The College of Saint Benilde Blazers — one Blazer actually — have finally caught a break.
After a heartbreaking loss to Jebb Bulawan in the dunk-off last year, Yankie Haruna took to the skies and flew over the opposition — and in one of his dunks over ONE Heavyweight Champion Brandon Vera — to win this year’s Slam Dunk Competition.
“It feels good that we finally have something that we could share to the school,” said the 22-year-old high flyer. “I’m just thankful about it.”
The Filipino-American missed his first dunk in the final round, as he tried to jump off three teammates (Carlo Young, JJ Domingo, and Rene Sta. Maria), and even had a scary fall in his second attempt. His finals rival, Nigerian Eugene Toba of San Beda’s Team Behold, scored a perfect 50 after a flawlessly-executed single bounce alley-oop to a 360 windmill.
In his second dunk in the final round, the Fil-Am from New Jersey called up judge and reigning ONE Heavyweight Champion Brandon Vera to serve as a prop. Vera was tasked to throw the alley-oop to the Blazer. After three failed attempts, Haruna was able to jump over the mixed martial artist, catch the alley-oop, and connect on a thunderous two-handed jam.
“I talked to him earlier when I was warming up. I was like ‘can you do me a favor?’ and he was willing to do it,” Haruna shared about his brief interaction with the Filipino-American champion.
Toba did not play it safe, though. The Nigeria student-athlete called up Perpetual big man Bright Akhuetie and teammate Davon Potts to serve as props. Akhuetie sat on a chair underneath the rim, while Potts threw the pass from out of bounds. The 6’9 Team Behold player missed all three of his attempts. With time almost expiring, Toba tried to go for a simple alley-oop play but the pass was too high. The time expired soon after.
“I didn’t think I was going to win because of the fall I had. But it was good,” said Haruna, who had edged out Toba 79-76 in the finals. “I really didn’t think I was going to win and I was hoping he was going to miss his dunk. That was my only chance to win.”
Haruna had a tough journey to the finals, having needed to win a playoff against Lervin Flores to reach the final round. Haruna edged the Arellano student-athlete 50-44, after a single bounce to a windmill dunk.
“It’s really something I didn’t practice,” he said. “I just had to come up with something that I always do, which was the windmill. So I did it and it went in.”
In the first round, Haruna successfully executed a bounce pass to a single pump dunk for a 49, while Flores used teammates Jio Jalalon and Donald Gumaru for a double off-the-board bounce to a two handed-jam to match Haruna’s score. Toba, on the other hand, scored a perfect 50 after reverse single-pump dunk.
Other highlights include a single bounce alley-oop to a tomahawk jam by Letran’s Renato Ular for a score of 46, and an alley-oop to a one-handed jam by Lyceum’s 5’6″ guard Jaycee Marcelino