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Alfafara spiking at our heartstrings

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I and a few other members of the media, have gathered at one end of a chilly MoA Arena hallway, waiting patiently for a chance to interview the just concluded game’s best player. At the entrance hall, UST’s Mark Alfafara posed for pictures with the fans. He flashed the same electric smile for each one that approached him

Looking on as he smiled for each fan selfie, one would never guess that he had just come off the most heartbreaking loss of his career. Dropping their first Final Four matchup against the NU Bulldogs in four excruciating sets, and on his last college season, come down to a deciding game on Saturday.

After the last fan had left, Alfafara limped into the hallway; his massive arms drooped to his sides and his face looking as gaunt as ever.

“Kuya, pwede ka ma-interview?” I asked as I caught a whiff of his scent all too familiar with sports writers; the distinct mixture of sweat and tears. You could smell the salty bitterness of defeat from a mile away.

“Sige, sige,” Alfafara replied. He sat against the wall, gasping for breath as if he had just been strangled. He bent down and grabbed the hem of his shorts, his sweat dripping on the floor.

“Kamusta ka kuya Boy? Ito na ba yung pinakamatinding pagod na naramdaman mo sa buong UAAP career mo?” I asked him.

“Siguro, ito na nga ‘yun,” he responded still gasping for breath.

“Last year ko na kasi, sasayangin ko lang kung hindi ko ibibigay ‘yung lahat lahat ko. Kung kaya ko pa naman, kahit feeling ko ubos na ‘ko. It’s a matter of mindset lang, mind and body. Kung papaniwalain mo ‘yung utak mo na kaya pa rin, kayang kaya pa rin talaga. Hindi ko iniisip na pagod na ‘ko. Siguro nararamdaman ko, iniisip ko na lang kaya ko pa, para sa team ko, para sa championship na ‘to,” he said, coming from a place mere mortals might not be able to understand. But Alfafara is a different breed of man, cut from a cloth of athletic greatness. He is gifted with the ability to focus, ignoring all external and internal stimuli and can zone in on the task at hand.

“Kuya Mark nung first two sets ng game, una kayo lageng nakaka-set point pero nakuha pa rin na kalaban (‘yung set), tingin mo saan kayo nagkulang?” I asked.

Alfafara straightened his stance, putting his back against the wall. He then caught his breath and words slipped effortlessly from his mouth. “Masyado naming inisip na tapos ‘yung laro. Minaliit namin yung kayayahan ng kalaban, na kaya pa nila, kaya pa nilang tapusin ‘yung laban,” he said in haste.

“Alam mo na ba kung nakailang points ka kuya Mark?” I asked him.

“‘Di pa,” he replied.

I showed him the stats sheet I had with me, “Naka-37 points ka Kuya Mark.”

USTvsNU Final Four 1-4245

He smirked then shook his head, then cringed as if he felt pain shooting from his chest. Alfafara played a brilliant match; he attacked from everywhere even when he was in the back row. NU’s devastating blocking had grinded down some of the league’s best scorers. But Alfafara persevered even when NU sent triple blocks at him. He banged his spikes off NU’s long armed blockers. By the fourth set, Alfafara was visibly spent, but kept asking for the ball when his teammates just could not produce for the team.

“Ito na ba ‘yung pinakamaraming na-score mo sa UAAP career mo?” I asked him

“Siguro the whole UAAP [career] ko, oo ito ‘yun. Pero para sa akin, bale wala ‘yung puntos na ‘yun kung hindi namin naipanalo ‘yung game na ‘to. Kahit makailang puntos ako, kahit maka-50 points ako, bale wala ‘yung points ko kung ‘di namin makuha ‘yung championship,” he uttered, as held back his tears.

I struggled to find a better way to compose my question. “Next game Kuya Mark, ano kailangan niyo gawin?”

I have watched Alfafara dominate the league since I started covering sports for Adamson. Alfafara has literally won everything a spiker could attain in the UAAP. He has the Best Scorer, Best Attacker, Best Blocker, Best Server, and MVP trophies. He has set records for most points in a season, including his most recent performance. He won a title during his first season, but since then, his teams have failed to make the Final Four. In his last season, his teammates have finally hit their peak, which earned them a Final Four slot and a twice-to-beat advantage.

You could see the pain in his eyes. The taste of that title still lingers in his mouth, and he so desperately wants to get one last bite of what he has been chasing for these past four years.

“Siguro kaunting polish lang,” he answered as he caught his breath yet again. “Nakalimutan namin ‘yung trabaho ng bawat isa, iniisip namin kaya ng kasama namin ‘to. ‘Di namin inisip ‘yung kaya namin. Masyado kaming naging dependent sa bawat isa. Nakalimutan namin ‘yung sarili naming trabaho.”

“Tingin mo ba naging masyado kayong complacent since may twice-to-beat advantage kayo?” Inquired another reporter from behind.

“Siguro,” he answered, paused, then suddenly found what he really wanted to say. “‘Di ko masasabing diretso na oo. Siguro, para sa akin, masyado naming tinanggalan ng respeto ‘yung kalaban. Iniisip namin na kaya namin, pero hindi namin naisip na kaya kaming harangan na umabot sa finals.” He then panted heavily as tears fell down his cheeks.

“So next game, Saturday, sabi ni Coach ayaw niyong humaba pero nangyari na. Paano na ‘to? Next game, do or die na.” The same reporter queried.

He wiped his cheeks with the end of his soaked jersey. He gathered his thoughts. “Sabi ko nga sa team ang matitira dito ‘yung gustong manalo. Ang mananalo dito ‘yung mas gustong umabot ng finals. Kung mas gugustuhin natin, mas gugustuhin ‘yun ng kalaban. Nasa sa amin na ‘yun kung hanggang kailan namin hahawakan, kung hanggang kailan namin gugustuhin manalo.”

Alfafara was shaking after he answered the question, whether it was the air conditioning or the finality of his career that made him shiver, only he knows.

I thanked him as I turned off my recorder. Alfafara stood off the wall, nodded in acknowledgement, smiled, gasped, and started limping slowly to the locker room.

Teary-eyed, I looked at my boss, who was standing behind me. He too was wiping tears off his cheeks.

“Grabe,” my boss said, he was left speechless.

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Just like his powerful spikes, his desire to win moved us all in that room. Most athletes are guarded in interviews; you could tell they would keep something to themselves. Alfafara was different; halfway into the interview, he grew uninhibited. As he spent all his energy trying to lift his team to the finals, he left no words unsaid in that interview. Alfafara and his accomplishments have immortalized him, but he knows this title means more to his school and the community than it will ever mean to him. He wants everyone to be right there with him.

He still has one more shot to bring UST to the Promised Land. It’s now up to the rest of the team if they want to follow his lead.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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1 Comment
  • Aeron Valderrama

    Nice one idol Migs!

Basketball

Calvin Abueva rejuvenated with return of physical play: ‘Masarap maglaro’

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Photo by PBA Images

For Calvin Abueva, it feels great to play in the PBA nowadays.

The Beast, who has always been known as one of the league’s most physical players since entering in 2012, was all praises for the way the officiating has changed this 43rd season — by just letting all the players play.

“Mas gumanda yung tawagan ngayon, naging physical nga. Naging exciting para sa mga tao, mas marami na nanonood ngayon eh,” said Abueva moments after their 97-83 victory over the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Sunday night.

As has been said many times, physicality had become something controlled over the last two years. Abueva knows it too well, having been a casualty, as he has paid a bevy of penalties during that time.

And now that it is a thing of the past, the 6-foot-2 bruiser feels much better, knowing that he can display his brand of basketball once more.

“Masarap maglaro, talagang pisikalan,” said the 29-year-old forward from Angeles, Pampanga. “Siyempre makikita naman natin kung sinasadya o hindi, basta katawan lang.

“Pisikal. Yun yung magandang laro di ba?”

Aside from the comeback of physicality, what makes Abueva beam even more is the way the Aces have been playing in the 2018 Philippine Cup. After a 0-2 start in the tourney, they have now booked their third straight win.

“Nung 2017 parang nilubog na namin yung losing streak namin doon. Ito 2018 na at panibagong destination na naman yung ina-ano namin,” said Abueva, who had nine points, nine rebounds, and five assists against Ginebra.

“Sustain muna namin ‘to… Sana magtuloy-tuloy ‘tong winning streak namin.”

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Alaska takes advantage of Greg Slaughter’s absence

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For the streaking Alaska Aces, their stunning 97-83 victory over the favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Sunday night was partly made possible by the absence of one key player: seven-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter.

The 28-year-old center, who was averaging 20.67 points and 10.3 rebounds prior to Sunday, did not play against the Aces due to a hamstring injury. How he incurred the injury has yet to be determined.

“There’s a small person named Greg Slaughter who didn’t play; I think he has an impact on the game,” quipped coach Alex Compton after the match.

“[They missed] a guy who I think is gonna win an MVP soon in Greg Slaughter.

“Sometimes dito sa liga natin, you have to take advantage when opportunities come your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt [though],” added Compton.

With Slaughter out of the way, the Aces’ big men feasted.

Vic Manuel top-billed with 18 points and five rebounds, and elder statesman Sonny Thoss turned back the clock with a 17-point, four-rebound outing.

“Malaking bonus na rin sa amin, kasi wala nga si Greg kaya nakuha namin yung panalo,” said Manuel.

“Yeah it definitely helped,” added the six-foot-seven Thoss, who shot 6-of-12 from the floor and made four of his freebies.

“He’s a big guy, he’s a big presence inside so it took one big guy off our shoulder.”

Slaughter was approached and asked by scribes regarding his injury, but he was not in the mood to comment. No one can blame him, though, since the Barangay have slipped to their second straight defeat after a 2-0 start.

“I’m always there in practice, going over our gameplans. But it’s better if you ask our PT,” he said.

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Alaska completes turnaround at Greg Slaughter-less Ginebra’s expense

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Photo by PBA Images

A strong second half surge was all the Alaska Aces needed to turn back the heavily-favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 97-83, and book their third straight victory, Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

The Aces, who have yet to lose this 2018, have now improved to 3-2. Meanwhile, the Barangay absorbed their second straight loss and have dropped to 2-2.

“I was telling the guys na parang ang dami nating iniisip, hindi natin ginagawa yung ginagawa natin noong nakaraang dalawang linggo. Sabi ko relax lang tayo,” said coach Alex Compton, sharing what he told his wards that sparked the win.

Vic Manuel led the Milkmen with 18 points and five rebounds. Sonny Thoss turned back the clock as he made 17 markers on 6-of-12 shooting, while Chris Banchero supplied 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

The Aces were trailing by eight, 36-44 at the half, but it became a different ball game come the third chapter as they outscored the Gin Kings, 37 to 19, to erect a favorable 73-63 cushion heading into the game’s final 12 minutes.

From there, Alaska kept their foot on the gas to sustain their lead, which grew to as much as 18, 85-67, after their 6-0 spree — punctuated by Banchero’s lay-up plus a foul — with 6:14 remaining in the final frame.

Ginebra still tried to make one last push as they inched within 10, 75-85, but baskets by Thoss and Kevin Racal propelled Alaska to an 89-75 lead with 3:42 left to play — more than enough to knock out their counterparts.

“I was glad to come away with the win,” added Compton. “Sometimes, we have to take advantage of opportunities coming your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt but when two number one picks on the other team aren’t playing… There.”

Jvee Casio had 13 markers for Alaska, while Calvin Abueva nearly had a double-double of nine points and nine boards along with five assists in 20 minutes.

Aljon Mariano had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three dimes for Ginebra, who — despite having Sol Mercado back in the fold after ankle issues — missed the services of Joe Devance and Greg Slaughter due to injuries.

Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, and Kevin Ferrer each scored 12 for the Barangay, with Thompson adding five assists. The trio combined for 15 of Ginebra’s 43 rebounds.

Alaska will aim to extend their streak versus the Blackwater Elite on Saturday, January 27 at 4:30 PM, while Ginebra will look to end their slump against the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Friday, January 26 at 7:00 PM. Both games are at SMART Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:

Alaska 97 — Manuel 18, Thoss 17, Banchero 14, Casio 13, Abueva 9, Teng 9, Cruz 5, Enciso 3, Potts 3, Exciminiano 2, Magat 2, Racal 2, J. Pascual 0.

Ginebra 83 — Mariano 15, J. Aguilar 12, Ferrer 12, Thompson 12, Caguioa 8, Cruz 8, R. Aguilar 5, Tenorio 5, Mercado 2, Taha 2, Wilson 2, Jamito 0.

Quarterscores: 26-23, 36-44, 73-63, 97-83.

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Frustrated Jared Dillinger admits ‘he’s getting sick’ of Meralco’s bad PH Cup runs

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It’s no secret that the Meralco Bolts have struggled in the Philippine Cup for the last three years. During the last two seasons, the eight-year-old franchise’s win-loss tally is four wins and 18 losses.

And in the 2018 edition, the narrative has been the same, with little to no hope of it turning the other way around.

The Bolts bowed to the TNT Katropa, 99-81, Sunday night — their third straight defeat after winning over Blackwater Elite in their opener last December. If things continue as they are, it looks like another poor all-Filipino tilt run is looming.

“We’re 1-3 and there’s nothing to be happy about,” said Jared Dillinger, who had 14 points and five caroms in the match at Ynares Center in Antipolo. “It’s a long season though… We [shouldn’t] panic but it’s not fun right now.

“The Philippine Cup has been our Achilles heel and every damn Philippine Cup we get our ass kicked. I’m getting sick of it.”

In this game, Meralco missed the services of top forwards Ranidel De Ocampo and Cliff Hodge due to injuries. But for Dillinger, those issues shouldn’t be excuses.

“When you get two guys like Ranidel and Cliff out, as a team, that’s the opportunity for the guys below them to step up,” asserted Dillinger, who has been with the franchise since 2013.

“It doesn’t have to mean scoring, getting the assists or rebound, it’s just making the right play, being smart.”

Asked what went wrong in this particular loss versus their sister team, where they shot just 39.2 percent from the floor and had committed 17 turnovers, the 10-year veteran lamented the poor effort that the Bolts put up.

“TNT didn’t do anything much, given that they played well. But they didn’t have any secret schemes against us. They just passed the ball around, and they got open shots,” added the 10-year pro, as TNT made 23 assists and shot 18 triples.

“Our effort wasn’t there. We got to put up the intensity cause it sucks right now.”

Meralco have a chance to end their slump against the Kia Picanto this Wednesday. Dillinger sees it as a do-or-die affair, warning that it will be a grind-out affair knowing that the Picanto is coming off a skid-ending win over Rain or Shine.

Do-or-die ’cause that’s gonna be a playoff game. Thank God they beat Rain or Shine ’cause you don’t want to be that one team that gives the win to a 0-16 [team]. You don’t want to play teams like that,” stressed the all-around forward.

“Nothing to take away from Kia though. It’s gonna be tough.”

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