PBA PH Cup preview: Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok

After coming just one win short of last year’s PBA Philippine Cup title, the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok will have redemption in their mind in the upcoming 45th season of the PBA which will start on March 8.

The Chito Victolero-mentored squad infused some much-needed youth to their aging frontcourt by adding 6-foot-5 athletic slotman Aris Dionisio to the fold. The Hotshots will also finally enjoy a full season with talented playmaker Chris Banchero, whom they acquired in the middle of the season-ending tournament last year.

The heart and soul of the team, Mark Pingris, is also healthy once more and will look to add another championship to his resume.

Before we dive into their chances this year,  let’s have a look at how the Hotshots fared last season.

2019 season review

Philippine Cup: runners-up (defeated by San Miguel in 7 games in the Finals)

Commissioner’s Cup: 5th seed after eliminations (eliminated by Ginebra in Quarterfinals)

Governors’ Cup: 6th seed after eliminations (eliminated by TNT in Quarterfinals)

Although not as stacked as some of the best teams in the league, the Hotshots still managed to outlast 10 other teams in last year’s All-Filipino tourney. Despite being just the sixth seed entering the playoffs (6-5 record), Magnolia bested higher seeds Ginebra and Rain or Shine to set up a date with the five-peat seeking San Miguel.

They stood toe-to-toe with SMB’s formidable core but eventually lost the deciding Game 7.

Magnolia finished 5th in the eliminations stage of the midseason tournament and set up a date with Ginebra in the quarterfinals. The team, however, struggled with inconsistency after a revolving door of imports. The Hotshots brought in ex-NBA player Rakeem Christmas in the postseason to up their chances. But he never found his groove with Magnolia and they dropped back-to-back games vs GInebra in their best-of-three affair.

The Hotshots were on a quest to defend their Govs’ Cup crown in the season-ending tourney and brought back Romeo Travis. But injuries derailed the lefty reinforcement and the Hotshots only managed to finish in 6th place in the eliminations.

They figured in an exhilarating game against TNT in the Quarterfinals. They were booted out early after coming on the short end of a heartbreaking one-point defeat, 98-97.

Can the Hotshots return to glory this season?

Notable additions: Jackson Corpuz, Aris Dionisio, Yankie Haruna, Alvin Capobres

Notable omissions: Aldrech Ramos, Bambam Gamalinda

The Hotshots have always come up with a competitive squad throughout the years. Still, the team is still overshadowed by its more successful sister teams San Miguel and Ginebra, who both won a title last season.

With SMB and Ginebra losing their massive centers in June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter, respectively, this might just be Magnolia’s chance to break free.

The team has had trouble matching up with the behemoths of this league, even with talented slotmen like Ian Sangalang, Rafi Reavis, and Marc Pingris in the fold. They won’t have problems in that department in 2020, with the arrival of Jackson Corpuz and Aris Dionisio.

Aldrech Ramos and Bambam Gamalinda were both serviceable during their tenure with the Hotshots, but the team certainly upgraded with their new recruits.

Despite their improvement upfront, Magnolia will still go as far as their backcourt takes them. The 3-headed guard rotation of Paul Lee, Jio Jalalon, and Mark Barroca became four with the addition of Chris Banchero last season. Justin Melton also continues to provide a huge spark off the bench and will once again be crucial in Magnolia’s small-ball system.

(Images from PBA Media Group)

ALSO READ — PBA PH Cup preview: Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings

Dexter Maiquez comes up big in the clutch for Pampanga

Dexter Maiquez was the hero fourth seed Pampanga-ADG Group needed when the going got tough in their 2020 Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan quarterfinals series against fifth-ranked 1Bataan-Camaya Coast.

With 59.2 seconds remaining on the clock, Risers’ wingman Reed Juntilla made a booming triple to put his side ahead, 78-77, then came Maiquez in the situation.

The 6-foot-3 bruiser forced his way in the paint, on the other end, with defender Chito Jaime falling down, as Maiquez banked his layup to regain the 79-78 advantage with 44.4 ticks left.

“Talagang binigay sa akin ni coach Bong yung play sa akin nung timeout, kaya sabi ko sige aatakihin ko, may go signal naman kay coach. Luckily, pumasok.”

And in the final 24 seconds of the match, the San Sebastian alum was intentionally fouled twice, with him easily converting all four free throws.

“Sobrang pressure, sabi ko na lang sa sarili ko, bahala na, ito naman yung ineensayo ko palagi, ginawa ko lang yung normal free throw routine ko.”

With one final chance to send the game to extra time, Juntilla’s triple was rejected by Michael Juico that sent the Kapampangans into a frenzy.

Eventually, The Giant Lanterns escaped with an 83-80 victory over the Risers, Thursday at the AUF Gym here, to march into the semifinals.

The Guagua, Pampanga native posted 19 points on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting clip, alongside nine rebounds, two assists, and a block.

The ADG Group-backed squad will collide against reigning champion San Juan-Go for Gold in the semifinals, after scoring a 74-67 Game Two win over Pasay earlier.

John Wilson does the dirty work vs Pasay to push San Juan to next round

San Juan-Go for Gold faced a huge problem when veteran big man Larry Rodriguez hit the showers early in their 2020 Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan quarterfinals Game Two against Pasay, Thursday night at the AUF Gym here.

Rodriguez, who was averaging 10.1 points and 6.7 rebounds prior to this game, was ejected at the 2:58 mark of the third period, incurring his second technical foul after taunting Voyager Dhon Reverente.

That was when Pasay took advantage of the gaping hole in the painted area,  unleashing a 17-5 blast bridging through the fourth quarter to turn a 42-35 deficit to a 52-47 advantage.

But Knights star John Wilson had other plans, doing damage from the field, the free throw line and even grabbing rebounds, Rodriguez’s task.

“Noong nawala si Larry, kinausap ko yung mga teammates ko na dapat ipakita namin yung playoff experience namin. Dapat ilabas namin yung pagiging defending champions namin.”

The Jose Rizal University product dropped nine points in the last four minutes of the game on two jump shots and five free throws none more important than the last four.

With the game knotted at 62-all, the 10-year veteran willed his way to the cup in two consecutive possessions, drawing fouls on both occasions with Pasay already in penalty.

Wilson calmly sank all four freebies to give his side the lead for good and eventually grab a 74-67 win to sweep Pasay and barge into the semifinals.

The MPBL scoring leader finished with 17 points on a 4-of-14 clip from the field and 7-of-9 from the stripe. But the most glaring was the 6-foot-2 swingman’s rebounding haul, grabbing 16 rebounds — 10 more than his average.

Knights head coach Randy Alcantara commended his squad for stepping up for their ejected comrade saying, “Nawala si Larry pero nag-take charge si John Wilson especially sa rebounding. Pinakita niya talaga ang pagiging beterano niya.”

The Knights will face fourth-seed Pampanga-ADG Group in the best-of-three semis.

In the other quarterfinals matchup, the Giant Lanterns swept 1Bataan-Camaya Coast, 83-80, to advance to the next round.

Taulava on Cruz playing for Guam: ‘Do you and kill’

Asi Taulava is thrilled that his NLEX Road Warriors teammate Jericho Cruz will be given a chance to represent the Guam men’s national basketball team in the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

The 6-foot-9 Fil-Tongan center showed his support by offering a short but straightforward message to Cruz on Instagram.

“Good luck to my NLEX Brother @jerichoxcruz that will be playing with the Guam National Team. Do you and kill,” he wrote, adding the hashtag #Beastmode24/7.

Cruz was born in Pasig but spend most of his childhood in Saipan. The 29-year-old combo guard was confirmed to be part of Guam’s final 12 against New Zealand in the first window of qualifiers on Sunday.

This is not Cruz’s first time representing Saipan, as he also suited up for Northern Marianas Islands in the 2008 Fiba Oceania Youth Tournament.

After rotting away in TNT Katropa’s reserve list early last year, Cruz was given a new lease on his basketball life after signing with NLEX. He rewarded coach Yeng Guiao’s trust and was a big factor in the Road Warriors’ hot start in the 2019 Governors’ Cup.

Taulava, on the other hand, has had numerous stints for the Philippines’ national team since joining the PBA in 1999. Currently the oldest player in the league at 46 years old, Taulava has confirmed that he will be hanging up his sneakers for good after the 2020 Philippine Cup.

(Images from PBA Media Group)

Mabulac shines in playoff debut for Bacoor Strikers

Playing in his first playoff match in the MPBL, Michael Mabulac was having mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness.

“Sobrang pressure. Actually ayaw ko talagang ipahalata na kinakabahan ako everytime na pinapasok ako.”

Sure it did not look like that he was nervous and all that, as he posted a huge double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds on top of two assists and a blocked shot.

Most importantly, he helped second-seeded Bacoor crush the visiting seventh seed GenSan-Burlington, 95-72, to take a 1-0 edge in the 2020 Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan South quarterfinals at the Strike Gym here, Wednesday night.

And when the Warriors threatened to come back, slicing a once 22-point advantage to just 11, 74-63, the Jose Rizal University alum kickstarted a 10-2 burst, contributing seven points on three inside baskets and a freebie to restore order, 84-65 at the 4:16 mark of the payoff period.

But Mabulac deflected all those points to reigning MVP Gab Banal, who dished out 11 assists in the contest.

“Lahat ng score na yon, credit kay Gab lahat yon kasi siya yung nagassist sa akin noon. Nung fourth quarter, alam na namin yung gagawin namin, eye-to-eye contact na lang.”

The burly 6-foot-4 big man relished that he now has teammates in Bacoor to lean to, unlike last season in Laguna, his previous team, where he has no reinforcements.

Last Datu Cup, Mabulac averaged 14.28 points, 11.28 rebounds, and 1.48 blocks, yet, they barely missed the post-season at 10-15, just good for the ninth spot in the South.

“Nagprepare talaga ako para sa playoffs na ito kasi last year, buhat talaga eh, ginawa ko ang lahat pero kinapos pa rin,” lamented Mabulac. “This time, every game mas mataas yung kumpyansa ko na mananalo kami kasi kada laro, mayroong isang player na puputok sa amin, hindi lang nakaasa sa isang player.”

In the other quarterfinals matchup, third seed Basilan-Jumbo Plastic dominated sixth seed Iloilo, 83-68.

Bautista steps up big time for Bulanadi-less Steel

Third seed Basilan-Jumbo Plastic was missing an integral piece when they faced sixth seed Iloilo on Wednesday night.

Allyn Bulanadi, who came in the tail-end of the Steel’s elimination round, playing in their last seven regular-season games has never failed to score in double digits. However, Basilan missed his 21.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists averages as he needed to attend to Gilas duties.

But head coach Jerson Cabiltes takes pride in his team “that is built for games like these”.

“We built this team for these situations. Next man up attitude. Kung may mawala, kung sino ang susunod, he needs to contribute.”

The main catalyst for the Steel was Jhapz Bautista, who finished with 21 points, on a very efficient 8-of-10 shooting, including a perfect 5-of-5 from the two-point area while also draining three triples.

Moreover, his efforts powered Basilan to a 1-0 advantage in the 2020 Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan quarterfinals after breezing past the United Royals, 83-68, at the Strike Gym here.

Entering the fourth period, the Steel were already ahead by eight, 61-53. Then came Bautista to put the nail in the coffin.

He sparked a 14-2 telling blast, scoring 10 of those on an and-one, two layups, and a triple while Bobby Balucanag and Gab Dagangon also putting two points apiece to build an insurmountable 20-point lead with 4:40 left, 75-55.

“Always ready lang ako. Kung may mawala sa amin, step up lang ako, focus lang.”

Bautista had an additional motivation to grab the victory. So that his squad can advance to the semifinals in front of their home crowd in Basilan on Monday, February 24.

“Gusto ko lang manalo talaga dito ngayon kasi yung Game Two sa Basilan gaganapin, kailangan namin makuha ito para pagdating namin doon, maganda ang maipakita namin sa kanila.”

In the other quarterfinals matchup, second seed Bacoor feasted on GenSan-Burlington, 95-72, for the 1-0 lead.

PBA PH Cup preview: Alaska Aces

After barely making it to the playoffs in all three conferences last year, the Alaska Aces will look to come up with a much better outing in the upcoming PBA Philippine Cup scheduled to commence on March 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Fred Uytengsu-owned team, which moved on from Alex Compton in August of last year, will finally enjoy a full season under head coach Jeffrey Cariaso.

The Aces are still searching for that franchise player since they traded troubled star Calvin Abueva in 2018. Vic Manuel has emerged as the team’’s best player in his absence, but it appears Alaska needs another go-to guy to compete with some of the most stacked teams in the league.

The future does look bright for one of the PBA’s most storied franchises, as young studs Jeron Teng and Abu Tratter are primed to have bigger roles this season.

Before we dive into their chances this year,  let’s have a look at how Alaska fared last season.

2019 season review

Philippine Cup: 8th seed after eliminations (defeated by Phoenix in Quarterfinals)

Commissioner’s Cup: 8th seed after eliminations (forced winner-take-all vs TNT but lost in Quarterfinals)

Governors’ Cup: 7th seed after eliminations (bowed out to Meralco in Quarterfinals)

The Aces did manage to sneak into the postseason in all three conferences last year. Alaska had to fight tooth and nail for the finals spot but always seemed to get the better of other low seeded teams.

The playoffs, however, were a different animal, and they were often matched up against top-seeded teams. Alaska was ambushed by the Abueva-led Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters in last year’s Philippine Cup.

With Diamon Simpson back in town for the Commissioner’s Cup, the Aces managed to push number one seed TNT Katropa to the brink and force a winner-take-all match. Their valiant effort, however, fell short.

Alaska finished 7th after the eliminations in the Governors’ Cup and set a date against eventual finalist Meralco Bolts. They once again fell short and got sent packing early.

Does Alaska have another ace up their sleeve?

Notable additions: Mike DiGregorio, Jaycee Marcelino

Notable omissions: Simon Enciso, Jake Pascual

The Aces fully embraced their youth movement when they traded away Chris Banchero to the Hotshots last November. Their offense will still be centered around Vic Manuel’s dominance in the paint, but it might be time for coach Cariaso to give his young guns Jeron Teng and Abu Tratter more touches.

Teng certainly showed some promise in his first two seasons as a pro. His inability to stay on the floor, however,  hindered his progress as he was bogged down by injuries. In 12 games in last year’s All-Filipino tourney, the DLSU product averaged decent numbers of 12.58 points, 7.42 rebounds, and 2.25 assists in 12 games.

Tratter, meanwhile, has been on a mission since arriving to Alaska last September. The 6-foot-7 slotman notched 10.73 points and 6.09 rebounds for the Aces in last year’s season-ending tournament. He was also recently named to the Final 12 of Gilas Pilipinas in their FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers against Indonesia.

His continued improvement is vital for the Aces, especially with longtime center Sonny Thoss retiring after the Philippine Cup.

They did lose some solid pieces in Simon Enciso and Jake Pascual, but added two capable backcourt players in Mike DiGregorio and incoming rookie Jaycee Marcelino.

Alaska is also hoping their speedy guard Jesper Ayaay will build up from his strong rookie season.

Last year’s new additions Maverick Ahanmisi, Robbie Herndon, and Rodney Brondial are now well acclimated with Cariaso’s system and will look to help the Aces return to glory in 2020.

(Images from PBA Media Group)

ALSO READ — PBA PH Cup preview: San Miguel Beermen

Gilas 3×3 head coach Stefan Stojacic focuses on getting Perez, Tautuaa more comfortable with 3×3

A day after the Gilas Pilipinas 3×3 lineup for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament was announced, the quartet of Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, CJ Perez, and Mo Tautuaa went down to work at the hardcourt of Ronac in Mandaluyong City.

Though relieved to finally have everyone there, national team head coach Stefan Stojacic saw first hand that there is still a lot of work to be done from now until the last week of March to get this team going.

“This is the first practice that we have all the players that are part of the OQT. I am happy about that because it is still one month before the tournament. I think we still have enough time to cover everything,” said Stojacic, the 2018 FIBA 3X3 World Tour Most Valuable Player and coach of China as well.

Stojacic shared that the level of play in the Southeast Asian Games, a tournament that saw CJ Perez and Mo Tautuaa win gold, is a different animal compared to what they will face in Bengaluru, India from March 18 to 22.

“CJ and Mo are new players in 3×3. They played in the SEA Games but that tournament is totally different from the international level of playing 3×3. But they have quality, very good players. Now, we have to change their mindset to 3×3,” Stojacic said.

“There is a lot of work to be done because of their lack of experience in playing 3×3 and how the game is different than 5-on-5. We have a month more to prepare them for the 3×3 game.

“They are for sure going to be a competitive team. The OQT is going to be really hard. A lot of work in front of us,” he added.

And it showed during Gilas 3×3’s three tune-ups.

The nationals bowed to the all-star team of Vrbas’ Marko Brankovic (world no. 50), Ralja’s Nebojsa Kilijan (75), Belgrade’s Vladimir Trajkovic (116), and ex-Basilan import Marcus Hammonds (US no. 16), 13-16, to open the day.

Though eking out a 16-14 win over local top 10 players Troy Rike, Karl Dehesa, Franky Johnson, and Chris De Chavez, Gilas 3×3 would be handed a 9-11 loss to the visitors to cap the day.

That is why Munzon (PH no. 1) and Pasaol (no.2) will have huge responsibilities on their shoulders, according to Stojacic.

“Alvin is going to be the glue guy here. He is going to connect all of them together. Also Josh. Josh is going to be the biggest influence,” opined Stojacic.

“All of them are great but Alvin and Josh are going to be the biggest influence. That is my opinion after just the first practice.”

That is why Stojacic is determined to change the view of Perez and Tautuaa on what 3×3 basketball is all about. More importantly and despite the short amount of time left for them, he plans on building the chemistry between all four of his players in the days to come.

“I’m here to put them together to play 3×3 on an international level and how they will be competitive for the OQT.”

PBA PH Cup preview: San Miguel Beermen

The San Miguel Beermen will be entering unfamiliar territory in the upcoming PBA Philippine Cup scheduled to commence on March 8 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The powerhouse squad opens its 2020 campaign undermanned, possibly losing the services of five-time MVP June Mar Fajardo for the entire year due to a fractured right tibia. Their resident gunner Marcio Lassiter is also expected to sit out a couple of games due to a broken nose he sustained in practice.

READ — Marcio Lassiter suffers broken nose during tuneup against Rain or Shine

The coach Leo Austria-mentored unit still boasts a formidable team, with holdovers Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, Arwind Santos, and Terrence Romeo ready to hold the fort in the All-Filipino tourney.

But without the big guy in the middle, it’s open season for the rest of the league.

SMB actually looks more vulnerable than ever and the reigning five-peat All-Filipino champions will indeed have their work cut out for them in the coming tournament.

Before we dive into their chances this year,  let’s have a look at how SMB fared in the season’s past.

2019 season review

Philippine Cup: Champions (defeated Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok in 7 games)

Commissioner’s Cup: Champions (beat TNT Katropa in 6 games)

Governors’ Cup: (eliminated by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in Quarterfinals)

The Beermen were on a mission for greatness last year and looked like an immovable force in the first two conferences. Fajardo’s unparalleled dominance catapulted them to their fifth straight Philippine Cup trophy against sister team Magnolia.

After early struggles in Commissioner’s Cup, SMB brought in the prolific Chris McCullough and immediately turned their fortunes around. They vanquished TNT, who was led by one of the best PBA imports in recent memory in Terrence Jones.

But SMB’s quest for a historic Grand Slam was cut short in the season-ending tourney, as the team self-destructed from within. They had a fine start under the brilliance of new import Dez Wells.  The American reinforcement, however, did not seem to get along well with his teammates and sparked an all-out melee in practice.

Locals involved in the skirmish including Arwind Santos, Kelly Nabong, and Ronald Tubid were merited with suspensions, while Wells was sent packing. The team was unable to recover from that incident and was eliminated by Ginebra in the postseason.

Can SMB hang on to the throne?

Notable additions: Russel Escoto, Wendell Comboy, Gelo Alolino, Bam Gamalinda

Notable omissions: Ronald Tubid, Kelly Nabong, Yancy de Ocampo (retirement), June Mar Fajardo (injury)

The aftermath of the ugly brawl still haunts SMB to this day, as they had to let go of gritty veterans Tubid and Nabong. They swapped Nabong for the younger Escoto, while plucking away another serviceable big in Gamalinda to shore up their front line.

Their backcourt remains as solid as ever, as Cabagnot and Ross will continue threading the needle despite getting up there in age. Romeo’s scoring capabilities will be needed more than ever to make up for Fajardo’s absence.

Lassiter’s swift return will be key for SMB to have a good start. The team still has a good insurance piece at the shooting guard position, re-signing Von Pessumal to a new contract.

All eyes, however, will be on Moala Tautuaa, whom the Beermen acquired last conference in exchange for Christian Standhardinger.

The 6-foot-8 Fil-Tongan will have to prove that he can command the low-block as SMB’s primary option down low.

He’ll have a chance to prove the naysayers wrong on March 8, when the Beermen take on the Hotshots in the opening.

RELATED — 3 players who should step up for SMB in Fajardo’s absence

(Images from PBA Media Group)

FIBA 3×3 head impressed with PH’s preparations for World Tour Masters in Manila

Three months before the return of the World Tour Masters in Manila, the International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) head of 3×3 basketball Ignacio Soriano arrived in the country to inspect how the preparations for it is going.

And it’s a special tournament for FIBA as it marks the return of the World Tour here thanks to Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3. The FIBA 3X3 Chooks-to-Go Manila Masters takes place from May 2-3 at SM Megamall Fashion Hall in Pasig City.

“For us, Chooks-to-Go has been having excellent 3×3 activities. Last year, they sent teams in the World Tour,” said Soriano.

“So, we believe that it’s a great move to be back here with Chooks-to-Go on our side. 3×3 really belongs here.”

Because of Chooks-to-Go, the Philippines has its own local 3×3 league. Besides this, the league also sent teams to numerous World Tour Masters and Challengers while hosting events like the world’s first-ever Super Quest and the Manila Challenger.

This paved the way for the country to rack up points that eventually led the country to a berth to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament this March in India.

“2019 has been a special year for the Philippines in 3×3. Chooks-to-Go has been a great partner in pushing the sport to grow,” continued Soriano.

“2020 is going to be much more special for the Philippines.”

With this, FIBA 3×3 and Chooks-to-Go strengthened their ties for another banner year.

Besides heavily preparing for the OQT, the group headed by Ronald Mascariñas is also preparing for the 2020 season of its league which begins in March. In addition, Chooks-to-Go has also partnered with the Women’s National Basketball League for a tournament for the country’s female cagers.

As a sign of its commitment to Chooks-to-Go, Soriano gave Mascariñas a Tissot watch, the official timekeeper of FIBA 3×3.

“The main purpose of this is to discuss our preparation for the Manila Masters. We are just so glad that FIBA is strengthening its ties with us,” said the president of Bounty Agro Ventures Inc.

For his part, Mascariñas can’t wait to welcome the world’s top 3×3 teams to the country, including reigning World Tour champion Novi Sad of Serbia and world no. 9 Sakiai Guldel of Lithuania.

“It’s really a treat for Filipino basketball fans as the best clubs in the world are playing on our soil. It will also be a huge boost for our points, this time for the Paris Olympics.”

Best of both worlds for PH 3×3 as SBP, Chooks-to-Go reach compromise for FIBA 3×3 OQT squad

Both the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) and Chooks-To-Go 3×3 have established 3×3 players who are capable of representing the country in the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Bengaluru, India on March 8.

SBP, of course, fielded PBA stars Moala Tautuaa, CJ Perez, Chris Newsome, and Jason Perkins in last year’s SEA Games, where the team swept the tourney en-route to a gold medal finish.

Chooks, meanwhile, has the country’s top-ranked 3×3 players, thanks to the efforts of Ronald Mascarinas’ 3×3 league. Joshua Munzon and Alvin Pasaol are now ranked globally and recognized by FIBA.

The Philippines will enjoy the best of both worlds, as SBP recently announced that Perez and Tautuaa will be joined by Munzon and Pasaol for the upcoming tournament.

“It is an honor for the Philippines to be with the top 20 countries vying for seats at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  We ask our countrymen to rally behind our Team in its quest to be part of the Olympiad,” SBP president Al Panlilio said in a statement.

Serbian coach Stefan Stojajic, who has a vast experience 3×3 game, will be leading the team alongside conditioning Coach Darko Krsman.

Ranked 3×3 players Leonard Santillan and Karl Dehesa are also part of the team as the fifth and sixth reserves.

The 20 participating teams in the FIBA 3×3 OQT will be divided into 4 pools of 5 teams each. Only the top 2 teams from each group will proceed to the playoffs, where they will vie for the three available slots to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Alvin Pasaol says Davaoeños’ support gave his team timely boost vs Batangas

Being the fifth seed in the 2020 Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan playoffs, Zamboanga-Family’s Brand Sardines was not supposed to have homecourt advantage in the first round.

However, Zamboanga was able to feel a semblance of such Monday afternoon at the Rizal Memorial Colleges Gym here.

An hour before Zamboanga’s quarterfinals tilt versus Batangas-Tanduay tipped off  — and approximately four hours before home team Davao Occidental-Cocolife took to the floor, the gymnasium was already filled with spectators. And it’s because Davaoeño Alvin Pasaol was ready to take to the floor for Zamboanga.

“Alam naman natin si Alvin maraming umiidolo sa kanya sa Davao,” shared Zamboanga head coach Britt Roma.

Pasaol’s glow rubbed off to his teammates as Zamboanga was treated by the Davao fans as one of their own.

With the crowd cheering them on, the Family’s Brand Sardines backed squad raced to a strong start with Pasaol leading the charge.

And when things got close late, Zamboanga was able to muster enough strength to fend off Batangas to eventually take a 78-74 victory to get a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

“Ang sarap ng feeling na kahit wala kaming homecourt [advantage] sa series na ito, naramdaman namin ito dito sa hometown ko,” expressed the 24-year-old Pasaol, who had 7 points, five rebounds, two steals, one block, and an assist in the contest.

“Laking pasasalamat ko sa mga kababayan ko rito dahil kung wala sila, siguro hindi namin nakuha ito.”

“It really helped us a lot. The fans were really a huge boost to us,” added Reroma.

But come Friday, Pasaol and Zamboanga will head to hostile territory as the series heads to the Batangas City Coliseum.

For his part, the burly 6-foot-4 forward, who is also part of the 3×3 national team, is ready for what the Batangueños have in store for them.

“Dapat maging ready kami sa kahit anong ibabato nila sa amin. Alam namin na passionate yung fans nila,” said Pasaol.

“At least dahil sa laro na ito, nagkapuhanan kami heading into that game.”

In the other quarterfinals match-up, Davao Occidental-Cocolife flexed its might on eight seed Bicol-LCC Stores with a 77-71 Game One win.

Misfiring John Wilson turns to defense to help San Juan take Game 1 win

Defending champion San Juan-Go for Gold found itself in an unfamiliar territory facing the eight seed Pasay in its Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan Season quarterfinals match-up last Saturday.

After holding a 10-8 advantage in the 4:05-minute mark of the first quarter, the Knights struggled with their offense and trailed the Voyagers for the majority of the contest.

And it was largely because San Juan’s leading scorer in John Wilson could not find his shot.

Wilson, the third-best bucket-getter in the league with 19.9 points per game, only had a point across in a disappointing 0-4 shooting clip through three quarters.

Luckily for the Knights, though, the offense wasn’t the only thing written in Wilson’s calling card. Known as one of the most reliable two-way players in the league, the nine-year veteran knew that he had to go back to the basics in order to pick-up his rhythm.

When he realized that his shots weren’t falling last night, the 33-year-old swingman made sure to take it up a notch on the defensive end.

“Inisip ko lang kahit ‘di ako maka-shoot kailangan ko dumipensa yung naka i-stop ako kay [Jaypee] Belencion dun nag start yung kumpiyansa ko na maka i-score. Thank you kay Lord ayun nga dire-diretso umiscore last four minutes, last three minutes nakuha ko na yung rhythm ko,” shared the 33-year-old Wilson.

Through his steal on Jaypee Belencion, the Knights were able to take their first lead since the opening quarter, 66-64, via a three-pointer from Orlan Wamar and a layup from Jhonard Clarito, respectively.

From there, Wilson took the cudgels and fired San Juan’s last eight points, capping it off with a three-pointer which gave the home team a 74-71 advantage with 1:31 left on the clock.

And it proved to be the difference-maker for the Knights, as they fended off the pesky Voyagers, 75-74, on their home floor.

“As one of the leaders ng San Juan Knights, kailangan yung mentality ko kailangan hindi ganito yung lalaruin ko. Inisip ko lang yung mga past games ko kung paano ako nagkaka rhythm, paano ako nakaka-shoot, ayon. Dire-diretso talaga, down the stretch nakuha ko yung rhythm ko,” said Wilson.

Wilson looks to carry his momentum in Game Two, when they face Pasay at the Angeles University Foundation Gymnasium on Friday, February 20.

In other games, Pampanga-ADG Group of Companies managed to weather off 1Bataan-Camaya Coast’s late rally, 71-64, to bag Game One.

Marikina gunner Yves Sazon reaches 1K scoring club

Marikina lead gunner Yves Sazon had already known prior to their MPBL/Chooks-to-Go Lakan Season match-up against Rizal-Xentro Mall that he can reach the 1000-point plateau in this game.

Sazon – who was averaging 22.2 points per game in the Shoemasters’ last nine outings – already had 980 points under his name.

The product of Philippine Christian University, however, was dead-set on giving his team a fitting end to a disastrous season. That is why he opted to stick to the team’s schemes and let the game come to him.

And after being patient all game long, the opportunity fell right into Sazon’s hands.

Literally.

Marikina squandered a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter as Rizal managed to snatch it off a layup from Howard Casajeros, 86-85, with 1:02 remaining in the game.

Franz Dysam rushed a two-point jump shot and missed on the other end. Ato Ular was able to crash the offensive board but muffed another opportunity for Marikina to take the lead.

Luckily for them, Sazon – who only needed a point to reach the 1K club – was right underneath the basket for the tip in which handed the Shoemasters a one-point advantage with 2.4 ticks left.

Joemari Lacastesantos tried to save Rizal, but Von Tambeling blocked his three-pointer to seal the deal for Marikina, 87-86, at the Caloocan Sports Complex, Wednesday.

“I had the feeling na makukuha niya e, I had the feeling din na baka siya nga ang mag wi-winning basket kasi naaasahan ‘yan kapag sa crucial e,” said Marikina head coach Elvis Tolentino, who is also Sazon’s mentor in PCU.

Sazon finished the game with 21 points, six rebounds, and three assists. And with his final basket this season that gave Marikina a winning exit in the MPBL, he became the second player in the league after John Wilson with 1000 points under his name.

“Masaya siyempre. Hindi ko inaasahan na pang panalo yung last shot na yung pang one thousand points ko. Iniisip ko lang naman maglaro ako, makatulong sa team, nung nalaman ko ‘di ko sinubukan i-reach e, kasi baka makaapekto sa game. Inaano ko lang na makatulong ako sa team,” shared Sazon.

In other games, Batangas City-Tanduay fended off the William McAloney-less Cebu-Casino Ethyl Alcohol, 68-56, while Robby Celiz took over in the clutch to pull General Santos-Burlington to an 80-75 win over Nueva Ecija. Meanwhile, Caloocan-Victory Liner escaped Mindoro-JAC Liner, 93-90, in the nightcap.