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Letran ends San Beda’s reign



“Tama na yung sakit!”

The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights’ ten-year odyssey for its 17th NCAA Championship has ended.

After failed attempts, coaching changes, and heartbreaks, seniors Mark Cruz and Kevin Alas can finally be called champions. The Letran Knights took three games and a total of 125 minutes to end the five-year reign of the San Beda College Red Lions, 85-82, early Thursday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

There was no shortage of offensive power for the two teams in the opening quarter. There were three lead exchanges before Letran’s strong defense led them to four fast break layups. In the middle of the period, Sollano, Cruz, and Racal combined for an 8-0 spurt to give the Knights a 16-7 lead. Despite a mini-run put up by San Beda late in the first, Rey Nambatac sank in a shot at the buzzer to give his team an 8-point edge.

Though Letran led by as much as 10 in the early moments of the second frame, the Red Lions roared back with a 12-4 counter with the help of good ball movement in their scoring. San Beda inked in four huge threes before the first half ended, including a Dan Sara triple that gave the Lions the lead momentarily. The intense match paused for a breath at the half, with Letran up by a point.

Neither team hit scoring runs in the third quarter, with the game going back and forth. Javee Mocon and Jom Sollano had a good duel of key baskets, as the two knocked down a combined 15 points for their respective schools. San Beda held the lead for a short time but another buzzer-beating shot by Letran – courtesy of Quinto – gave the Knights the lead heading into the final period.

Letran extended their lead to as high as 8 late in the 1:53 mark with Kevin Racal drilling 3 three-pointers in the fourth period while Cruz added a big one. After a timeout, San Beda put together a last spurt in regulation time as they strung up the fourth quarter’s last 8 points to force overtime. Their big three of Adeogun, Dela Cruz and Amer combined to extend the game. Racal had a shot to win but came up short en route to overtime.

In overtime, McJour Luib opened the festivities with a steal and fastbreak layup to draw first blood in added time. However, Baser Amer came up clutch with ball distribution and a big floater in the 1:27 mark to give the Red Lions an 82-79 edge. Fortunately for the Knights, they would silence San Beda in the final stretch, while Racal made two free throws to trim the lead. After a 24 second violation was called on the defending champions, the San Beda defense collapsed on Cruz but to no avail; the pint-sized guard was able to find Sollano for a jumper. With no time outs left for San Beda, misses by Amer and Dela Cruz led to Adeogun fouling Sollano. The undersized center split his free throws, but the Mediola cagers were called for a double-lane violation. A split on the stripe by Cruz with 3.7 seconds to go gave Letran an 85-82 lead but, with just 3.7 seconds remaining and no timeouts, San Beda could not attempt a shot.

Mark Cruz was crowned the Finals MVP, averaging 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and three steals for the Finals. For the championship clincher, Cruz had 14 markers, six rebounds, and seven assists.

Senior Kevin Racal will end his collegiate college career with stats of 23 points, on 7/22 shooting from the field and 4/4 from the foul stripe; five boards, and two assists. Transferee Jom Sollano added 19 points, on 75% shooting from the field, and seven boards.

For the Red Lions, seniors Art dela Cruz, Baser Amer, and Ola Adeogun led this year’s runners-up. Dela Cruz led the team in almost tallying a triple-double. He had 15 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists. Amer added 14 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter and overtime, and dished out seven assists. Adeogun added 14 points and ten rebounds.

As a team, the Knights shot a tad better than their rivals, 43% from the field compared to 40% by the Red Lions. Despite being out-rebounded 55-36, Letran was able to force San Beda to 31 turnovers that led to 25 turnover points.

To open NCAA Season 92, the now-defending champions Letran Knights will face the hosts San Beda Red Lions on opening day.

The Scores:
CSJL 85 – Racal 23, Sollano 19, Cruz 14, Nambatac 13, Luib 5, Publico 4, Quinto 4, Calvo 2, Apreku 1, Balanza 0.
SBC (82) – Dela Cruz 15, Amer 14, Mocon 14, Adeogun 13, Sara 9, Tankoua 6, Koga 5, Tongco 4, Soberano 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Presbitero 0, Solera 0, Sedillo 0.
Quarterscores: 20-12, 40-39, 54-52, 75-75, 85-82.

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Rose Vargas all set for UAAP return after four-season absence



In an unprecedented move, hard-hitting Far Eastern University spiker Rose Vargas will return to finish her UAAP career when Season 80 kicks off on February 3 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

Vargas last played for the Lady Tamaraws in Season 75. With a year of eligibility left, Vargas left the Morayta-based program to focus on her academics and pursue a career in the semi-pro ranks.

Five years since her last UAAP game, Vargas says that she did not hesitate when FEU officials asked if she wanted to return to play out her final year of eligibility.

During her time in the V-League, she played for the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors, the Bureau of Custom Transformers, and, most recently, the Creamline Cool Smashers.

“‘Yung pag-babalik naman dito (FEU) is hindi ko naman pinag-isipan matagal or nag-dalawang isip ako,” said the Season 74 Best Scorer. “Noong tinanong lang sa akin kung gusto ko daw bumalik, ang sagot ko lang, oo.

“Kasi gusto kong makatulong, and gusto kong makuha ‘yung championship namin na matagal ng hindi nakukuha ng FEU.”

Vargas adds to an already solid FEU core which includes graduating captain Bernadeth Pons, Toni Rose Basas, and Jerrili Malabanan.

The last time Vargas suited up for FEU, she was the main piece to a core that included Mari Toni Basas — Toni Rose’s older sister, a young Remy Palma, Gyzelle Sy, and Tin Agno.

Vargas now sees herself as more of a complimentary piece, the hardened veteran looking to guide FEU’s younger guns in a season where much if expected of them.

“Ngayon, nadagdagan siguro yung maturity and ko, pagiging veteran daw, sabi, na pwede ko mai-share din sa mga bata ‘yun, as a leader, as an ate,” added Vargas.

“Nako-contribute ko kung anong knowledge ang natutunan ko.”

League insiders are confident that Vargas, who turned 25-year-old on December 12 last year, will be declared eligible to play in Season 80. Although the UAAP is yet to have their eligibility meeting this week, a source closely monitoring the situation expressed confidence that Vargas will pass the league’s eligibility rules.

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23 for 2023 cadet CJ Perez honored to help out Gilas



Having had the chance to represent the Philippines in FIBA-sanctioned cagefests such the Asia Challenge Cup and the 3X3 All-Stars back in 2016, Lyceum Pirates star CJ Perez is no stranger to the international stage.

But the 24-year-old do-it-all swingman admits that he still gets overwhelmed whenever he sees his seniors — the stars and pillars of the program — in the team. “Nasusurprise [pa rin] ako,” he said. “Mga professionals eh.

“Na-istarstruck pa rin ako sa kanila.”

Perez said so when he finally made his return within Gilas’ realms last Monday night. The last time he was with the National Team was in August 2016, when the SBP built an amateur-laden batch of Gilas cagers that served as the transition from the 2016 Olympic Qualifiers squad to the 2017 SEABA team.

“Sobrang grateful ako (sa invitation),” said the talented six-foot-two guard, after practice at the Meralco Gym.

The reigning NCAA Most Valuable Player is back in the fold for Gilas as his name, along with young, up-and-coming stars, was included in the 23 for 2023 pool — a list of cagers projected to be the contingent for the Manila-hosted World Cup.

“Iniisip ko yun (FIBA World Cup 2023) simula magtawag sila ng practice. Actually nandoon na yung utak ko eh,” the Lyceum Pirate ace bared. “Kailangan ko lang mag work hard pa para makapasok dun sa lineup na yun, kahit malayo pa.

“It’s an honor para ma-represent yung country.”

Unlike in 2016, Perez graced the court and took part in drills with the veterans such as Gabe Norwood, Japeth Aguilar, June Mar Fajardo, among others. With those type of players around him, he feels that the lessons he can get will be limitless.

“Oo sobra. Kahit kanino naman (matututo ka talaga),” Perez shared. “(At tsaka) Dito parang more on sa mental. ‘Di na iniisip yung conditioning kasi may ibang teams naman sila so about sa mental toughness [talaga].”

For now, the 23 for 2023 cadets are already working out not just for familiarity, but also to help the seniors in preparing for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers this February.

“Sobrang happy and grateful na nakakatulong ako sa kanila kahit sa simpleng practice lang.”

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Blistering Mikey Williams takes home Heritage Import of the Week honor



Photo from ASEAN Basketball League

The resurgent Saigon Heat have been the thorn to topflight clubs teams Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Club and Nanhai Kung Fu, handing both squads their first losses in the eighth season of the ASEAN Basketball League. The Heat would not have done it without Filipino-American import Mikey Williams.

Williams, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Cal State Fullerton, dropped 39 points on 14-for-25 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists in Saigon’s 121-115 overtime win over Hong Kong.

The former NBA G-Leaguer followed it up with a sensational 24-point, five-rebound, and seven-assist outing in their 96-93 win over Kung Fu.

Overall, the 26-year-old guard averaged 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 1.0 steals to edge out fellow Filipino AJ Mandani of the Singapore Slingers for the weekly award.

For the Local Player of the Week, two Alab Pilipinas stalwarts were the runners-up for the crown.

Reigning local Most Valuable Player Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. and his floor general Josh Urbiztondo had stellar weeks that earned them honorable mentions.

Parks averaged 17.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists for the week that saw Alab lose to the Slingers at home last Wednesday before bouncing back on the road against the Mono Vampire last Sunday.

Urbiztondo, on the other hand, had norms of 14.5 points on a hot 9-for-17 clip from downtown.

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Brazilian football legend Zico to visit Manila



Contributed photos

One of the best to ever play the Beautiful Game is coming to the Philippines. Zico, who electrified the footballing world in the ’70s and ’80s, is slated to visit Manila on the weekend of January 27.

The Brazilian, whose real name is Arthur Antunes Coimbra, is considered one of the best footballers in the world during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Zico starred for the Brazilian national team, scoring 48 goals in 71 appearances for the Selecao. In 1999, the attacking midfielder came 8th in the FIFA Player of the Century grand jury vote, and in 2004 was named in FIFA’s list of the world’s greatest living players.

Zico played for legendary Brazilian club Flamengo and also for the Italian Serie A team Udinese. He finished his playing career suiting up for Kashima Antlers in the J-League, the top tier of Japanese football, leading them to an unlikely runner-up finish.

The 64-year-old also had a successful managerial career, leading Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Greek team Olympiacos, and CSKA Moscow to titles. Zico was also in charge of the Japanese national team when they won the AFC Asian Cup in 2004. Because of that accomplishment, Zico is one of the most beloved football figures in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Seven Seas Properties, a company that promotes Philippine real estate and Philippine stocks in the Japanese market, is bringing the football icon here.

“We are delighted to welcome Zico to the Philippines. I’m sure he will give a big boost to the growing football scene here,” says Seven Seas Properties President Yukihiro Nishimura.

Zico will attend a CSR event with young footballers from underprivileged communities on Saturday, January 27. The following day, Sunday January 28, he will lead a football clinic for elite young players and coaches in the McKinley Hill stadium in Taguig. Football fans and media are welcome to watch this event, which kicks off at 2:00 pm. Admission is free.

Zico in Manila is also made possible by Otsuka – Solar Philippines, Inter Sports Partners, AgriNurture, and Primex.

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