CIT and USP-F. In high school, there are nine: CEC, CIT, UV, DBTC, USC, UC, SHS-ADC, USJ-R and USP-F.

All games will be held at the Cebu Coliseum. The schedule? Every Tuesday and Thursday, the first of two games begin at 5:15 P.M. On Saturdays and Sundays, the first of four games start at 1 P.M.

Tickets are inexpensive: General Admission is P20 while the most expensive, Lower Box, is P60. Best of all: students with IDs get 50% off.

Today, the first game pits CEC against UV. Then, for college, it’s USJ-R against the defending champs, UC.

What else is new? Boy Cabahug, who led UV to nine straight trophies as the head coach, will be missed. He was abruptly discharged after his school’s first-ever loss. Taking over is Felix Belano. Also new but forever-known as the most famous coach of Vis-Min is Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. The Cebu City Councilor will mentor the team that’s acknowledged as this year’s most intimidating: SWU.

My prediction? Nobody taller will reign than the remaining Twin Tower of Cebu. No, he’s not Greg Slaughter—that 7-footer has since shifted from UV green to Ateneo blue.

Our Dirk Nowitzki? Junmar Fajardo, 6’10”.

Gus Go: ‘Triple Treat’ for University of Cebu

Minutes after I sent him a text message, my mobile phone rang.

“John,” he said, “hi it’s Gus Go.”

“Attorney Go, congratulations!” I replied.

The founder and president of one of the largest educational institutions in the Philippines was on his way to his office at 3:45 yesterday afternoon.

“The players are waiting for me,” he said.

The Players, of course, are The Champions. For the first time in the 10-year history of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi), a school other than the University of the Visayas (UV) has emerged as titleholders.

Cebu’s university… University of Cebu. It’s been long, long, long wait. Make that nine long years when the Gullas family and Boy Cabahug and the Green Lancers reigned over collegiate basketball.

“Yes, we’ve been trying to win all these years,” said Atty. Go, “but we always could not win in basketball. Finally, we made it.”

The UC Webmasters made history last Tuesday evening, winning the best-of-five championship series, 3-1, when they scored a breathtaking 73-72 victory—thanks to 6-foot-10 Junemar Fajardo’s tough jumper with only 4.0 seconds left.

Atty. Augusto Go wanted to be there in person at the facility he owns—the Cebu Coliseum—to cheer on his team. “It was the birthday of Governor Gwen Garcia and I attended her party. My daughter, Candice, watched the game. She was the one who told me the good news.”

“What makes this victory extra special is because earlier that day, I got news that we got both first and second place in the Naval Architectural national examinations,” he said. “And then, this, the win by one point. It has given me even more excitement.”

The term that Augusto Go coined? “Triple treat! It was a triple treat!”

I reminded Atty. Go that it wasn’t just a one-two-three victory. It was also his birthday last Monday and what a way to celebrate. Yes, he agreed, laughing.

I asked him more about himself—and basketball. Were you formerly a player? “No, I used to play bowling,” he said. “But I watch and follow the NBA and am a big fan of the L.A. Lakers. Although now, with LeBron’s entry to his new team, I’ll be following the Miami Heat.”

Finally, we talked about the twin victories that have never been done before. First, the supremacy of Cebu Eastern College and, two nights after, the triumph of his University of Cebu.

“Mr. Frederick Ong, Jr. won the high school division with CEC while you won the college,” I said.

“Yes, you’re right. And that makes it extra special!” he replied.

As to incentives or gifts he’ll give Junemar Fajardo—the unstoppable giant on the low-post who scored 32 points and the Cesafi season MVP—plus the rest of the Webmasters, he said, “Atty. Estenzo will decide on that. He’ll tell me his recommendation.”

We said goodbye. I, pondering on this extraordinary week; Atty. Go off to meet his players—the champions of Cebu.

Perfect 10-10-10 for Cebu Eastern College

Chester Cokaliong is a hero. But not last year. Not when his alma matter, CEC, suffered the most humiliating of defeats—losing by 151 points against UV and 131 points versus UC—when his Dragons were devoured by Eagles, pounded on by Webmasters, and pierced by Lancers. In 2009, CEC stood for Catastrophic Embarrassing College.

Not today. Not two nights ago inside the Cebu Coliseum when, during the Cesafi high school championship series, the Dragons roared to swallow Sacred Heart School-Ateneo, 3-0.

“The Chinese New Year is still four months away,” wrote Rommel Manlosa yesterday, “but the people at the Cebu Coliseum were treated to a classic dragon dance, traditional money dance and Chinese music.” What a victory! A celebration! Added our sports editor Mike Limpag: “Their campaign is the Story of the Year — from chumps to champs.”

For would you believe, “For 10 years, we did not win a single game. And now, this… we are the champions!!” said Chester Cokaliong, minutes after his Dragons snared the title. Implausible? Preposterous? Unimaginable? These words, in fact, do not describe fully the 360-degree turnaround of just 360 days. “I cannot find the words,” Chester told me, “to explain what we feel right now.”

Sitting beside Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama the entire game last Sunday, I had a front-row view of the miracle. Beside us were CESAFI Commissioner Boy Tiukinhoy, deputy commissioners Danny Duran and Julian Macoy, and another CEC official who deserves just as much praise as Chester: Jefferson Go.

In last Sunday’s third game of the finals, both CEC and SHS-Ateneo wore blue. CEC wore white/blue; Ateneo donned blue with white trimmings. But, it was clear which team would be beaten and turn blue. The CEC Dragons were too strong, too inspired, too good to let a two-zero advantage go to waste. Plus, the high schoolers had an extra incentive: Chester & Co. brought all their parents to watch history’s 10-10-10 victory during Cesafi’s Season 10.

With players hailing from Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao and other parts of Vis-Min, the Dragons were an All-Star cast. There was Nike Montalvo, the Piolo Pascual lookalike who wears, of course, Nike. “He will be in the PBA,” said Mayor Mike Rama of the season MVP. I agree. Montalvo has it all: quickness, 3-pointers, and an acrobatic body like a youthful Michael Jordan. James Neil Sumayang is another. CEC’s center—though not 6-foot-10 like JunMar Fajardo—is agile and nifty. Plus, he’s left-handed; “An advantage,” added our mayor. BJ Zosa, though possessing an awkward release, scores 3-pointers as effortlessly as his master, the 3-point king himself, Mr. Cokaliong.

Plus, of course, CEC chieftain Frederick Ong, Jr., head coach Jerry Jaranilla and team manager Sammy Sia. They assembled a cast of teenagers that will reign over basketball for long. CEC was founded in 1915. With their century mark near, this school will dominate. Plus, there’s a banner hanging inside the Cebu Coliseum: CEC DRAGON’S LAIR. That’s scary. If I’m the other schools, I’d be terrified. It’s like Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon.

Unbelievable to think of the words POWER and DOMINANCE—the Cesafi theme this season—and equate these two with CEC, right? For wasn’t it just a season ago when theirs was the most laughed-at and ridiculed of teams? Imagine losing by 155!

Which brings me back to one word: Pride. It was this humiliation this same October of ‘09 that got CEC to where it is now. And, you know what? This story—the most inconceivable sports moment I’ve witnessed in Cebu—is a learning experience not only for CEC, but a lesson for you and me.

How? This feel-good, only-in-Hollywood story explains this truth: Today doesn’t matter. Regardless of your circumstance today, it’s tomorrow that matters. Let not your unfortunate situation pull you down. Let it lift you up. Like a Dragon, let your failure lead to soaring victory. Thanks to CEC’s fall and rise, we’ve learned about life through basketball.

Were UC, UV favored over SWU? We seek a reply

I saw Ryan Aznar at the Ayala Center last Sunday. The sports manager of Southwestern University (and a commissioner of the Cebu City Sports Commission), Ryan was angry. Last week, his SWU men’s basketball team stunned the nine-time champions, UV, in an upset. It was the CESAFI collegiate semi-finals. As the schedule showed, SWU’s next game was against the loser of UC vs. USC—which turned out to be USC. And so, sporting a confident 1-0 record, they prepared—mentally and tactically—against USC. They aimed to go 2-0 in the round robin semi-finals. But, no—the day before their bout, they were informed (not through a formal letter—but via a text message from, of all people, the USC coach) that the schedule was changed. Instead, they’ll be playing UC. What! Ryan cried foul. “The schedules were finalized in September,” he told me, “and they tell us the day before that there’s a schedule change? This is unfair!”

It is. Why was the schedule changed? Was it to accommodate the giants named UV and UC, so the two won’t have to meet early? At poor SWU’s expense? If true, this is unjust. And I believed the CESAFI was managed professionally, not like a “liga-liga” where rules, midway, can be altered?

Felix Tiukinhoy has some explaining to do. This issue is at the heart of sports—and why we play sports. It’s called fair play. It’s called “not playing favorites.” I hope Cebu’s David Stern, as I called Boy Tiukinhoy, writes to explain his side.

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.”

Boy Tiukinhoy is the David Stern of Cebu

Like the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, who has been in command of the world’s most famous dribbling league since 1984, we have our own version in this Visayan land.

Yes. David Stern is to America what Felix Tiukinhoy is to our beloved Sugbu. Both are commissioners. Both serve as leaders of other organizations on a concurrent capacity: Mr. Stern as the Chairman of the Board of Columbia University; Mr. Tiukinhoy as President of food giant Virginia Food, Inc., makers of famous brands like El Rancho, Virginia, Champion and Winner. I like the last two VFI, Inc. brands. Don’t they speak of the league that Boy Tiukinhoy is leading? Turning ordinary teams into Champions and Winners?

As commissioner of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc., (Cesafi), he lords over universities, colleges, high schools. In fact, Mr. Tiukinhoy is so alike Mr. Stern that, very often, he, too, is called Mister Stern. And by “Stern,” I mean the real definition of the word: strict, tough, stubborn. That’s stern. Like David Stern. That’s Boy Tiukinhoy.

As Cesafi’s overseer, he has to be. You can’t be weak or indecisive if you’re the skipper. As chieftain of Cebu’s top school-based sports league, you have to be stern. Exacting. Bossy. Inflexible. At times, harsh.

Remember last year? When players were caught playing games outside Cesafi’s parquet floors? And were terminated from continuing play? Despite the school’s pleadings and clamor for mercy? Boy, he was stern. He didn’t budge. The rules, he said, are simple: They. Are. The. Rules.

In email exchanges last week, I asked Boy Tiukinhoy this: How difficult and stress-filled is the job? Considering that, in another instance last Sunday, on just Day Two of the Cesafi 2010 season, the UV Baby Lancers did not show up at the Cebu Coliseum because, they said, “we didn’t know the schedule.”

BT fumed mad. Then he said: “The toughness of the job is part of the territory.”

A sports-lover all his life, he has been the Cesafi commissioner since Day 1… when the league started in 2001. Until today… Year 10. Prior to Cesafi, there was the CAAA, the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association. He, too, for the last five years of that league, was the commissioner.

Any satisfaction you get from this work? I ask. A stress-loaded job that, in case we Cebuanos did not know, does not pay him salary, not even P10 per year? “I consider my work as CESAFI Commissioner,” he said, “as a community service without any remuneration.”

How many Cebuanos, I want to know, are willing to forgo of their full-day weekends, of weeknights, of the relaxation that comes after work, to deal with the problems of Cesafi? Only Mr. Stern of Cebu.

“It’s another world for me when I enter the coliseum which is different from the business environment,” he said. “I find the job a pleasant experience which removes whatever stress I encounter from the office.”

That’s good to hear. Here’s another good message from him: “I would not be effective without the support of the Secretariat headed by Bernard Ricablanca, the Athletic Directors, the Officers and the Board of Directors.” This means he is no one-man show. He seeks help. Encourages teamwork. Consults the Board. Another good act? From this man who, despite his diminutive size, has giant responsibilities? It’s the addition of non-sports events.

“Academic and cultural events have been part of CESAFI since we started,” he said. “As commissioner, not only basketball but also other sport events were given importance. This year, we will give even more focus on academic and cultural events.” He sent me a long list of Cesafi events that I did not even know existed: Oration, Debate, Extemporaneous contests; Math, Science, Computer, Current Events, and Spelling Quizzes. There’s a Song Solo challenge, an essay-writing contest, and—this is amazing—a Sudoko competition.

Stern? Nah… he’s sterling.