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With all his heart, Karim Abdul always gave UST a chance

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He doesn’t have to be reminded that winners get all the glory.

As the Mall of Asia Arena lights dimmed after the epic UAAP Finals Game Three clash between Abdul’s University of Santo Tomas Tigers and the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, the player emerged from the UST locker room walking hand-in-hand with his young son. When a pair of reporters stopped the 6’6” Cameroonian for an interview, Abdul was understandably hesistant.

UST had just lost another title series in devastating fashion. Game Three was also Abdul’s final match in the UAAP.

“I feel numb,” Abdul said, while blankly staring into the empty bleachers where arena custodians were picking up deflated gold balloons that thousands of Thomasians had waved during the game.

“I don’t know what happened really. I think God wanted FEU to win,” he replied when asked what he thought had happened during the closing moments of the match.

UST had held a steady six-point lead with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. FEU then made all the big plays down the stretch, choking the UST offense and hitting clutch buckets and free throws to ice the game. At one point, the Tigers had a chance to tie the game. Trailing by two with less than 23 seconds left in the game and 2.1 ticks on the shot clock, the Tigers inbounded the ball to Abdul on baseline. Abdul then turned to the baseline breaking away from an incoming double team.

But the referee blew his whistle. Abdul had stepped out of bounds.

With how those final moments transpired, it’s easy to forget how Abdul had helped the Tigers early in the game. In the first quarter, The Cameroonian gamely took and made the midrange jumpers the FEU defense dared him to take. The Tams then adjusted, pressuring Karim and sending help every time the big man drove to the basket. UST found momentary success with a small ball lineup at the tail end of the third quarter while Abdul was on the bench, but UST’s quick swingmen gassed out down the stretch and FEU bullied the smaller Tigers in their game-clinching run. They needed Abdul. Abdul gave UST everything he had one last time but they ultimately fell short. Abdul finished with 12 points and five boards.

Physically and emotionally drained, it was hard for Abdul to reflect on the legacy he left for the fans.

“They don’t really care if you have Finals appearances. They won’t remember you. It’s only when you win, right?,” Abdul said shifting his gaze straight into the eyes of one reporter. “At this point everyone wants to win. Now, there’s always going to be that side that’s sour.”

But really, Abdul was undeniably one of the best big men to dawn UST’s black, gold, and white.

UST’s first African big man, Abdul has brought his school to heights that were otherwise too lofty without him. His rookie season, Season 74, was a transition year for the España-based cagers, with the heroes of their 2006 championship team gone and a batch of promising recruits coming in. Nevertheless, Abdul pulled the Tigers to a Final Four appearance, averaging a beastly 12 points and 11 rebounds a game. During UST’s last elimination round games that season, Abdul barely took a break on the bench. Images of then-head coach Pido Jarencio and the rest of the Tigers of the bench fanning Abdul every timeout and dead ball situation with towels to keep the big man fresh depicted how much he meant to that upstart squad.

The next two seasons, Abdul further imposed his dominance, averaging nearly 16 points and 14 rebounds a game and leading UST go back-to-back Finals appearances, falling short against a taller Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles team in Season 75 and failing to close out the De La Salle University Archers in Season 76. In both seasons, Abdul was in the top three in the MVP race (Had he not been thrown out of a game in Season 75, he would have won the MVP).

Injury-riddled and leaderless, UST had a forgettable Season 77. At the start of Season 78, the Cameroonian struggled to get into shape after surgeries to repair his knee. That’s when his batchmates Kevin Ferrer and Ed Daquiaog blossomed into the prized PBA prospects they are now. The squad pundits predicted which teams would struggle and miss the Final Four one by one. With Ferrer and Daquiaog taking the wheel, Abdul comfortably enjoyed his view from the back seat, providing his team with a steady presence down low.

So, really, how many guys can say that they led their team to Final Four appearances in four of their five years in the UAAP? When UST’s most fondly-remembered stars – Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquiaog, Jeric Teng – were still maturing and finding their game, Abdul always found a way to get UST to the playoffs.

Perhaps his wounds were still fresh and his heart hadn’t recovered enough for Karim to remember how much he has meant to UST over the past few years. Perhaps when his kid grows up and asks for his stories from his career, he’ll fondly recall the time they systematically crushed the top seeded NU Bulldogs in the Season 76 Final Four when no one expected them to make the playoffs. Or the time he blocked LA Revilla’s potential game-winning layup to give UST Game One of the Finals of the same season. Or the time in the second round of Season 78 when people were talking about him being a shell of himself – that he didn’t have it anymore – but then he nearly broke his scoring career-high against the NU Bulldogs right in the grill of the monstrous Alfred Aroga.

“How do you think you’ll be remembered?,” one reporter asked.

Abdul paused.

“No heart, no chance,” he uttered.

Abdul then walked out of the arena, still with his child in hand. As they stepped out of the security area, a flash mob of hundreds of Thomasians greeted them. While the UST Yellow Jackets banged out their school’s signature yells, Abdul stopped to take photos with a few of the fans.

“Thank you Karim!,” the sea of yellow chanted. “Thank you Karim!”

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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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EAC

Perpetual escapes upset-hungry EAC

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Fighting off a sluggish start, the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Lady Altas came alive late to slip past the Emilio Aguinaldo College Lady Generals, 22-25, 25-19, 25-14, 23-25, 15-13, to remain on pace for a spot in the race for an NCAA Season 93 Final Four spot at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Taking on a struggling EAC side, Perpetual head coach Michael Cariño knew that there was a possibility for his squad to relax. His team has had trouble starting and finishing off matches, as evidenced in their first set performance and lack of finishing push in the fourth frame.

“May tendency talaga ‘yung team ko na mag-relax. Sabihin na nating hindi kasi sobrang lakas ng kalaban. Pero alam naman natin sa volleyball na wala namang team na ibibigay sa’yo ‘yung panalo, kailangan kunin mo talaga,” Cariño lamented.

The fifth frame came down to late breaks. The Lady Altas broke a 13-all tie with back-to-back transition conversions from Cindy Imbo and Lourdes Clemente.

“Siyempre, nage-expect ako nang mas maganda pang performance sa team ko. Alam din naman nila na mas may ibubuga pa sila kaya kailangan mas maganda ang ipakita namin sa mga huli naming laro,” the NCAA champion mentor added.

Imbo tallied a game-high 17 points while Clemente and Maria Aurora Tripoli added 15 points, apiece. The Lady Altas needed every bit of their 11 aces and 11 blocks to off-set their season-high 42 errors.

The Lady Altas (3-1) faces Jose Rizal University (2-2) on Sunday at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Aira Binondo was the only Lady General in double-digits with 13 points.

EAC (0-4) look for their first win on Monday against College of Saint Benilde (2-1).

The Scores

UPHSD (3) – Imbo 17, Clemente 15, Tripoli 15, Sangalang 11, Llorente 10, Versoza 4, Estanislao 1, Gual 1, Umandal 0, Medalla (L)

EAC (2) – Binondo 13, Tongco 9, Pablo 8, Lumbao 7, Magbanua 7, Reyes A. 3, Reyes K. 3, Tasis 2, Yongco 1, Medina (L)

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EAC

Altas steamroll Generals for fourth win

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The University of Perptual Help System DALTA Altas maintained top-billing in the NCAA Season 93 Men’s Volleyball tournament after cruising past the Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals, 25-14, 25-19, 25-11, at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Last season’s runners-up dominated right from the first point and never let the Generals sniff the lead. The Altas outclassed the San Marcelino-based program in every scoring category, tallying a season-high 13 blocks to EAC’s three.

The Altas also maintained their solid passing this season, a trend which delighted head coach Sammy Acaylar.

“Isa ‘yun sa mga bagay na tinututukan ko talaga sa kanila kasi we know na we can be good at attacking and blocking. We just need to be consistent on floor defense and reception,” said Acaylar as the Altas went 58 percent on excellent receives.

“Kahit maganda ang nilalaro namin ngayon, alam naman ng mga bata ang end goal namin which is to win a championship. So kailangan isa-isa lang ang tingin namin sa mga laro kasi marami pang challenges na darating bago namin makamit ang championship,” the decorated mentor added.

Graduating team captain Rey Taneo towed the Las Piñas-based spikers with 12 points coming off seven attacks and five blocks. Joebert Almodiel added 11 points.

Perpetual (4-0) looks to keep streaking when they face the struggling Jose Rizal University (0-4) on Sunday at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Open hitter Joshua Mina was the lone bright spot for the Generals, scoring 13 points.

EAC (2-2) takes on the defending champion College of Saint Benilde (2-1) on Monday also at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

The Scores:

UPHSD (3) – Taneo 12, Almodiel 11, Rosales 10, Muhali 8, Ramos 8, Atentar 1, Solamilo 1, Bateon 0, Catipay 0, Salo 0, Taneo S. 0, Kalingking (L)

EAC (0) – Mina 13, Lim 5, Ilano 4, Rasing 2, Castelano 0, Garcia 0, Panoy 0, Magadan (L)

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ABL

Joshua Munzon, Westsports snap Saigon’s streak in highly emotional contest

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Photo by ASEAN Basketball League

Entering Wednesday night’s game, Mikey Williams and the Saigon Heat were on a high, slaying the winning streaks of Hong Kong Eastern and Nanhai Kung Fu. However, Joshua Munzon and the Westsports Malaysia Dragons had other things in mind, keeping the Heat winless at the MABA Stadium, 91-87.

In his fourth game since returning to the Dragons, Munzon filled up the stat sheet, tallying 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks.

Besides putting up the numbers, the athletic swingman from California helped limit reigning Heritage Player of the Week Williams to his worst game so far in the ABL. Averaging 27.33 points, 6.67 assists, and 6.0 rebounds prior to this game, Williams went field goal-less against the Dragons, missing all 11 of his attempts. The Filipino-American floor general was able to dish out eight assists and grab five caroms.

Westsports led by as much as 11 points in the final frame, 82-71, after Munzon found Marcus Marshall for a triple with 4:59 remaining. Behind World Imports Akeem Scott and Maxie Esho, the Heat stormed right back but was answered by a long bomb by Munzon to keep them at bay.

Marshall and Scott figured in a shootout to close out the game but in the end, the hosts were still able to etch out their second straight victory.

Marshall finished the game with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds for the Dragons while Scott’s 44-point game went for naught.

After the emotionally charged contest though, few unkind words were exchanged by the officials of both squads that almost resulted into a brawl. Fortunately, things did not escalate beyond that.

In the video, Munzon was also seen shoving a Saigon player to try and pacify the situation. The league is currently investigating the post-game incident.

With the win, Westsports Malaysia raised its record to 3-4 while dropping Saigon to 4-3.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Edward Kelly honored to fight alongside brother Eric

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Eric and Edward Kelly lived under the same roof for years in their hometown of Baguio City when they were young and shared the same burning passion in martial arts.

Growing up in the small town community of San Tomas Central, located within the city limits of Baguio, Eric and Edward did not always get along with one another as the two fought all the time, sometimes even resulting in injury.

“We were not that close before. We always fought. In short, Eric and I were headaches to our parents,” Edward recalled in jest.

“But of course, things change when you grow up and mature. We now appreciate each other’s company.”

Fortunately, when the brothers entered high school, Eric discovered martial arts, and everything would change for both of them.

Edward paid attention to the growing accolades of his older brother and was heavily motivated by it.

“I noticed after he started martial arts that it taught him the discipline not to fight me as a brother. Instead, he started giving me advice through what he had learned,” he bared. “I also joined martial arts because it teaches you discipline, and a lot of other positives, too.”

Years later, both men have made remarkable runs as outstanding martial artists in their respective professional careers.

Eric is widely regarded as one of the best homegrown martial arts athletes to come out of the Philippines.

A Wushu practitioner who combines solid striking techniques with high-level grappling skills, Eric owns nine scintillating submissions and one knockout out of 12 total career victories.

Eric’s most impressive showing to date came in a submission win over Rob Lisita in July 2014, a performance that earned him the USD 50,000 ONE Warrior Bonus.

Meanwhile, Edward is considered as one of the best and brightest featherweight prospects to emerge from the well-established martial arts scene in the Philippines.

With a complete striking and grappling skill set, Edward brings Team Lakay’s world-renowned Wushu to center stage as he showcases his impeccable skillset inside the ONE Championship cage.

In addition, the younger Kelly has won three of his last four bouts under the ONE Championship banner, all by spectacular finish.

The Kelly brothers get a rare chance on Friday, January 26 as the siblings will compete side-by-side when ONE Championship holds its first of the four scheduled events in the country for 2018.

Eric squares off with Brazilian standout Rafael Nunes on the undercard of ONE: Global Superheroes, while Edward crosses paths with Cambodia’s Meas Meul in a three-round featherweight clash.

It is the first time both of them will be featured at a ONE Championship event together, and Edward plans to make it a night they will never forget.

“I am so excited because finally, it’s going to happen. It marks the first time that I will compete alongside my older brother. Surely, it’s going to be a memorable night for the both of us,” he said.

“We have the same aim of winning. So making it two for two on this card will make this extra special.”

As Eric seeks to get back on the winning track at the expense of Nunes, Edward is likewise looking to move forward in his career after getting his three-bout winning streak snapped by American stalwart Emilio Urrutia in August 2017.

In his next cage outing, Edward goes up against Meul, a undefeated promotional newcomer with six wins to his credit.

“My coaches has prepared me well for this. I am not going to disappoint my team and my country when I enter that cage on 26th of January,” Edward assured. “I don’t want to let my countrymen down this time. I am here to give them a great bout.

“And of course, win the bout in impressive fashion for them.”

Edward has no qualms if he has to go full three rounds with Meul, but he admitted that his sights are always set on securing the finish.

“I am looking to dominate him for three rounds. But hopefully, I can get the finish,” he vowed.

“A finish will be the perfect way to tell the world that I am back.”

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