Things are about to get real for a new batch of high school basketball players as they go head to head at this year’s SLAM Rising Stars Classic.
To continue their path towards greatness, 25 select high school standouts will battle for pride at the annual exhibition game to be held on March 18 at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong to see how their respective skills match up against the toughest competition.
“I expect good competition kasi sobrang selected sa iba’t-ibang school na the best talaga, so pride paglalabanan. Underdog lahat, magkakasing-level, wala ‘yung mamaliitin mo. Dapat talaga go hard lahat kasi for you ayaw mong maii-score-an ng iba,” said NCAA Jrs. MVP Will Gozum of Mapua. Gozum will team up with reigning MVP of UAAP Jrs., UST’s CJ Cansino, to represent Team Hype.
“Expectation ko siyempre magiging competitive lahat kasi siyempre selection ng best high school players, so hindi magiging madali ‘yung SLAM [Rising Stars Classic] kasi it’s about pride para sa akin,” Cansino told SLAM Philippines.
The other members of Team Hype are selected Hope Christian’s Harvey Pagsanjan, La Salle Zobel’s Raven Cortez, La Salle Greenhills’ Inand Fornillos, Letran’s Neil Tolentino, Chiang Kai Shek College’s John Galinato, FEU’s L-Jay Gonzales, NU’s Terrence Fortea, Lyceum’s Mac Guadaña and Ateneo’s Joaqui Manuel, Jason Credo and SJ Belangel.
Team Hype defeated Team Punks in last year’s hotly contested exhibition, 89-83, led by Juan Gomez de Liaño, who was named the game’s MVP. This year, UAAP’s regular season MVP has his eyes on the top prize.
“Gusto ko ma-achieve siyempre una ay manalo and sana makuha ko din ang MVP,” said Cansino.
The team standing in his way is Team Punks, which will attempt to avenge last year’s loss with a powerhouse lineup led by 7-foot-1 Kai Sotto of Ateneo and Rhayyan Amsali of NU. Both these talented big men went to battle in the recently concluded UAAP Finals.
Completing the roster for Team Punks are Chiang Kai Shek College’s Jason Celis, FEU’s RJ Abarrientos, Lyceum’s Vincent Cunanan, Mapua’s Clint Escamis, Adamson’s Joem Sabandal, San Beda’s Evan Nelle, Ateneo’s Dave Ildefonso, Arellano’s Aaron Fermin, Mapua’s Warren Bonifacio and La Salle Grenhills’ Joel Cagulangan.
Now on its fifth year, the SLAM Rising Stars Classic remains a showcase for top high school talent in their quest to be the country’s best. It has also been a platform for opposing players from the same league to team up and get to know each other.
“Pagkakataon ito para magkakilala pa kami [ni Aaron Fermin],” Bonifacio, an NCAA Mythical Five member, said at the SLAM Rising Stars press conference held on Saturday at Pasig City.
For a player like Adamson’s Sabandal, the exhibition game is a chance to share the ball with players who are usually on the other side.
“Masarap sa feeling [maging kakampi si Kai]. Pag-duma-drive ako lagi ako naghahanap ng big man. Drop pass mo nalang o babato mo nalang sa taas para madali,” he said.
While the SLAM Rising Stars Classic creates a culture of camaraderie among the rising stars, it’s also a venue where the future of Philippine basketball train to sharpen their competitive edge.
“Ayaw ko ‘yung MVP. Kahit ‘di ko makuha ‘yun. I want the trophy talaga kasi gusto ko ibawi sarili ko dahil sa pagkatalo nung NCAA [Finals],” said Gozum.
A chance to play with and against the best of the best; a chance to redeem themselves; and a chance to show what they’re made of, these high school phenoms’ long journey to greatness just got tougher.