The Legend of the ‘Kangkong’

ELJ Building, Quezon City
May 19, 2015
The Legend of the ‘Kangkong’

I don’t usually write two straight blogs about the same topic in a span of hours.
On this day, I will make an exception.
You see, sports anchor Aaron Atayde made this “kangkong” joke that has enraged the Barangay Ginebra fandom. And it happened while Atayde was interviewing Dylan Ababou in his TV5 show Sports 360. It came after Atayde waved kangkong when Ababou was about to answer an online query if the latter would still return to Ginebra if given a chance. Atayde was actually alluding to Ginebra being in the gutter, or to borrow it from Atayde, kangkungan, which means in the bottom or being dead last.
Ababou, who was traded by Ginebra to unbeaten Barako Bull, found Atayde’s joke funny.
The Ginebra multitudes aren’t laughing though.
But let’s give it to Atayde. It’s his show. And this is a democratic country. And, we have to admit it, he’s right. Ginebra is down there with recent conqueror Blackwater (Yes, Blackwater!), polishing all the other team’s shoes. And Ababou is up there with Barako Bull, the last remaining unbeaten team after prevailing in its first three games, and probably thankful he was traded to a winning club.
Truth hurts, I guess. Sarcasm too.
Here’s a piece of advice though.
Instead of making a furor out of Atayde’s joke, why not make this a personal challenge. To Frankie Lim. To Mark Caguioa. To the whole Ginebra team. And yes, to us, dear Kings fans. Channel it by keeping the faith, staying patient, strengthening our resolve and praying harder that things are going to change for the better.
And it will.
After all, life is like a wheel. Always turning, always evolving. Sometimes you fall down, sometimes you deflate, but you always manage to keep going, supporting others, and staying strong. Some journeys are longer than others. Some are bumpier than others. But the load of life is a lot easier to bear with a few friends helping out. And those friends are you and I, Ginebra diehards.
So let’s turn this around.
It can’t rain all the time.
We will just all wake up one day with Ginebra hoisting that PBA championship trophy.
And if Ginebra’s time comes, let’s give it back to Atayde and thank him. Because if he hadn’t made the kangkong joke, it wouldn’t have spurred this legend.
Again, relax and stay calm. Someday, somehow Aaron Atayde will eat his words. Or shall we say, his kangkong, adobo-style.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photo courtesy of spin.ph and TV5)

Why People Didn’t Wear Black

MOA Arena
October 5, 2016
Why People Didn’t Wear Black

I was close to writing a basketball blog about Ginebra turning kangkong into gold. Or Norman Black and his overachieving Meralco Bolts finding their way back to the PBA Finals. Or Jamike Jarin silencing his detractors, mostly Bedans who can’t be satisfied nor be pleased no matter what good you do with the Lions. Or about Jio Jalalon and the menacing Arellano U Chiefs who could be on the verge of winning their first ever NCAA championship. Or Ben Mbala being the most dominant force in the UAAP planet today.
But I decided not to.
Because when I woke up on this one gloomy October morning while reading news online, which has become my daily habit, I ran into this fan article why he was glad to have worn black.
For those hiding in their mama’s skirts, there was this circular released on social media by officials of bitter rivals Ateneo and La Salle right before their game just this last weekend encouraging their throngs of fans to wear black in protest of what they perceived as extrajudicial killings and the possible burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
We all know what happened, right? Only about 20-percent of the 16,000-plus paying patrons wore black, most of them from Ateneo including the Eagles of Tab Baldwin. They were utterly drowned by a tidal wave of green, La Salle’s colors.

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I will not stoop down and mock the Eagles and the people who decided to wear black to make a stand because I love people who make a stand and fight for something they believed in. Ours is a democratic country, anyway.
In fact, I admired the Black Power Salute in the 1968 Olympics where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists with a black gloves on the podium right after the two took the gold and silver in the 200-meter dash to protest against African-American oppression back home in the United States.
I admired the Toronto Raptors for linking their arms together and some even bowing their heads during the singing of both the Star-Spangled Banner and O Canada ahead of the NBA’s first pre-season game versus the Golden State Warriors in Vancouver as a sign of protest to the recent shooting that is happening in the US. It was an offshoot of NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s protest a few weeks back. Interestingly, the Warriors showed apathy by not joining in the protest.
I also respected Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly Chris Jackson before converting to Islam in 1993, and his decision to not stand during the national anthem in 1996 because he has this personal belief that doing so was a form of “nationalistic ritualism.” He was eventually suspended since the NBA forbids it. But he sent his message and the NBA heard him and the two ended up with a compromise.
Who would forget Muhammad Ali? He who began the separatist stand that marked his storied career. He who chose to glorify his blackness, to revel in the darkness of his skin and accentuate the difference it caused. He who refusted to be drafted in protest of the Vietnam War.
I mean, we all have this right to protest as mandated by the Constitution. That’s democracy, my friends.
But you got it all wrong.
Protest you want. Wear black all UAAP game and the rest of your lives. Go ahead. Do it. It’s your right. Fight for something. I encourage you. Make the most out of the democratic process we’re enjoying. You will not be mocked. For those mocked these people, be ashamed of yourself. You are vile, miserable creatures.
But you see, people are just plain tired. Tired of the prolifiration of drugs, “Tanim Bala,” corruption in government, heavy traffic, poverty, and just the unforgivable indifference by the past administrations to these problems that people are willing to accept sacrifices just to make this world a better place to live in.
And that is the reason they didn’t wear black.
It’s also a form of protesting. Only the opposite or “anti-black.” Or call it acceptance. I think its a triumph of the spirit because, finally, someone like President Duterte dared the establishment and made a move to change our lives for the better. Duterte is no Saint but people, at least majority of the Filipinos, think he has good intentions and are embracing what he is doing. Because admit it or not, things are getting better.
Change has indeed come.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of veteran Philippine Star lens man Jun Mendoza)

In Chess We Trust

Malate, Manila
September 14, 2016
In Chess We Trust

It’s a happy and sad day for Philippine chess.
Sad because our men’s and women’s teams lost their 11th and final round matches in the just concluded 42nd World Chess Olympiad.
Our men’s team fell to Australia, 1.5-2.5, and into 58th place with 12 match points, one of the worst performances by the country in the biennial meet considered as the strongest chess team tournament in the world.
Our women’s squad bowed to 12th seed Lithuania, 1-3, and skidded to 34th place with 13 points.
But I will not dwell on the bad and just talk about the good, which I feel are many.
Janelle Mae Frayna, for one, is the best thing that ever happened to Philippine women chess. Frayna has left her mark by becoming the first ever Woman Grandmaster from our country. Not yet contented, she clinched the men’s International Master the next day. That’s another first, actually, since no Filipina has ever accomplished such feat.

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Let’s talk about the women’s team.
Had the squad won in their last round match, we would have finished 10th at best and 18th at worst. We came just a one stroke of luck of making it that far. Imagine that. This same bunch of lady woodpushers have the talent. In case you’re hiding in a cave, these same team stunned fourth seed Georgia and faced several other teams in the Top 10 and 20 in the world like India, Hungary, Italy, Mongolia and Lithuania. Given the proper support, training and international exposures, we could make it to the Top 10. The cornerstone is Frayna. Count in Jodilyn Fronda, who held her own on second board. And this 19-year-old girl named Shania Mae Mendoza, who impressed with her attacking flare and daredevil style of play. We could build on these three players, whose average age is on the early 20s. Catherine Perena-Secopito is 32 years old but she’s good for many more Olympiads to come after she scored seven points of the possible 10.

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Oh blessed Julio Catalino Sadorra.

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He showed he could stand his ground against the best of them. He sent reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway backpedalling before settling for a draw in the end.
Saving the best for last is Eugene Torre.
He who scored a scintillating 10 points out of a possible 11 on eight spectacular wins and two fighting draws. And at age 64. Who could do that? For his feat, he took the bronze medal on board three, his first medal since snaring a silver in the 1974 Nice Olympiad where he also became Asia’s first ever GM.

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Proud also of all the players, the captains and the delegation team members for just going there and wearing the flag on their blue jackets and shirts and just representing us.
Thank you all.
Don’t mind the doubters, whiners and doomsayers who ridiculed the team and hoped and prayed for a worst finish. You got your wish now and I hope you are all happy.
But no matter what they say, I will always keep my faith on Philippine chess. Because I know there is hope. And hope springs eternal.

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(Photos courtesy of Bakuchessolympiad.com)

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

When She Cries

Microtel, MOA
Aug. 3, 2016
When She Cries

It was one lonely, rainy Monday night.
Alyssa Valdez was crying.
You could see it in her eyes, the tears that flowed, the sadness.
She was hurt from the social media bashing she received from some sectors blaming her for allegedly turning her back on an opportunity to play for a club team representing the country in two international events–the Asian Volleyball Confederation and FIVB Club Championships in the coming months. She knows it was far from the truth. Way, way far from it.
It was actually the opposite.
She wants to play for flag and country.
Just look at her eyes. Hear her heartbeat. It beats Philippines, Philippines, Philippines.
She was there last year against the LVPI’s predecessor, the Phl Volleyball Federation, when none was brave enough to stand up and in a heartbeat willingly volunteered to represent the country in the Asian Women’s under-23 Championship and eventually the Southeast Asian Games.
Without question.
Without condition.
Nevermind that the team didn’t have pre-game and post-game food and uniform. Heck, they have to bring their own water. And she did it for the love of the game. And country.
So it breaks her heart to be told a lie and her devotion to country questioned.
The last one was the most painful.
Ask Ricky Palou, who was there when Alyssa cried.
Palou have already told everyone that Alyssa Valdez was ready to play for Foton, the club team the Phl will send in the AVC tilt.
Ask Foton team manager Alvin Lu, who asked Palou if Alyssa can play for the team. Alyssa readily said yes. Without question, condition. She just did.
But, as Camille Naredo of ABS-CBN news reported, the invitation “was withdrawn a few days later, because of a rule imposed by the Philippine Superliga (PSL) wherein a player should have competed in the PSL for at least one conference before taking part in the team that will compete in the AVC tilt.”
So there.
Yes, Alyssa Valdez cried a river.
That was Monday night.
Now, Alyssa Valdez, as good-natured as she is, is smiling as if life is beautiful again.
For her, life is always beautiful.
The storm is over.
She knows there will always be a rainbow after it.
And hope that someday, she would get that chance to wear the white, blue and red uniform with the country’s flag emblazoned on it.
It will come.

P. S.
She’s eager to play in no other league but the Shakey’s V-League sooner than expected. With more fervor and renewed joy.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photo by Spin.ph)

A V-League of Their Own

Philsports Arena
July 18, 2016
A V-League of Their Own

The Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors beat the Air Force Lady Jet Spikers, 29-27, 18-25, 25-21, 25-19 Monday night to clinch their first ever Shakey’s V-League championship on their very first conference. It was an epic battle as the two protagonists needed a deciding game to settle the score. In the end, it was Pocari that sweated it out to capture the title.
So Congratulations.
The victory also capped a Season 13-Open Conference full of highs. And I will mention one by one below what they are.
1. Pocari’s jump to the V-League from the rival Philippine Superliga is providential as it did not only grab a title, it also gained instant heavy exposure from No. 2.

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2. The league’s partnership with television giant ABS-CBN is a game-changer. After 13 years of irregular TV broadcast, fans will get to watch all V-League games on free channel (ABS-CBN Sports and Action Channel 23) live plus free, clear livestream on the side. There is a chance that somewhere along the road that the Spikers’ Turf, the V-League’s men counterpart, will also get their fair share of coverage. Just be patient. It will come.
3. If Air Force had won, I would have named this blog Air Force One. But it fell short. Nonetheless, the Lady Jet Spikers were a pleasant surprise after not only making it to the finals for the first time, it also almost won it. I got to give it to these valiant players for fighting the good fight. If I’m the Air Force Commanding General, Lt Gen Edgar R Fallorina AFP, I would be darn proud of them. Wait, Fallorina was actually there to personally congratulate his brave soldiers.

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4. Speaking of Air Force, no one really believed it would reach that far considering that its best effort was a pair of fourth place finishes in 2013 and 2014. And Rhea Dimaculangan and Maika Ortiz, the team’s heart and soul, left for greener pastures. But it was a blessing in disguise as players like Wendy Ann Semana, Judy Ann Caballejo, May Ann Tapic, Jocemer Tapic and Joy Cases defied the odds and shamed the doubters with a performance to remember. And by the way, Semana is best setter. Won it against younger, quicker foes.

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5. Bali Pure, a team that was tipped to challenge for the title because of Alyssa Valdez and a star-studded cast, ended up clinching third place by sweeping a Nes Pamilar-mentored Laoag City side. Whatever we all say, a medal is a medal and playing coach Charo Soriano is just as pleased. And so are we.
6. But admit it, Pocari and Bali Pure have got to be the most popular teams today. Whenever the two play, they drew league-record attendance. It’s like Ateneo vs La Salle all over again. Or battle of the galactic stars. Imagine Alyssa Valdez teaming up with Soriano, Amy Ahomiro, Denden Lazaro, Jem Ferrer, Ella de Jesus, May Tajima, Dzi Gervacio, Bea Tan Grethcel Soltones against Michele Gumabao, Melissa Gohing, Myla Pablo, Elaine Kasilag, Gyzelle Sy and Siemens Dadang. What a match. Hope they play again in the Reinforced Conference late this year.

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7. Speaking of Soltones, she won her first V-League MVP. And deservingly. Whoever said otherwise had probably sneezed out his brain. Here are the rules in determining the MVP. Only elimination round stats count. Only players who made the semifinals qualify for the award. National U’s Jaja Santiago would have ran away with the honor had the Lady Bulldogs made it. Soltones was No. 2. Her team made it. So guess who’s the MVP? Soltones. You want to plead your case for Pablo, Gumabao? They missed two games. Soltones missed just one. Judy Caballejo or any Air Force players? They’re too team oriented to concern themselves of an individual award. They’re an unselfish squad. Period. And oh, Alyssa Valdez. She missed three games. And yes, bless her heart, Alyssa is happy for Soltones. Did I make myself clear? So congrats Grethcel!

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8. Oh Myla Pablo. You blew us all away. She just stepped up in the playoffs, averaging 26 in the semis and 19 in the finals. What a performance. She deserves the Finals MVP trophy. Standing ovation for you Myla.
9. Alyssa Valdez is STILL the FACE of Philippine Volleyball.

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Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

(Photos courtesy of Shakeys V-League, Fox News Philippines, Spin.ph.)

Beauty and the Beast

The Arena, San Juan
June 28, 2016
Beauty and the Beast

Today is the 42nd month since my wife and I decided to get married in simple rites. It was the best decision of our lives because God blessed us with Iago Sebastian, who was born on Nov. 1 the year after.
So I thank God for the gift of love and family.
Also, this same day is somewhat historic for the NCAA Press Corps, a group of sportswriters and photographers consisting of expletive-speaking men and women who take joy in admiring both sexy women and handsome and muscled players and coaches including Sportsmaryosep’s favorite, former Letran coach Aldin “Jooooeeey follow your heart” Ayo.
Historic because we just did our second Fantasy League drafting at the newly renovated, head-smashing media room. It will also be the first time that a female member, veteran scribe Marivic Awitan of Balita and Bulgar, joined us. Fittingly, she drew the first overall pick. And guess who she picked? The Bus Driver himself, Jio Jalalon of Arellano U. The photo below is the complete draft results.

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May the best team wins.
This blog though is about, two things, beauty and, yes, the beast. Let’s start with the beauties.
On June 25, the NCAA Season 92 was officially ushered in with a grand opening ceremony that was highlighted by honoring the late great Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga, whose jersey No. 14 he used during his San Beda days in the 50s was retired by the host school. Aside from the introduction of players from all 10 participating squads and the entertaining opening number, we were also greeted with the league’s most beautiful faces. And as a treat, we will let these photos from Jan Dizon of ncaaph.org do the talking. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words. So enjoy.


Now let’s talk about the beast.
I mean “The Beast.” Calvin Abueva. One of the two players recently cut from Gilas Pilipinas seeking nothing less than a slot to the Rio Olympics when it plunges into action in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament the country will host on July 5 at the MOA Arena. Many, including Sportsmaryosep, raised hell over the recent decision by coach Tab Baldwin.
Before we comment even further, let’s first look at the valiant 12 who made the team–Andray Blatche, June Mar Fajardo, Jayson Castro, Gabe Norwood, Terrence Romeo, Ranidel de Ocampo, Japeth Aguilar, Marc Pingris, Troy Rosario, Ryan Reyes, Ray Parks and Jeff Chan.

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There were some who asked why rookie Troy Rosario was there. Some criticisms were also hurled at Parks, Japeth and even Reyes. But most was aimed at Rosario, who a lot of people think should have not made the team because of simple reasoning that he is just a newbie. Fair reasoning.
Let’s compare. Rosario is taller and has more range. Abueva is smaller but has experience and athleticism. You also can’t question his heart. Proof of it was in Gilas’ gold medal game against powerhouse China. He stared eye to eye with the Chinese and their fans. In China. Abueva showed guts and balls, ladies and gentlemen. Hard to question his heart. And oh, Abueva happens to be the second best player in the PBA today next only to The Kraken.
While we bleed over the decision, it does not mean we will not be supporting Baldwin and Gilas. In fact, we will. 100 percent. To the end. I will be there screaming myself hoarse. With or without Abueva.
For the love of country.
Go Gilas!

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of Jan Dizon of ncaaph.org and Smartgilasbasketball.com)

Season 92 Preview: Jose Rizal, Mapua, San Beda, Letran (Paradiso)

Mendiola, Manila
June 23, 2016
Season 92 Preview: Jose Rizal, Mapua, San Beda, Letran (Paradiso)

(Final part)
As of this writing, on Thursday, we all woke up with three news in the NBA.
The first one was Derrick Rose being shipped by the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant. And then Jeff Teague was dealt by the Atlanta Hawks to the Indiana Pacers for George Hill, who landed at Utah, which sent its No. 12 pick in today’s rookie draft to Atlanta, which is planning to trade it and its 21st pick for cap flexibility with an eye on re-signing Al Horford and Kent Bazemore.
Manu Ginobili also opted out of his contract with the San Antonio Spurs to test the free agency market.
As to why I’m talking about things I wouldn’t even write about, I don’t know.
But let’s just forget about it and proceed with what I’m truly going to blog about, which is the final installment of my NCAA Season 92 preview.
And as per tradition, I’m saving the best for last.

Jose Rizal

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The Bombers were the least visible team in the pre-season among all the NCAA schools, having joined just the Fr. Martin Cup this summer. If they’re trying to conceal some secret weapons or hidden gems that they’re planning to unleash come tournament time, it will not happen. Because truth is, Jose Rizal will parade practically the same team from last season. So I suspect, they’re just resting their team and bracing for a long, very long tournament ahead.
Why it would not win?
Apart from potential injuries and the end of the world, one of the factors preventing this experienced squad from snaring the NCAA title is the absence of one or two go-to-guys. Last year, I thought the hard-playing Tey Tey Teodoro would be The One. But unfortunately, he couldn’t live up to it. John Pontejos was on the ascent until death in the family stalled his rise. Scoring also poised as a problem for the Bombers. They would need to score and hit those outside shots. I agree that defense wins championships. But I also believe offense helps a team get close to it.

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Why it would win?
Experience and an intact roster should be keys for the Bombers’ possible success this year. Defense too. Jose Rizal has one of the league’s best defensive teams and they’re expected to be more unforgiving this season. Cris Jordan Dela Paz should be his team’s lead defense from the backcourt while shotblocking Abdul Razak Abdul Wahab and bruising Abdul Poutouochi will be the pillar of their interior D strength. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to see the Bombers play this pre-season but I was told Teodoro and Pontejos were playing well and should have breakout seasons. And as I’ve said, the talented backcourt tandem will be the key for Jose Rizal to unlock the championship mystery.
Madam Auring: If this team loses again this year, they should be forced to reas Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in one seating.

Mapua

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Atoy Co has got to be one of my favorite coaches around. The funniest too. One of his whackiest moments for me was when he undressed and waved his shirt to the crowd in protest of a non-call. He may have been slapped a technical foul and ejected that day, but he left a big mark in yours truly. Idol!

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Why it would not win?
No more Josan Nimes and his shameless scoring and Andretti Stevens and his hard-nosed defense. JP Nieles, who came out of nowhere to emerge one of the guards who over-achieved last year, was also not in the roster. Aside from the aforementioned, this team needs an emergency frontcourt back up just in case reigning MVP Allwell Oraeme got himself in foul trouble, or gets injured (knock on wood) or gets tossed out after biting into thr oppossing team’s ploy in enraging him (knock on wood). They were exposed in Filoil when Oraeme was out because the Cardinals just went on a losing spree and never recovered. The lack of big men next to Oraeme will take its toll.

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Why it would win?
This is an experienced team. And the return of Joseph Eriobu and Andrew Estrella should further make the Cardinals a more dangerous team. CJ Isit has also emerged as a leader and an anchor on both ends. He needs to add range to his game though and make those triples to open up things a bit for him when he attacks inside. This is a team that should find comfort that their offense will continue to hum despite losing Nimes. And I haven’t even talked of Oraeme, who has added some jumpers to his growing arsenal. I wouldn’t be surprised he starts shooting threes in the future.
Madam Auring: Is there a misfortune cookie?

San Beda

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After coming one game short of extending their dynastic reign, the Lions are back going all out to achieve what they failed to do last year. And this year, they look more dangerous despite losing practically most of their starters.
Why it would not win?
As I’ve mentioned, Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer, Arthur dela Cruz and Ryusei Koga are all gone. Adeogun was the team’s biggest loss since the Lions will be minus one of the league’s best rim protectors and an inside scoring threat. Donald Tankoua will have a hard time filling the Ola void. Without Adeogun, opposing squads will have extra space and open lanes to operate inside. It’s probably the reason Jio Jalalon and the guard-heavy Arellano U Chiefs beat them in Filoil.
Why it would win?
Smaller doesn’t mean weaker. Watching the Lions in the pre-season is like watching a track and field team doing a 4×100-meter relay race. I mean San Beda is freakishly fast. Dan Sara has taken up the skipper’s role but I see Jayvee Mocon coming out with his best season as a college player if he keeps his head in the game and not commit unnecessary fouls. I like the acquisition of La Salle transferee Robert Bolick, who will bring stability to the team. AC Soberano should light it up after torching opponents with his high efficiency three-point shooting in Filoil. Fil-Am Davon Potts is also a prize find, a solid defender with an outside shooting. The high-leaping, slam-dunking Arnaud Noah is a bit smaller import but his quickness and athleticism would be an asset off the bench. Ranbill Tongco and Jose Mari Presbitero should have major roles and would be X-factors.

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Madam Auring: Loved Jamike Jarin’s answer when asked by college writer if he’ll play softer against weak things. He sarcastically responded, “We don’t do that. We play the same intensity and desire wherever we play, whether it’s the NCAA, the Filoil and even Inter-Kulangot tournament. Yes. A Booger to a booger question.

Letran

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Right after the press-conference, I ran into their athletic moderator, Fr. Vic Calvo, OP, and he was disappointed no one believed the Knights will win a second straight title. You see, everybody was looking at Arellano U as the team to beat. San Beda, Mapua, Jose Rizal also got some attention. Only a few mentioned Letran. They forget the Knights are the defending champions.
Why it would not win?
When you lost the coach (Aldin Ayo) and two leaders (Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz) who helped the Knights defy the odds and complete a Cinderella finish by beating everyone to win last year’s championship, it’s hard to keep that confidence. New coach Jeff Napa will also be transitioning from a multi-titled high school coach from National U to a college coach, which means it will not be easy. Nothing changed except Rey Nambatac and McJour Luib should receive more responsibility as well as Jomari Sollano, Bong Quinto, Felix Apreku and Jerick Balanza. And the pressure got bigger since everyone has probably prepared for one whole year to dethrone the champions.
Why it would win?
They’re the defending champions. If that alone doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. Or can I just mention Rey Nambatac? He will have a monster season.
Madam Auring: Who is Aldin Ayo?  Sportsmaryosep’s prognosis: Who is Aldin Ayo? Joke. Seriously, there could be an Aldin Ayo in our midst somewhere out there. Ayo, for those who don’t know, was a virtual unknown a season ago. But he made a loud introduction that made sure we all heard him and won the NCAA championships with a smaller, all-Filipino crew. In our face. Face palm. And Ayo, everytime we saw each other, always made sure he reminded me of the blog we at Sportsmaryosep wrote asking who Aldin Ayo is. But come to think of it, no one, except Ayo himself, believed and predicted Ayo and the Knights will even make the Final Four, much more win the title. But he won. End of story. But Ayo and Letran’s story was a special case. A fairy tale. So this year, its hard to blame the coaches and the pundits if they didn’t see Letran in their championship radar. I agree that Arellano U is a contender. San Beda, as much as Jamike Jarin didn’t want to admit it, is legit. And so with Jose Rizal and Mapua. Perpetual Help could make a run for it. Letran will be carried by its championship reputation and as always, heart. Actually, everybody has a chance thanks to the Aldin Ayo example. But since I have to make a fearless forecast, I will be making one. EAC, LPU, St. Benilde and San Sebastian will have a competitive season that is as sure as the sun will rise in the morning. I consider them all darkhorses. But this early, they’re all underdogs and will need a miracle or two to have an Aldin Ayo-like season. Barring any major injuries and an apocalypse, Arellano and San Beda will try to outrun each other to the top and easily make the Final Four. Jose Rizal, Mapua, Perpetual Help and Letran will make a heated race. Jose Rizal will be the third team to the semis. Mapua will be the fourth, beating Perpetual and Letran to it. As for the champion, I see all four capable of winning it all. But when the smoke of battle dissipates, I see San Beda coming out of it as victor because San Beda has never lost two seasons in a row in the last decade. Or I could be wrong. And Aldin Ayo comes into my dreams and tell me…”Jooooooeeeeyyyyy. Follow your heart.”

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of NCAA, Tristan Tamayo of inquirer.net, Jerome Ascano of spin.ph and abscbnnews.com)