Coming off a rough 2018-19 MPBL Datu Cup campaign, Basilan Steel-Jumbo Plastic has nowhere to go but up, with the help of Phenom Sports, its new management team.
Phenom, led by Jax Chua, took over Basilan late last season. Then, the Steel had already spiraled down to the bottom of the MPBL, finishing the tournament tied with Rizal for the last spot of the Southern division with a dismal 7-18 win-loss record.
From there, Phenom rebuilt the team, beginning with a coaching staff that has what it takes to turn a losing team to a victorious one.
“Coming in, ‘yung outlook naming sa team, we want to bring a winning culture dito sa Basilan. We took the challenge kahit alam naming cellar-dweller noong Datu Cup,” said Chua, who also serves as the general manager of the Steel.
Coach Jerson Cabiltes took the helm for Basilan, alongside deputies Noy Catalan, Florian Pineda, Arnold Oliveros, Jinino Manansala, Joseph Guion, Migs Montero, and Dands Javier.
Then came the task to build a team that exhibits the same qualities of the Basileños: determination, perseverance, hard work, and with something to prove.
Phenom, who also ventured into player management aside from sportswear-making, then made the moves to improve Basilan’s lineup by taking players who are no big names but can contribute in a variety of ways.
“To have a winning team, not necessary naman to get big name players. Ang hinanap namin ay mga hardworking players who will buy into the system at magsa-sacrifice talaga,” Chua said.
The management retained veteran Dennis Daa for his leadership, while activating Cris Dumapis, who has emerged as a reliable force in the paint.
They then acquired the services of shifty playmaker Hesed Gabo and sharpshooting big man Jay Collado from Quezon City; marksman Jhapz Bautista from Makati; high-leaping Bobby Balucanag and Shaq Alanes from Pasay; sparkplug Gab Dagangon from Bataan; and Michole Sorela from Navotas.
They also signed PBA veterans Jonathan Uyloan and Anthony Bringas alongside Irven Palencia, an integral cog for St. Clare in NAASCU, who is also managed by Phenom.
Philip Manalang, Mark Trinidad, Ar Raouf Julkipli, Junjie Hallare, Darwin Lunor, Jett Vidal, Melgar Murillo, Harold Ng, and Reiner Bazan completed the lineup of Basilan.
When the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan Cup opened, the retooled Basilan started on the right foot with two straight wins against Bicol and Pampanga. But when the adrenaline ran out, the Jumbo Plastic-backed squad saw its win-loss standing at 9-8 midway through the season.
Then Basilan scorched the league in its remaining 13 games, tallying 11 victories while only losing two matches.
The main reason for the brilliant playoff push?
The arrival of Phenom-managed collegiate talents in Allyn Bulanadi, NCAA Season 95 leading scorer and San Sebastian College-Recoletos superstar; and Philip Manalang, lead floor general of University of the East.
Bulanadi, a 6-foot-3 up-and-coming star, played in the Steel’s last seven games in the elimination round. He had impressive averages of 21.71 points on 46 percent clip and 4.5 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Manalang is a sparkplug off the bench who brings the tenacity on the defense, all while contributing on the other end in various ways.
Basilan entered the playoffs with a 20-10 record, good for the third spot in the tough Southern division — just behind top seed Davao Occidental and second-ranked Bacoor.
“Our main goal was to for a competitive team, and we want to redefine Basilan through basketball. In this way, I think we have garnered so many fans and inspired ‘yung buong Basilan province. That’s why I think we have already succeeded in redefining Basilan,” Chua said.
But the grind did not stop there for the Steel. They marched into the postseason with the whole Basilan province rallying behind them.
In the quarterfinals, Basilan swept Iloilo advancing into the semifinals, with a daunting task of beating second seed powerhouse Bacoor City. The Steel survived a grueling three-game series against the Strikers, coming up on top despite having home-court disadvantage for Games Two and Three.
In the division finals, Basilan faced the toughest team in the South, the Davao Occidental Tigers.
But Basilan showed heart again and again, escaping Game One with a 74-72 victory at the Davao Sports and Tourism Complex in Tagum City.
Then, with a shot to glory and barging into the National Finals, Basilan looked to become South kings in front of their huge following at Lamitan City Gym in Game Two. The Tigers had other plans, though, spoiling Basilan’s home court and surviving with an 81-76 win.
Game Three was supposed to happen last March 14, but MPBL decided to suspend the Division Finals due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Nandito na rin kami eh, we are not here to participate lang. Given the chance and we will gladly take it. We will go all-out to bring more pride to the Basileños and to repay the trust na binigay sa amin ng leaders ng Basilan, especially Congressman Mujiv Hataman, Mayor Julz Hataman Governor Jim Hataman Salliman and Councilor Hegem Furigay,” added Chua.
Will Basilan Steel continue their astounding playoff run to the National Finals or will Davao Occidental retain its crown in the South?
No matter what, Basilan has already won the hearts of the Basileños and the whole MPBL fanbase with its tremendous turnaround from a lowly team in Datu Cup to a powerhouse in the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan Season.
But “Redefining Basilan” is about more than just basketball.
Phenom Sports not only wanted to turn around people’s perception of Basilan the basketball team; they also want to give Basilan the province the appreciation it deserves.
Basilan has been a hotbed of misconceptions due to the armed conflicts that happened there, but those were the days, and the province has moved on.
“Right from the start na nakapunta ako sa Basilan, sobrang iba nito kasi akala natin magulo ang Basilan, ang mga tao iba ang ugali. Pero hindi. Basilan has been enjoying a long peace na. For more than 15 years now under the leadership ng mga Hataman, naging maayos, naging focused sila sa peace and progress,” Chua on Basilan province.
And basketball has played a huge part in giving the young Basileños a dream to hold on.
“’Yung mga kabataan, nabibigyan ng chance na mangarap na maging katulad ng idols nila,” said Chua. “They want to be the next Allyn Bulanadi, the next Hesed Gabo, the next Irven Palencia. This is what basketball is giving to the Basilan people.”
The Steel has built a passionate fanbase in Basilan and it is the best feeling a player could feel.
“Paglapag pa lang ng pier, everybody knows the players. They follow them like rock stars, like celebrities. They send food to the hotels, they watch our practices. Ganoon kamahal ng Basilan ‘yung mga players nila. They saw a hardworking team who really represents Basilan’s culture — the determination, the perseverance and the hard work of the Basileños,” Chua concluded.
But how did Basilan Steel get popular in the province? Meet the team behind Phenom Sports.
Phenom is all-in in redefining Basilan and that’s why they have a team to do so.
They have photographers in Marl Castro, Thel Suliva, and Michael Ordoñez, who captured in-game pictures and the team’s interaction with the fans.
Rion Balin and Jeff Palaganas are the videographers who make the video highlights of the Basilan players for the fans.
Juls Claudio and Dands Javier are graphic artists who create the posters and other publication materials to be posted on the team’s social media accounts. The latter also serves as the marketing man of Phenom.
Emma Bueno and Joseph Guion complete the team as coordinator and director, respectively.
In a span of just a year, Phenom Sports has reached its goal of redefining Basilan, turning it to #BasilanRedefined.
Story by Justin Valencia