The NCAA Juniors Division is seen by many as a league that is dominated by the San Beda Red Cubs. Technically, these fans aren’t wrong for thinking of such. The Red Cubs have won title after title, and most of the blue-chip recruits coming from the NCAA have come from the Red Cubs.
However, last year, the Mapua Red Robins ended the reign of the Red Cubs after beating San Beda in three games during the Finals. Many saw this as the NCAA field opening up after years of San Beda having a chokehold on the Juniors Division. It turns out, these people were right in presuming just that.
The elimination round of the Juniors Division just ended, with the San Beda Red Cubs coming out of top as the number one seed in the tournament. But how they earned that number one seed is largely different compared to what they had to go through back then. Here’s a round-up over everything that happened:
San Beda 13-5
San Sebastian 11-7
Aaron Fermin, Arellano (14.8 PPG, 16.4 RPG, 2.2 BPG): With Arellano losing Carlo Abadeza and Guilmer Dela Torre to eligibility, the stage was set for Fermin to take over for the Braves. Take over he did, as Fermin was absolutely dominant all season long for Arellano. It’s a shame he won’t get to show his wares in the Final Four.
Will Gozum, Mapua (13.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.6 BPG): Gozum has actually emerged as one of the most frustrating players to watch in the NCAA. Why? There are games where he looks like a complete monster. Others, he doesn’t play too well. If Mapua gets the Gozum who’s a monster for the playoffs, the rest of the field better watch out.
Joel Cagulangan, LSGH (14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.4 SPG): He may not be in the monster athlete mold which usual LSGH suspects are (Troy Mallillin, Ricci ), but Joel Cagulangan showed he’s worthy of some attention despite his small frame. He’s an all-around force who teams will definitely have to plan for come the playoffs.
Evan Nelle, San Beda (13.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 6.5 APG): Known mostly as a shooter, Nelle has evolved and has shown his playmaking chops for most of the season. He still has to work on his decision making and efficiency, but at the very least, College teams know he can play the point guard position with not much adjustment needed now.
Mac Guadana, Lyceum (15.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG): The Batang Gilas standout managed to find his stride during the stretch run of the season, posting solid all-around numbers for the Junior Pirates. He still has to work on his skill as a playmaker, but with his hustle and energy, there’s plenty to work on here for Guadana.
Inand Fornillos, LSGH (12.4 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG): The UAAP Mythical Five member has made the most out of his stint in the NCAA, using his monster athleticism to help out La Salle. He’s a raw prospect, but he’s someone who has potential worth salivating over.
1. No longer is this San Beda’s league. Sam Abu Hijleh said so himself: Everyone in the NCAA got so much better. No one expected the league to be THIS open after last season, but here we are. The Red Cubs finished first, but they were beat down and bloodied before they got there. Even getting that top spot doesn’t secure them of a Finals slot. From LSGH, San Sebastian and even Letran, the NCAA is one hell of a tough league with a ton of talent.
2. College teams have a ton of prospects to choose from over the offseason. The names above are essentially givens for any scout. But aside from those notable players, the NCAA is overflowing with talent where college teams can go ahead and confidently make an offer. Warren Bonifacio is a versatile big any team would love to add on their roster. Letran has a number of notable athletes. Then there’s San Beda’s boatload of names. Teams are better AND players are better. What a time for High School basketball.
3. The Final Four is going to be a doozy. If you told me today that somehow, Letran and LSGH find themselves battling each other in the Finals, I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s how batshit crazy the NCAA is. ANY team could make the Finals. These kids don’t care about whatever experience opposing teams hold against them. They’ll fight and play smart basketball, and at the end, isn’t that what we fans what? It makes for entertaining basketball, and we should all be delighted.