In the Philippines, basketball has turned from mere exercise to an important part of our culture. When athletes play on the court, they don’t only entertain us, they also tell us stories by using their athletic excellence to showcase their greatness. More than being athletes, they’re also storytellers.
But for now, those stories have to wait to be told because of ongoing pandemic. With everything up in the air, there are legitimate reasons to believe that local leagues might be cancelled for the safety fo everyone. That means no basketball for the rest of 2020. That also means we are missing out some crazy stories our athletes were hoping to tell.
Here are some of the storylines we could miss out on if this pandemic cancels our sporting events for the entire year.
The Wild, Wild, PBA
The PBA had felt monotonous for the past five years with the San Miguel Beermen and June Mar Fajardo dominating repeatedly. But coming into this season, there was a huge shake-up that happened. With Fajardo sidelined due to a leg injury and the Beermen at their most vulnerable, it seemed like the league was set to crown both a new Philippine Cup champion and MVP.
That was the result many predicted. What we didn’t know was how we would get to that ending.
Which brings us to the potential of a wild, wild, PBA. The field looked extremely open even before the season started. It should have been Magnolia’s best shot at finally winning a championship after losing twice against in the last two Philippine Cup Finals. TNT had loaded up after re-signing Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and acquiring Poy Erram via trade. Ginebra looked primed for an All-Filipino run after years of heartbreak. Of course, you couldn’t sleep on San Miguel because even without June Mar, they still looked quite deadly.
But right now, that’s really all we can do, sleep on these teams. The PBA doesn’t look close to a re-opening and plenty of questions about the feasibility of playing again continue to swirl. We did get something wild this 2020, just not in the form we expected to get.
A new era in the UAAP
During the UAAP Season 82 Finals, Thirdy Ravena capped off an epic three-year run with a record third straight Finals MVP. But it wasn’t only the end of Thirdy’s UAAP career as we know it. It also felt like the final chapter of an amazing era of players who further pushed the limits of what college teams could do.
But as they say, when a door closes, another one opens. That’s what we were supposed to get this UAAP Season 83, as we were set to welcome the era of the guard.
We were treated to a preview during the S82 Finals when Mark Nonoy erupted for 26 points in Game 1. SJ Belangel teased us even more not only during his entire Finals run, but especially during the 2020 PCCL tournament when he dominated the field en route to being recognized as the MVP of the tourney.
Then there were other players who were ready to take that next step as well. LJay Gonzales and RJ Abarrientos were set to rekindle their partnership from the Juniors Division. Gerry Abadiano was set to bring his act from the NU Bullpups to the Bulldogs. Jerom Lastimosa looked ready to bounce back after a lackluster Season 82 run. Of course, there was Aljun Melecio who was supposed to have his last hurrah as King Archer.
But all of that has to wait for now. As speedy as the game has been getting in the UAAP, it faces its biggest roadblock yet with COVID-19.
The battle between San Beda’s revenge and Letran’s dominance of the NCAA
For once, it truly felt like San Beda’s reign over the NCAA was truly ending.
Letran’s championship run during 2019 not only derailed the Red Lions’ attempt at a four-peat, but also caused the foreign student athlete era of San Beda to end on a sour note. Many have attributed San Beda’s success to their strong recruitment of foreign students and with that loss against Letran, it felt like a shift in power was coming. San Beda was presumably losing its anchor. Letran, on the other hand, was only getting better in an even more leveled playing field.
With a coaching staff that’s among the best in college basketball and talent that can compete with the best of them, the Knights looked primed to dominate the new era of the NCAA. But the preseason showed us San Beda wouldn’t just roll over and hand the league over to the Knights. Calvin Oftana looks better than ever and the rest of the Red Lions looked rejuvenated as they prepared for NCAA Season 96. It was revenge versus dominance, a storyline that never fails to entertain.
San Beda and Letran’s passionate crowds have always provided an electic atmosphere. For the meantime, we’ll have to settle for simply dreaming of both crowds going crazy while these two titanic teams traded blows on the court.
The continued growth of Women’s Basketball
2019 was a big year for Philippine Women’s Basketball. Aside from bagging a gold medal in the SEA Games, the UAAP Women’s Division continued to show plenty of promise with its talent pool. More and more prospects were starting to come to their own; a refreshing development that should complement the expected excellence out of the NU Lady Bulldogs.
Then there’s the biggest leap Women’s Basketball took last year: the UAAP Girls’ Division. The games weren’t always pretty. There were plenty of blowouts and the level of polish clearly wasn’t there just yet. But the very fact that young women finally had a big platform such as the UAAP to showcase their talents was a development deserving of plenty of praise.
Games aren’t being played right now in Women’s Basketball, but the growth won’t stop. Seeds have already been planted. It’s only a matter time, hopefully after the pandemic, that we see the fruit of the entire community’s hard work.
Gilas Youth’s attempt at breaking even more barriers
Youth basketball in the country has been on an upward swing for the last seven years. Making it to the U17 and U19 FIBA World Cup is no longer a surprise; it’s become expected out of our athletes. You could call it unreasonable, but really, it’s a testament to how good High School Basketball has become.
The success of the program has hinged on Kai Sotto and it would have largely been the same this year for the FIBA Asia U18 tournament. But the Gilas Youth programs isn’t just about Sotto. There are plenty of up and coming prospects who could have also shown out such as Joshua Lazaro, Penny Estacio, Forthsky Padrigao, and LeBron Lopez. Philippine Basketball is filled with so much talent.
The waiting game continues but eventually, we’ll be able to watch these young superstars blossom not only for themselves, but for the country.