PAMPANGA’S BEST | Can the new Cabalen team in MPBL live up to its great tradition?

PAMPANGA is one province that could put up one great team and come up with its all-time list when it comes to Philippine basketball.

Name it – from the players all the way up to the coaches – Pampanga has become a breeding ground of great talent.

Arwind Santos, a former Most Valuable Player in the PBA, and Calvin Abueva, Alaska’s source of strength, came from Angeles City. Both players had already established a successful career in the PBA.

The 6-foot-4 Santos is a seven-time PBA champion while playing for the San Miguel Beermen. The current team captain of the Beermen was also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time Finals MVP.

Abueva, who won a PBA championship just in his rookie season while playing for the Aces, had been providing boundless energy for his squad, part of the reason for his inclusion in the Gilas Pilipinas national team several times.

Japeth Aguilar is a 6-foot-9 athletic forward from Sasmuan and has been part of the national team program since 2009. As the other pair of Barangay Ginebra’s twin towers, the second generation cager became part of three champion squads – two with Ginebra and one win TNT.

Ian Sangalang, a lefty 6-foot-6 frontliner from Lubao, is no stranger to winning, having been part of San Sebastian’s champion squad in 2009, then became a member of the multiple champion with the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA D-League.

In the PBA, Sangalang immediately get accustomed to winning, having been part of four championship squads of the old Purefoods franchise in 2014.

Justin Melton was a PBA slam dunk contest winner hailed from Clark, and was part of the San Mig Coffee grand slam squad.

And then, there’s Jayson Castro, considered the best point guard in Asia and current star point guard of the TNT Ka Tropa, is from Bacolor, Pampanga, the same hometown of this current Pampanga Lanterns team put up for the coming MPBL season on June 12.

Castro is a six-time PBA champion, four-time Best Player of the Conference winner and two-time Finals MVP.

But there’s more as Pampanga also became the hub for successful coaches.

Yeng Guiao is a seven-time PBA champion and a former national team coach. He was also a former Vice Governor of the province and became Representative of First District of Pampanga.

Aric del Rosario was a four-time collegiate champion coach of University of Santo Tomas and won the inaugural championship of the MBA in 1998 while handling the Pampanga Dragons.

Then, there’s Ato Agustin, one of the PBA’s 25 Greatest Players, former MVP and a member of the 1989 San Miguel grand slam team. As successful as he was as a player, he also brought the winning touch all the way to his coaching career where he became one among the few mentors to win a championship in three different levels — the PBL (Excel Roof), San Sebastian (NCAA) and Petron (PBA).

These were some of the products of the province of Pampanga, which decided to field in an expansion ball club in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League — the Pampanga Lanterns, owned by AG and Brenz Gonzales, sons of Congressman Dong Gonzales of Bacolor.

“Sana mapaangat pa namin sa tulong nga mga bago naming players,” said AG, hoping his bunch of young players could continue the tradition of the other Pampanga greats. “Yung mga Cabalen, kilala yan sa parol, kaya doon namin ipinangalan yung team namin, Lanterns.”

The Lanterns made some key acquisitions, nabbing Juneric Baloria and Daniel de Guzman, two stalwarts who played for the Parañaque Patriots in the inaugural staging of the MPBL, and tapping ex-Barangay Ginebra player Jimbo Aquino to lead the team.

But getting homegrown talents is something the group is really proud of and the team tapped the core of Foton squad composed of Allen Enriquez, Jeric Nacpil, Marlon Gomez, Ed Rivera, and Marvin Moraga among others to comprise the core of the Lanterns.

The Lanterns are ready to make their mark in the prolonged season of the MPBL starting June 12.