The Arena, San Juan City
Aug. 21, 2015
Wild, Wild West
What a day.
It began with the Ricky Rubio press conference at adidas’ BGC branch in Taguig City where us mediamen, and we’re a lot, and some lucky fans were treated to this talented 25-year-old Spanish guard who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves speaking about life in the basketball fast lane.
But this is not about Rubio.
It’s about the NCAA All-Star Game, which, as the title of this blog says, should sum everything up.
You see, the West team, which is composed of Letran, St. Benilde, Emilio Aguinaldo, Lyceum and Mapua, shocked a powerhouse East squad comprising of five-peat champion San Beda, Perpetual Help, Arellano U, Jose Rizal and San Sebastian via a pulsating 89-88 victory.
And I have several thoughts.
1. I used the adjective shocking because the West team has a combined win-loss record of 18-27, way below the East’s impressive 27-18 slate. Never mind that reigning MVP Earl Scottie Thompson begged off in the last minute due to back issues. Let me break it down West’s rosters. Jio Jalalon. Bright Akhuetie. Arthur dela Cruz. Tey Teodoro. All potential MVP winners this season. So yes, it was shocking.
2. What about Jonathan Grey? 20 points including three booming triples. Two of those long treys came in a seven-second span in the final 28.5 seconds of play and West trailing by seven points. It did not only cut their deficit to one, it also paved the way for Mark Cruz’s game-winning two free throws with a fraction of a second to go. At the end of the day, Grey ended up winning the All-Star Game MVP trophy. If I will be given the power to award the runner-up MVP plum, I will bestow it without batting an eyelash to Cruz, who is fondly called by Letran athletic moderator Fr. Vic Calvo, OP, as “The Antman.” Well, Fr. Vic, on this particular day, I named him Gigantor.
3. For the record, the head-to-head record between the East and West is one game apiece with the former seizing a 104-97 triumph in its inaugural season exactly a year ago. Former Arellano hotshot John “The Doorman” Pinto emerged the MVP.
4. I feel sad for Teodoro. If Grey and Cruz hadn’t intervened, Teodoro would have been the MVP instead. I mean, the guy exploded for 17 points, all in the second half. It included a cold-blooded jumper that gave East a seven-point cushion with less than half a minute to go. Until the shade of Grey loomed over the horizon and stole the MVP trophy from Teodoro like a kid taking his candy. Ouch.
5. If there’s one other good thing that happened in the All-Star Game, it’s seeing West coach Aldin Ayo smile for the first time this year. And would you believe he felt more nervous coaching here than in Letran’s actual games? Aldin, A-yo the man.
6. Have I told you Cruz also won the three-point shootout? Yes, he did. And he accomplished it with aplomb by practically shooting the lights out of The Arena. Cruz was just in video-game mode, scoring a whopping 26 points in the elimination to advance to the finals along with Lyceum’s Wilson Baltazar, who had a solid 22. After Baltazar lost steam in the finale where he fired nothing but blanks and ended up with just a disappointing nine points, we knew it’s game over. Cruz answered by clinching the title right on the first ball of the third rack and cruised from there. Still Antman? We should call him Buzzsaw instead.
7. This year’s slam dunk competition was a combination of ugly and beautiful. Ugly because more than half of the 30 attempts (yes, 30!) were botched ones. Good thing it ended up Lyceum’s Jebb Bulawan and incoming St. Benilde rookie Mustapha Yankie Haruna made up or the “Wow Mali” moments with dunks to remember. The two made the finals more exciting that they ended up in a tie and had to settle everything via a dunk-off. Dunk of the night, of course, goes to Bulawan, who dunked with two hands after he jumped over teammate Shaq Alanes and Joseph Gabayni for a perfect 30 points to clinch the new Sultan of Swat. Honorable mentions: Bulawan dunking over a sitting Gabayni while the latter took a selfie of it and Haruna leapfrogging over teammate JR Ongteco. If Haruna executed his final attempt–a between the leg dunk off a pass from Travis Jonson–judges told me they would have also given it a perfect score and would have awarded the trophy to both him and Bulawan.
8. Funniest dunk of the night: San Beda’s Michole Sorela trying to dunk and ended up doing a lay up that miserably missed. Honorable mention: San Sebastian’s Ally Bulanadi doing a Karl Malone dunk.
9. I think the league was right when they chose league commissioner Bai Cristobal to be one of the judges of the dunk contest. A commissioner is the most objective judge you can find. Cristobal, however, is hard to please. If Bulawan hadn’t dunked over two persons, he would have scored his first 10 of this event. He probably had a toothache or something.
Thank you Mr. Paul Supan of Jose Rizal for the title idea. It’s wild indeed.
(Photos are courtesy of Tiebreaker Times and Dennis Abrina)