Ateneo is stepping up to the plate as a last-minute invite to the 2023 Smart-NBTC National Finals presented by SM from March 15 to 19 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The young Blue Eagles, who finished at sixth in UAAP Season 85 Boys Basketball, have been invited to the national high school championship as alternate for San Beda which begged off a day after clinching its berth.
The Reggie Varilla-mentored squad missed out on the Final Four for the first time, but still, boasts of the 1-2 punch of NBTC All-Stars Kristian Porter and Lebron Nieto. Now, they test their mettle against the top teams from the UAAP and NCAA, eight international squads from the NBTC Global Games, and 12 teams from the local qualifying tournaments.
In replacing the Red Cubs, who were assured of a tourney slot by virtue of finishing third in NCAA 98 Juniors, Ateneo is hoping to accelerate the growth of its roster mostly made up of first-year players.
“This will be a good learning experience for us,” said Varilla.
Interestingly, the NBTC is honoring longtime San Beda athletic director Edmundo “Ato” Badolato as the namesake for its Most Outstanding Player award moving forward.
The late Badolato was integral in the formation of thegrassroots program, serving as tournament commissioner and committee head for the NBTC 24 and Elite Camps, while also discovering a multitude of talents, among them current PBA player Baser Amer.
Two-time NBTC defending champion NU-Nazareth School also joined the cast with fourth-placers UST and Mapua earlier announced to be part of the biggest grassroots event presented by Smart, SM, Strong Realty and Development Corp., Under Armour, and Molten.
The Bullpups, led by no. 3-ranked player Reinhard Jumamoy, earned the 1-seed and will face PCU-Dasmariñas in the Super 24 round. All-Star Mark Llemit and the Tiger Cubs are second-seeded and will take on Team Tarlac; the Red Robins will be no. 3 to meet Royal Star Trading Don Bosco-Dumaguete; and the no. 4 Blue Eagles will face Batang Tiaong.
All 24 teams will go through the Super 24 round on March 15, with the winners advancing to Division 1, and the remaining teams being relegated to Division 2. Each division will then be placed into four groups of three, playing a round-robin format on March 16 and 17, with the top teams from each group advancing to the knockout semifinals.
The championship game for both divisions will be held on March 19, alongside the Under Armour-NBTC All-Star Game, Slam Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shootout, and Skills Challenge, as well as the finals of the Girls Have Next presented by Fil-Nation Select.
All games will be livestreamed on Facebook on the NBTC, Smart Sports, and Puso Pilipinas pages.
The 2023 Smart-NBTC National Finals is sponsored by Tecno, Regent, Rebisco, Jollibee, San Miguel Foundation, Maynilad, Rebel Sports Pilipinas, MNL Kingpin, Gatorade, Swish App, Victory Liner, Jasper Jean, Darlington, Exped, Coach E Basketball School, Lighthouse Events, and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
Catch the SMART NBTC National Finals from March 15 to 19, 2023 only on SMART Sports’ Facebook page.