THE Visayas and Mindanao regions have become a hub for the best players Philippine basketball has ever seen.
A combined 90 championships countless individual citations were produced by these players called as the “Gems of the South.”
From their humble beginnings, they have established themselves as among the greatest players coming from the Visayas and Mindanao.
The Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League share the same vision of hopefully producing more cagers coming from the southern region with its league expansion beginning June 12. To date, three teams from the Mindanao – Davao Occi Tigers, Zamboanga Vailentes and General Santos City Warriors – had already joined the fastest growing regional hoops league. More teams will soon be joining from Visayas.
We take a look back at 10 of the best players from the south. Included in the honorable mention list are players like the late Arnie Tuadles, Rosalio Martirez and Willie Generelao.
Manny Paner – Before the birth of today’s big men, Paner was the first bonafide big man of the league. An undersized center at 6-foot-2, Paner was a rebounding champion, tallying a total of 653 rebounds the entire 1975 season. For three consecutive years, he had the most number of offensive rebounds with 280 in the inaugural season of the PBA and 142 the following season.
He was among the early inclusions in 25 Greatest and 40 Greatest Players in the PBA.
The hardworking center/forward was also part of the 1982 San Miguel Beer champion squad. In 2007, Paner was included in the PBA Hall of Fame.
Dondon Hontiveros – Hontiveros was a discovery in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association, the MPBL’s precursor. He was the star player for the Cebu Gems then moved to the PBA in 2002 to play for Tanduay.
But it was with San Miguel where Hontiveros blossomed to become one of the established stars. He won three championships in the PBA – two with the Beermen and one with the Alaska Aces, where he ended his PBA career.
He returned to the cage scene and helped San Miguel Alab Pilipinas win the Asean Basketball League championship a few days ago. Should he be included among the five players to be brought in by Mandaluyong El Tigre in the PBA, Hontiveros will be making a comeback in the regional basketball scene.
PJ Simon — Like Hontiveros, PJ Simon is another discovery in the MBA. In fact, the pride of Makilala, Cotabato was given the “Discovery of the Year” citation in 2001. He then continued to make his mark in the PBL where he helped Fash win the championship before turning pro.
In the PBA, he became part of the illustrious Big Three of Purefoods while playing alongside James Yap and Marc PIngris. Overall, Simon won seven championships in the big league and was part of the franchise’s 2014 grand slam team.
Jojo Lastimosa — Owner of 10 PBA championships, Lastimosa burst into the local cage scene as part of the Visayan invasion of the 1980s.
To his credit, Lastimosa and his Mama’s Love team packed the old Rizal Memorial Coliseum, starting a fad that has become a phenomenon among Visayans living in the metropolis.
In the PBA, though, he would become an integral part of the much-celebrated Purefoods squad which entered the league in 1988 and along with Alvin Patrimonio and Jerry Codiñera, the Hotdogs became one of the most well-followed teams in the PBA.
A Rookie of the Year awardee in 1988, Lastimosa won his first championship with Purefoods. He then continued with Alaska to collect nine more, including the Grand Slam in 1996. He is a member of the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players.
Bernie Fabiosa – Tough Job. That’s what sportscasters labeled the man known as “Sultan Of Swat.”
Fabiosa was a member of Crispa’s two Grand Slam teams in 1976 and 1983.
He was best remembered for his fierce battles in the backcourt, most notably against the likes of Robert Jaworski and Francis Arnaiz.
For seven seasons, he was the leader in steals and in 1981, he was also the league leader in assists. He was the first player to complete 1,000 steals and became the fifth member of the 2,000 assists club. He retired winning a total 15 championships and as one of only few players to win titles in three different teams – Crispa, Great Taste, and Purefoods.
Kenneth Duremdes – Before he became the founding commissioner of the MPBL, ‘Captain Marbel’ Kenneth Duremdes was one of the greatest players ever to come out of the south. From Mindanao, he brought his wares to the UAAP where he became the scoring champion and helped Adamson reached the finals in 1992.
In 1994, he was one among those amateur standouts recruited to join the PBA-backed national team in the Hiroshima Asian Games.
He won championships as a rookie for Sunkist in 1995 before getting traded to Alaska in 1997, where he continued his winning ways. In 1998, he won the MVP award while leading the team to a near Grand Slam.
Duremdes ended his playing career as a six-time PBA champion.
James Yap – When James Yap burst into the PBA scene, fans had already envisioned the heir apparent to Alvin Patrimonio as the new face of the franchise.
True enough, Big Game James did just that not only in the aspect of serving as the game’s ambassador but also in becoming Purefoods’ next best player.
The pride of Escalante, Negros won two MVP awards and became part of seven championship teams, including the one that bagged the Grand Slam in 2014.
Abet Guidaben – The PBA’s first battle of premier big men wouldn’t take place without Abet Guidaben as he is the one perceived to be the best match up for Mon Fernandez.
He was part of the Crispa Redmanizers’ first Grand Slam team in 1976 as a budding center. When he developed to become one of the league’s best big men, the pride of Camiguin made sure he would become one of the anchors of the Redmanizers “repeat the three peat” campaign in 1983.
Guidaben won two MVP awards – in 1983 and 1987 – and twice in his career, he would find himself in a celebrated one-on-one trade with Fernandez.
Overall, Guidaben would win 15 championships, retiring as one of only two players to play at least 1,000 games, one of only three players to become member of the league’s 15,000-point club, a member of the 5,000 defensive rebounds and 2,000 offensive rebounds club, and the league’s Hall of Fame.
June Mar Fajardo – Four straight MVP awards – and counting. The Cebuano slotman is just getting started but the league has probably already seen the most dominant force in PBA history.
The 6-foot-10 pride of Cebu had already won six championships for the Beermen, coupled with several accolades as an individual and as a part of the squad.
And he’s not done yet.
Mon Fernandez – Four-time MVP, 19 championships, a Grand Slam, a Hall of Famer and 25 Greatest Players member ever.
Are these numbers not enough to put El Presidente on the pedestal as the PBA’s greatest player of all-time?
The pride of Maasin, Leyte ended up as the PBA’s all-time scoring leader with 18,996 points and although Alvin Patrimonio and June Mar Fajardo had already tied his number of MVP awards, one cannot argue the number of accomplishments he had throughout his PBA career.
Images from: Retro PBA Facebook/PBA Media Bureau