Da Jonas Blog

Stories and thoughts from a sportswriter/sports fan

Friday, June 29, 2012

Avenido: "If we win, we're all MVPs"

Import Duke Crews appeared to have started a minor celebration after the San Miguel Beermen's two-hour practice session on Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

Minutes earlier, the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League officially announced the Beermen's Leo Avenido as the 2012 Most Valuable Player, becoming the first Filipino cager to win the prestigious honor.

Crews' congratulatory gesture was to pour Avenido with a cup of water. The latter, who tried but failed to avoid the mini-shower, smiled then proceeded to the left side of the three-point arc to hit some jumpers.

While Avenido is glad to win the league's most prestigious award, besting compatriot Al Vergara of the AirAsia Philippine Patriots and Mario Wuysang of the Indonesia Warriors, the ultimate prize remains his lofty goal.

"Siyempre masaya akong makuha yung MVP pero mas pinagtutuunan ko ngayon yung championship. Kasi kung manalo kami, parang lahat kami MVP (Of course, I'm happy to win the MVP but my focus now is to win the championship. Because if we win, it's like all of us are MVPs," Avenido said with the deciding third game of their finals series with Indonesia on the horizon.

For Avenido to help the Beermen win the championship on their first season in the ABL, he will have to redeem himself from a disappearing act in Jakarta last week as the host Warriors rolled to an 81-61 victory to tie the series at a game apiece.

The former PBA cager was hardly felt at the Mahaka Square, scoring just four points in the first half before finishing with 13 points and a strained ankle that bothered him till the early morning flight back to Manila.

Avenido said in a television interview that he's going to be fine by Saturday as he tries to end his two-year odyssey of winning the ABL crown.

He's been with the league since it opened shop in 2009, playing for the struggling Brunei Barracudas that failed to make the semifinals. In 2010, Avenido shifted to the Singapore Slingers where he emerged as the team's ace gunner while falling a game short of making the finals when they bowed to the eventual champion Chang Thailand Slammers.

Parks sees redemption

Sense of urgency and execution.

Those were the things that coach Bobby Parks failed to see during SMB's disappointing Game 2 loss in the Indonesian capital. After a hard week of practice, it seems that the team has heeded his call.

"Very much so," Parks said.

"We've had some good practices, we've been watching some film and everybody now has that sense of urgency knowing the importance of the game."

Back on the friendly confines of Ynares, SMB is hoping to maximize its homecourt advantage as it tries to fend off Indonesia for the coveted ABL title.

"Like they always said, 'there's no place like home'," said the seven-time PBA Best Import. "It's going to be good to get back, guys have their families cheering. There's a tendency that if you play in front of you family, even if you are not playing hard they will let you know it so that adds extra motivation."

San Miguel escaped with an 86-83 win two weeks in the series opener held here. For the Beermen to repeat the feat, Parks said they need to rely more on playing as a team and control the boards. Both aspects were severely missed in Jakarta.

"We just made a few minor adjustments," he said. "We wanted to get to the way we played in the regular season. What stuck out in Game 2 is that we made just 10 assists which means we didn't play together and we were outrebounded, 37-21."

"Those are the two major things and we tweaked our offense and defense a little bit."

Added the dunk-savvy Crews: "(Indonesia) really gave us a beating and they let us know that it's not going to be easy but we made some minor adjustments and we have a full week of practice to get ready for the game."

Warriors confident

A few minutes after San Miguel's practice, the Indonesia Warriors arrived for a quick shootaround.

Those who arrived at the venue early were imports Steve Thomas and Evan Brock, Fil-Am Stanley Pringle and ace local and deposed MVP Mario Wuysang.

Coach Todd Purves, hardly-recognized with his cap on, was also there. He just gave his team the opportunity to hit some shots instead of holding practice since they were coming off a direct flight from Indonesia via Philippine Airlines in the wee hours of the morning.

The Warriors confidence are at all-time high but for Purves, a defining performance will be enough to hoist the crown.

"I think the team is focused and healthy so there's no excuses," Purves said. "It's going to be a great matchup and its going to take our best effort of the year to get a win against this team."

ABL title also eludes Wuysang

Like Avenido, Wuysang is also chasing his first-ever ABL title.

Wuysang joined the then-Satria Muda BritAma late in the 2009-2010 season where he was on the losing end of a finals sweep at the expense of the Philippine Patriots.

Last year, he won the MVP award thanks to his splendid individual performance. Unfortunately, the absence of players who decided to suit up in the local league affected Satria Muda's campaign to miss the playoffs.

With the help of some returning locals, Thomas and the late addition of Brock and Pringle, Wuysang is also on the verge of a championship.

"Of course everybody wants to come in and win the championship," Wuysang said. "I know Leo (Avenido) wants to win it, me too as well. I failed in my first year so hopefully I can have a chance to win."

Regarded as a scorer, the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis alumnus became more of a complimentary role for Thomas and Brock while allowing Pringle to take the scoring cudgels at the backcourt.

"With the addition of Stanley Pringle and Evan Brock and for us to become a championship team, I have to become more of a facilitator," he said. "There's one ball out there and we every wants to shoot but for me I'm not a selfish player, it's all about defense and rebounds and scoring is just easy."
(Photos from the ASEAN Basketball League)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mapua on track to gain 'last Final Four berth'?

It appears that the Mapua Cardinals have finally found a way to compete in the 87th NCAA basketball tournament.

With five wins in the seven games, the Cardinals have climbed up from the cellar to pull within a half-game of the Lyceum Pirates (5-5), a team located just a block away, for fourth spot.

Mapua is no longer choking in the clutch. An example is Monday's gritty 65-62 win over a Perpetual Help Altas team that despite being at the tail-end of the league with a group of cast-offs and unknowns are giving opponents plenty of trouble.

Rookie Josan Nimes has been clutch as of late, draining outside shots with consistency and even making smart plays such as his alley-oop pass to fellow newcomer Yousef Taha that put the Cardinals ahead for good at 63-62.

Allan Mangahas has been showing up in the fourth quarter, veterans like Mark Sarangay and Jason Pascual have helped the "Redbirds" gain some lucky breaks in the homestretch while Jonathan Banal, utility shooter Rodel Ranises and scrappy Kenneth Ighalo have been solid on a few occasions.

The Cards have began to show why some coaches and pundits tagged them as favorites before the start of the season. Unfortunately, their start was awful that it left people scratching their heads.

Mapua was given a sound beating by Letran, a team that failed to enter last year's stepladder phase, in the opener followed by a setback to a pesky College of Saint Benilde team. The woes continued against Lyceum and Jose Rizal University in which it blew double-digit leads with some bad execution in the final two minutes.

Since then, the boys of coach Chito Victolero, who patiently waited for the squad to peak at the right time, have learned to win in the wire.

"I believe ngayon nakakaexecute na kami sa endgame dahil marami na kaming pinagdaanan na ganito," said Victolero.

As they keep catching up, the Cardinals appear to be the favorites in this wild six-team goose chase for the last Final Four berth (looks like the top three teams are Final Four shoo-ins). All teams participating in this race will likely suffer losses to heavyweights San Sebastian, San Beda and Letran.

Mapua has somehow gave those three plenty of challenges in the first round and the same could be seen when they battle these two teams again. But the crucial games will be against their fellow hunters who have struggled since the start of the second round.

St Benilde (4-7) has lost two straight no thanks to blown leads, Arellano (4-8) lacks depth while Jose Rizal University (3-8) and Emilio Aguinaldo College (3-8) are inconsistent.

Then there's Lyceum (5-5). The Pirates are still a dangerous team and they have proved critics wrong with their solid first round outing. Whether they could sustain their form with eight games left remains a question.

The biggest test for Lyceum will be tomorrow, against Mapua. Their match will likely determine the ultimate outcome of the "last semis berth."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Scrappy "Zags" plays key role in Ateneo's dominance of La Salle

It was another one-sided affair in the latest episode of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry.

The Blue Eagles forced the Green Archers in a maze of errors in the second half to secure a 79-62 rout in front of just 14,229 fans at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. The win earned the Loyola-based squad a perfect 11-0 slate and a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.

Kiefer Ravena had another solid game, so did Eman Monfort. Greg Slaughter was in foul trouble but eventually got himself involved in the fourth quarter and Nico Salva scored the chunk of Ateneo's points in the second half to beat their archrivals for the 11th time in the last 14 games.

But it was reserve Tonito Gonzaga who stood out in this match. The lefty who at times make Manu Ginobili-like layups had a career-high 12 points and also did his usual dirty work on both ends, particularly in the third period when the Eagles forced the Archers into several turnovers that easily led to transition baskets.

For his scrappy job, Gonzaga also had four rebounds, three assists and two steals in just 21 minutes, earning him a huge ovation from the Ateneo crowd and probably a thumbs up sign from owners playing that UAAP Fantasy Basketball on PBFantasy.com.

Gonzaga, who is sometimes confused to the famed actress, has made strides since his rookie year in 2008. Most of his appearances that year came during garbage time, displaying glimpses of promise.

He slowly rose up in the Eagles rotation, even as veteran wingmen began to depart. Last season, Gonzaga, fondly called as "Zags", had a minor role in the team's hard-fought three-peat and this year, his minutes somehow grew thanks to his hardworking effort.

He's a "coaches player", some sportswriters and observers believed and Ateneo taskmaster Norman Black is glad to have him on the lineup.

"He's been very consistent coming off the bench," Black said of Gonzaga. "He's probably our best bench player this year and he comes off and gives energy every single game so tonight was a good offensive night for him and he always plays good defense."

It was another disappointing loss for the Archers, who are now two back of University of Santo Tomas in the race for the No. 4 spot.

The dominance of Ateneo and the otherwise inconsistency of La Salle perhaps encourage some fans not to watch the 67th tussle of these two nemesis in the UAAP since 1986.

Saved for a La Salle fan who had a shouting match with UAAP president Ricky Palou of host Ateneo for heckling commissioner Andy Jao and his crew, there were no fireworks in this match.

In fact, about 60, maybe 70 or even 75 percent of the crowd were bleeding blue while there were several seats left in the cheap bleachers section on the green side.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ateneo-La Salle II: Just another game

We're just hours away from the second meeting of between Ateneo and La Salle, the biggest rivalry in college basketball.

There seems to be little interest though. For obvious reasons, both squads are on different paths in this UAAP season.

Ateneo is dominating with a perfect 10-0 record thanks to the Greg Slaughter's imposing presence in the paint, Kiefer Ravena "unrookie-like" performance and key players such as Nico Salva, Eman Monfort and Kirk Long making their veteran presence.

Saved for some inconsistent first half efforts against University of the Philippines and University of the East, the Blue Eagles are such a well-oiled machine that they may even finish the elimination round with a perfect record or at best complete a rare four-peat.

Then, there's La Salle, a team that is up-and-down (mostly down) and hoping to snap a three-game losing skid.

It's been a difficult year for the Green Archers. Their offense has been inconsistent, their defense hasn't carried them unlike in the old days and then there's injuries and sickness. No wonder coach Dindo Pumaren is in hot water these days.

Their difference makes this latest battle between these two old rivals just another game.

There's been nothing special about this rivalry for the last year or two simply because of Ateneo's dominance.

Ateneo has beaten La Salle four of the last five meetings and the former won most of those games by double figures thanks to strong starts and several 15-20 point leads.

And that's what makes this rivalry predictable. La Salle just isn't competitive unlike in the old days where it's hard to predict a winner.

The characters from both sides we're interesting too.

There's Mark Cardona and Wesley Gonzales taking trash at each other.

There's Enrico Villanueva annoying La Salle fans with his antics and also ripping them with their post moves.

There's Carlos Sharma and Jerwin Gaco playing physical to the disgust of the Ateneo gallery.

And there's Renren Ritualo, Mike Cortez (except in Game 3 of the 2002 Finals), LA Tenorio and Larry Fonacier uncorking clutch shots.

It might take a while before this rivalry becomes competitive again. For now, fans from both sides will to settle with a one-sided game later at 3 p.m. unless the Archers pull off an stunning upset.

The first game of the doubleheader pits University of Santo Tomas and UE at 11 a.m. It's going to be an interesting match with the Tigers, led by Jeric Fortuna, Jeric Teng and Karim Abdul, aiming to increase their lead over La Salle and National University for the fourth spot in the standings although UE has been playing better recently despite a team is awful on paper.

UST versus UE used to be THE rivalry in the UAAP.

Veteran sportswriters, most them graduates of both schools, used to recall how great their rivalry was.

Before Ateneo and La Salle arrived, the then-Golden Glowies and the Red Warriors figured in numerous title clashes with the latter, mostly led by Robert Jaworski, winning most of their UAAP record seven consecutive titles from 1965-1971 (photo on the right taken from Video48) at the former's expense.

The last time they met in the championship was in 1985 when Allan Caidic and Jerry Codinera led UE to a win over the Pido Jarencio-led UST cagers. It was the 18th-and-last (to this date) for the Recto-based cagers.

The rivalry died around the 90's as UST won a four-peat and UE having an up-and-down decade. In 2006, the Tigers overcame a twice-to-beat disadvantage to stun the Warriors in the Final Four. Of course, everyone in Espana knew what happened after that.

Will UE and UST rekindle their rivalry someday? Unfortunately, it may take another generation for that to happen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stunning end to the Philippine Patriots' title reign

What appeared to be an stirring home victory for the AirAsia Philippine Patriots turned into a disaster in Game 2 of the AirAsia ASEAN Basketball League after another fourth quarter meltdown completed a season full of inconsistencies.

Poor outside shooting, costly fouls and turnovers paved the way for the Chang Thailand Slammers to climb back into the contest before securing a 75-68 victory to wrest the ABL crown in front of a shocked crowd at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.

Their downfall was greatly secured in the game's final 12 minutes as they blew a 14-point third quarter lead that allowed the Slammers to snatch the title away and win the league's second season.

Thailand's Cameroonian import Chris Kuete woke up in the fourth hitting 11 of his 12 points while getting help from Filipino imports Ardy Larong and Froilan Baguion, American center Jason Dixon and Thai cager Attaporn Lertmalaiporn.

Adding insult to this heartbreaking loss, the Patriots put themselves in foul trouble early in the fourth, allowing the Slammers to inch closer and later take the lead for good on foul shots and struggled shooting against the zone.

In the end, the Patriots walked away in utter dismay even as they watched Dixon and Baguion celebrate their second straight ABL championship alongside their Thailand teammates.

Dixon and Baguion were part of the Patriots' title team last season, although the two played contrasting roles in squad that admittedly was slightly better than this year's squad.

Dixon, now at the age of 38, was registering double-double almost every game en route to winning the Best Import award.

On the other hand, Baguion failed to get enough playing time during the latter parts of last season as the Patriots inserted Warren Ybanez, JP Alcaraz and the now-retired Christian Coronel during the completion of their title run.

This season, the two were playing big roles for the team, particularly in the finals.

And Baguion, who finished with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists, displayed what the Patriots have missed, playing steady in the two games of this final series and have almost outplayed Ybanez and Egay Billones.

He showed that in this clinching game, when he used a Dixon screen to get away from traffic then drove inside the lane for a driving layup that made it 71-66 with 56.1 seconds remaining.

From there, it was all over. Kuete added more insult with a breakaway jam off a missed shot by the Patriots. Minutes later, the Slammers were hoisting the ABL crown in front of a dead silent venue.

At first it looked like a hostile venue with perhaps the loudest crowd the Patriots ever heard this season. The audience shouted even more when triples by the likes of Ybanez, Benedict Fernandez and Billones helped them take a double digit lead in the third.

Earlier, Freeman was eager enough to bounce back from his disappointing showing in Game 1. This time, he was able to avoid foul trouble picking up just one in the first half (an unsportsmanlike for hitting Larong) and even scored an alley-oop dunk in the second period.

He was also responsible on a fastbreak opportunity when he fed Billones, who then pass it to a trailing Thomas for a three-point play with about 2:49 left in the third that made it 60-46.

But Freeman, bothered by a nagging ankle injury, began to slow down. His two freethrows with less than a minute left in the third gave the Patriots a 52-41 lead and would never score again as the rest of the crew played lackadaisical on offense that helped Thailand gain an opening.

It was a fairy tale ending to a turnaround year for the Thais. Last year, financial problems and inconsistent play hounded the then-Thailand Tigers in posting a horrendous 3-12 record in the inaugural ABL season.

But Thailand made a number of changes. A new owner stepped in to resolve their monetary problems with the Chinawongwatana family (it's patriarch is a basketball legend in Thailand) taking over the helm while adding Dixon, Kuete, Baguion and Larong to reinforce their local cagers.

Lertmalaiporn, last year's Regular Season MVP, got help from fellow Thai Piyapong Piroon, who had been a stellar outside shooter all season long (Piroon didn't play in Game 2 after nursing a knee injury in their semifinal series win over the Singapore Slingers).

At times, even Sopon Pinichpacharalert and Mana Jantuma, who played quality minutes in the fourth quarter of Game 2, would give solid production for the team coached by Raha Mortel, a Filipino who is a native of Sampaloc but has been in Bangkok since 1992 when he started playing commercial ball there.

So what's next for the Patriots? Freeman and Thomas have said they would like to return for another tour of duty but the defeat will likely pave way for a major roster overhaul, particularly on the local cager. The Philippine Daily Inquirer said in an article that coach Louie Alas' contract is set to expire while the rest of the ABL team will make bids to strengthen their lineups even further aside from making early preparations for the league's third season.

As one unnamed members of the Patriots said, "Parang bangungot ang nangyari sa amin. Siguro dahil dyan, baka siguro dalawa lang matira next season."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The return of the Philippine Basketball League



A press release was sent to sports editors and writers late Monday afternoon regarding the return of the Philippine Basketball League after almost a year of hiatus. The target date for the season-opening tournament is Feb. 26.

The release announced that six teams have confirmed their participation in the league's return with Pharex, Agrinurture (Ani-FCA), Cobra and Excelroof as holdovers from the previous tournament while adding Hobe Bihon and Cafe France as its new participants.

And as rumored for months, Sports Vision, the group that was instrumental in the formation of the Shakey's V-League in 2004, will handle the management of the revived league with a rookie draft to be held on Feb. 5.

The timing of this announcement is interesting since the PBA recently announced the formation of the D-League and the PBL being inactive after a joint venture with Liga Pilipinas in the formation of the short-lived Tournament of the Philippines.

Today, the PBA will have the D-League as one of the agendas in an owners meeting somewhere in Greenhills. This announcement will perhaps play a key role in the future of this project.

The D-League is somewhat of an answer to the PBL's inactivity with almost similar rules such as allowing players 17-26 years old to participate.

The revived PBL is likely a soft launch as it is trying to recover from financial woes and the departure of some teams that led to the league's downturn. However, the sustainability of the league is still a question mark and it's success or downfall will be determined through the upcoming tourney.

But barring any hitches, this is major news for basketball players. Many are PBA free agents and the ASEAN Basketball League is nearing its completion, thus making Filipino cagers playing for the six participating teams in that league to find jobs after the season.

The league's golden years came in the PABL era of the 1980's when players such as Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, Bong Alvarez, Samboy Lim and Vergel Meneses were able to use the league as stepping stones in their legendary basketball careers.

In the 1990's, the PBL's popularity somewhat diminished but saw the long title reigns of Tanduay Rhum, Hapee Toothpaste and Welcoat Paints while seeing the start of Fil-Ams Asi Taulava and Eric Menk in the Philippine basketball.

The previous decade saw a bit of a revived interest in the league. With the soaring popularity of college basketball, member teams were able to tap school teams as core members of their ballclubs. At the same time, Harbour Centre won a record seven straight titles from 2006-2009.

The last PBL tournament was held from mid-February until late-March of last year with Excelroof, led by San Sebastian stars Jimbo Aquino and Calvin Abueva, beat Pharex B-Complex via a sweep of the best-of-three series.

The league has been quiet since.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections on the improbable journey of the PH football team

Almost a year ago, dubbed as "Diski Night", a kick-off to the countdown for the World Cup in South Africa at 1Esplanade near SM Mall of Asia.

The Philippine Football Federation was one of the organizers of the event and I was sent there by my bosses at the Manila Bulletin with no idea what to write about. I heard a lot of problems within the federation since they can't properly spend that financial assistance given by FIFA.

When I got there, the event was like a gala or social event. There was also an silent auction of football paintings with likely the moderator being Carlos Celdran (the Damaso guy who got jailed for his RH bill stand).

It was disappointing. Given that perhaps some group also financed that event, how come the PFF would prefer an event such that went the football program was so so quiet that year.

Oh, that was not just a year perhaps two or three years. There we're no national tournaments, no participating in various events like the World Cup qualifiers and the Southeast Asian Games and the Filipino Premier League, formed by the PFF in what supposed to be our national league was a big flop.

We got to interview Des Bulpin. Saying he would help put discipline on this team. He was gone a few months before current coach Simon McMenemy took over.

And then the World Cup came. It was an exciting time to watch football. The exciting part was learning that Landon Donovan scored that epic goal and celebrated wildly without even seeing the match on television.

On those two events I wondered if we would ever be successful in football. Will there be a time we would ever celebrate a wild goal from our team.

Well, I didn't expect this to happen. This soon.

Advancing to the AFF Suzuki Cup through the qualifiers was just enough. But forging a tie with Singapore came as a surprise.

Then, the Vietnam game was the ultimate shocker. I would never forget celebrating with my brother like we were a pair of crazy men after Phil Younghusband's second goal in the 80th minute that sealed the win.

Indonesia really came in and beat us. Both were close games but they had every answer against us. Both goals by Cristian Gonzales were incredible and finding ways to score were tough. Gladly also gave them a difficult time, especially with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. Congratulations to them! Congrats din sa atin!

I guess this was what Inquirer's Francis Ochoa was talking about during the In the Huddle sportswriting seminar last month. When students and teachers asked for the lack of coverage on sports like football, he just told them that there's a need for a "paradigm shift" to get that attention. This magical run could be that answer.

So this ends a great journey for Philippine football and Philippine sports fans. So what's next? In line for the Azkals is a Challenge Cup tournament against Mongolia in February, a World Cup qualifying tourney and the Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia.

It would be interesting to see if the sudden rise of popularity in Philippine football would continue through 2011 since there's a tendency for such things like every Manny Pacquiao win or controversial issues within our government to mellow down after being a hot topic for a few weeks or months.

What will likely kill the momentum of this recent success will be the brewing or ongoing leadership dispute in the PFF. It's safe to say that it would likely be the start of a more heated crisis, far greater than our issues with us not holding a home game in this semifinals.

Hopefully, that won't be the case but that's the reality within Philippine sports. But, who knows, there's always a miracle, like this team.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Returning Patriots import Gabe Freeman downplays 'savior' role

Gabe Freeman's return to the Philippine Patriots is likely to be the last piece of the puzzle in the team's bid to retain their championship in the ASEAN Basketball League.

But it was Freeman himself who thumbed down the idea of him being a savior of the team that has endured some rough stretches in the second season of the six-nation, ASEAN-based cage league. In fact, he just hopes to be the one who could re-energize the team at this point of the season.

"I'm not going to say that but what I'm going to do is to help the team and I'm going to bring it closer," Freeman said during the formal launching of the partnership between the team and AirAsia as its sponsor on Thursday at the Icon Ultimate Club in Makati.

"And now, it's we're not just playing to be playing but to play for each other and that's what we got to do to win the championship," he added.

The Patriots are toting a 7-4 slate and recently endured a three-game losing skid before hacking out a 73-71 victory over the Westports KL Dragons on Dec. 9 after trailing by 20 points in the early part of the second half.

Team officials, the players and fans alike are hoping that Freeman could bring his trademark energy, athleticism and workhorse mentality to answer some woes the team endured right from the start of the season. He is the fifth import of the team this season after Anthony Johnson, Donald Little, Rasheim Wright and current reinforcement Steve Thomas.

Freeman replaced Wright, the naturalized star of the Jordan national team that reached the FIBA World Champioships in Turkey.

Wright normed 13.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals in five games. The Patriots went 2-3 with him and his defense became suspect. His offensive production is likewise inconsistent. One game, he had 31 points. The next match, Wright failed to score in double figures.

He did end up his stint on a good note, hitting a number of foul shots in the dying seconds to beat the Dragons. Wright finished with 21 points.

Freeman, the 6-foot-5 former PBA Best Import with the San Miguel Beermen in the 2009 Fiesta Conference is coming off a stint with the Townsville Crocodiles of the National Basketball League of Australia.

His stint there was considered by many as a disappointment, included Freeman, logging just 9.0 points and 6.4 rebounds before deciding to leave the team voluntarily.

"It just didn't worked out," he admitted. "You know if you don't play the same way you play when you're somewhere else so they don't let you play the same way you normally play so I think that was one of the main focuses on me is that I wasn't playing the same so I don't want to stick around with that."

That brought the 25-year old globetrotting Freeman back to Manila, where he hopes to continue the same energetic performance that made him one, if not, the most prolific import in the ABL and the PBA.

He averaged 21.7 points and 15.0 rebounds in seven games with the Patriots last season and had 39 points in a win over Indonesia's Satria Muda BritAma in Game 1 of the finals. Of course, they wound up winning the ABL crown.

"How's the feeling (of being back with the Patriots)? I feel like we can win another (ABL) championship," Freeman said. "I think we got a little more talent than last year. We got a lot of young guys last year that were just hungry to win and this year we got a little more talent and we got guys who are hungrier to play so it's a little bit better for us so I'm happy to be back.

This time, however, he will mostly have new teammates. Only three players left from the previous squad in Warren Ybanez, JP Alcaraz and Erwin Sta Maria, who has been used sparingly this season.

Last season, his teammates include Rob Wainwright, bruising big man Jerwin Gaco, Nonoy Baclao, Elmer Espiritu and eventual ABL Best Import Jason Dixon. The three are now suiting up in the PBA while Dixon opted to sign up with the vastly improved Chang Thailand Slammers, owners of the league's best record at 8-3.

Freeman will have ex-pros Egay Billones, Junjun Cabatu, Benedict Fernandez and the colorful Alex Crisano as some of his new teammates. He will team up with Thomas, who had 10 points and 15 rebounds in his debut last week.

Meshing with them isn't a problem for Freeman. In fact, he even believes that this current team, despite their inconsistencies, is more talented than last season.

"It's pretty good and I think we're going to be alright," Freeman said. "I think what I can bring to the table is the energy and the feistiness that we need. I think if come out and do what we have to do, I think we will win another championship."

"There's no other team that can really stick with us and play with us. We just got to buy into (Patriots coach) Louie's (Alas) system and if we do that then we will win," added Freeman.

This time, it's Freeman's turn to change the Patriots' fortunes in the ABL. They have a date with the Singapore Slingers on Saturday. It would be interesting how he would fare up against this squad composed of center Kyle Jeffers, Marcus Skinner, Filipinos Leo Avenido and Al Vergara and Singaporeans Desmond Oh and Steven Khoo.

"We're going to be whoop their ass. I'm eager to play with these guys and I'm pretty sure they're eager to play with me," he said. "In my first practice, we had a good one and I think the energy is there and everybody's feeding off on it and I feel like we're going to do our thing."

Gametime is set at 4 p.m. at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City and will be shown live on ESPN.

Friday, August 27, 2010

On UP and Perpetual

It's not good to be a fan of a varsity basketball team bearing initials containing U plus P and sports maroon or brown-colored uniforms these days.

With winless records to show, University of the Philippines and Perpetual Help are close to completing their dismal performances in the UAAP and NCAA, respectively.

The Maroons (tough to call them Fighting Maroons when that moniker isn't reflecting on the hardcourt) recently fell to a 0-11 slate following another lopsided loss, this time against Final Four contender Adamson 74-51.

On the other hand, the Altas dropped to 0-9 on Wednesday when they bowed to Jose Rizal University, 66-55.

It's quite a disappointment for both teams considering how they have played solidly in the preseason tournaments.

Everyone was hoping for a Maroon revival after a quarterfinals showing in the Filoil preseason tourney. With the veterans somehow maturing and highly-touted Mike Silungan expected to inject some offensive firepower, expectations were high in Diliman.

In fact, they trained in the United States during the summer and even got a huge sponsor boost from Meralco.

But alas, the hopes of reaching the Final Four for the first time 1997 turned out to be a complete disastrous campaign.

After a 0-2 start, the weird coaching change occurred as former PBA champion coach Boyet Fernandez was appointed as acting coach in lieu of Aboy Castro "taking a leave of absence."

It didn't help that the Maroons encountered three heartbreaking losses: 1.) University of Santo Tomas (when Silungan committed a foul in regulation play with his team up one with two ticks left. The Tigers eventually won in overtime) 2.) National University (wasted a 22-point lead in the third quarter) and again 3.) National University (Diony Hipolito's missed freethrow with two ticks left and NU up one).

Adding insult are the injuries and suspensions: Mark Lopez done for the year with an ACL, Woody Co out with an injured foot, Silungan missed one game due to flu and Alvin Padilla getting suspended twice.

As for Silungan, who was hoped by many to be the team's "savior", his stellar plays in preseason tournaments and the Father Martin Cup events became an afterthought and has somehow became some sort of a mortal player in the UAAP.
Sigh. As some would say, "Lahat na yata ng kamalasan sa basketball, naranasan na ng UP."

As for the Altas, they were able to make waves in the preseason that made them one of the favorites to enter the Final Four of the 86th NCAA basketball tournament.

However, the eligibility issues on Marlon Gomez and Paul Nuillan prior to the start of the season instantly killed momentum of the squad of coach Boris Aldeguer.

Even without the two, Perpetual showed signs that it can be one of the toughest teams to beat in the NCAA when it pushed San Sebastian and Mapua to hard-fought matches only to falter down the stretch.

But since then, it was all struggle for the Las Pinas cagers even with the presence of Arnold Danganan (the league's third leading scorer but has been suspended recently by the league), Jet Vidal and Mark Sumera.

Veteran Raffy Ynion has been forced to play center in Gomez's absence. It hasn't helped that his weight problems are affecting him on the court.

The disappearing act this season has been Chris Elopre. The 5-foot-10 guard showed wily abilities last season but those flashes have somehow disappeared this season.

With both leagues already in the second round of hostilities, it is the only hope of some, particularly students, faculty members, alumni and even non-fans are getting that sympathy for each defeat.

Many are hoping that they could get that elusive first win before the season is done. The question though is: Makukuha nga ba nila?

Notes:

- UP hasn't won a game since August 22, 2009 when then-rookie Mikee Reyes erupted for 22 points in an 83-78 win over La Salle at The Arena in San Juan.

- Since then, the Maroons have lost 15 consecutive games.

- Perpetual hasn't won a game since August 12, 2009 when it beat Emilio Aguinaldo College, 86-79.

- The Altas have since lost 18 straight.

- Before the streak, UPHSD finished the first round with a 3-6 slate.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Marata plays like Tito 'Ricric' as La Salle stuns Ateneo

Somewhere up in the sky, the late Ricric Marata must be proud of his nephew, La Salle's sophomore guard Sam Marata.

Marata made two big shots in the final minutes as the Green Archers came back from nine points down to score a come-from-behind 66-63 win over two-time defending champion Ateneo yesterday in the 73rd UAAP basketball tournament at the Araneta Coliseum.

The former 2007 Juniors Most Valuable Player for UP Integrated School completed La Salle's amazing rally in the last five minutes by hitting a booming triple off the fastbreak to cut the lead to one (63-62) then drained a top of the key jumper off a screen that put his team ahead, 64-63, with just 1:28 left to play.

The young La Salle cagers, a heavy underdog in this contest, came through with several defensive stops in the last few possessions to end their six-game losing skid against Ateneo dating back to the start of the 2008 season.

"Mukhang galing sa kanya yun. Siguro ginuide niya yung mga tira ko," said Marata, whose uncle, a legendary shooter in the PBA, passed away earlier this year at the age of 45.

Entering this game, the Green Archers also lost nine of the last 11 games against their bitter rivals but those two streaks came to a halt to the delight of half of the 16,566 fans that wore green shirts.

"I don't know what to say, I'm so happy. We were down nine points but the boys showed their heart. It's been two years already (since we last won)," said coach Dindo Pumaren.

Marata and Joshua Webb shared topscoring honors with 12 points each with the former converting all of his four shots from rainbow country. Lanky center Yutien Andrada had six points and seven rebounds while Joseph Tolentino had five points, four rebounds and five assists.

Rookie Jarelan Tampus, a recruit from Letran, was also responsible in the comeback, hitting two baskets off transition that cut down the deficit to 62-57 after falling behind 62-53 before Marata came through in the clutch.

"Sam (Marata) played well with those big shots," said Pumaren, who was a teammate of Marata with the RP team in 1987. "But of course, we owed that to Tampus. He made the difference."

It was a disappointing loss for Ateneo, which made its first eight shots in the fourth period behind Justin Chua but missed its final seven shots. At the same time, it also played paltry defense against what coach Norman Black described as a "scrappy La Salle team."

"We didn't finish strong," said Black. "And it didn't help that Kirk Long fouled out and Eman Monfort went down with cramps in the end."

"But it was the defense that let us down. Things such as not picking up their man on fastbreak, giving up three-point shots and not following around screens," he added.

La Salle won despite a low-scoring, sloppy game that saw each squad turning the ball over 18 times and combined for 45 fouls.

Chua, who delivered in their win against University of Santo Tomas last week, nearly turned into a hero again with 16 points. He had a chance to tie the game on the last possession but muffed a potential game-tying trey and a desperation triple after his miss that ended the game.

As usual, several prominent figures saw the action with business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan, newly-appointed Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia and his predecessor Harry Angping, Harbour Centre boss Mikee Romero and Smart Gilas members Rabeh Al-Hussaini, JV Casio and coach Rajko Toroman.

The scores:

Second Game

LA SALLE 66 - Webb 12, Marata 12, Atkins 9, Tampus 6, Andrada 6, dela Paz 5, Tolentino 5, Mendoza 5, Vosotros 3, Villanueva 2, Ferdinand 1, Paredes 0.

ATENEO 63 - Chua 16, Monfort 11, Long 9, Buenafe 7, Salamat 6, Salva 5, Golla 3, Escueta 2, dela Cruz 2, Austria 2, Tiongson 0, Gonzaga 0.

Quarters: 14-15; 26-30; 46-42; 66-63.

Note: This is a raw story that I submitted to the Manila Bulletin just a few minutes ago.
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