Remember the De La Salle University Men’s Basketball teams that dominated the early part of the 2000s?
Yes, the teams that had the likes of Renren Ritualo, Mac Cardona, Mike Cortez, Willy Wilson, Junjun Cabatu, Cholo Villanueva, TY Tang, Joseph Yeo, and Carlo Sharma?
Well, it was almost stronger.
During an episode of 2OT by Carlo Pamintuan and Magoo Marjon, James Yap confessed that he’d been close to committing to the Green Archers back then.
“Siyempre ako, galing ako sa probinsya. Nag-eensayo na ko sa La Salle nung high school pa lang ako. Second-year high school pa lang ako nun at walang pasok ‘yun,” recalled Yap, who went to Bacolod Tay Tung High School and, later on, Iloilo Central Commercial High School during his secondary school career.
“Every time na walang pasok ‘yung La Salle tapos wala rin kaming pasok, pumupunta akong Manila nun para mag-practice sa La Salle.”
The native of Negros Occidental then fell in love with La Salle’s Taft campus. He was dead-set on committing to the Green Archers despite having offers from Far Eastern University, Adamson University, and, of course, University of the East.
But when the 1999-2000 academic year was about to begin, Yap experienced jitters.
“‘Yung malapit na pasukan, nasa practice ako nun eh, na-culture shock ako. ‘Iba ‘yung tao dito’, sabi ko, ‘iba yung tao dito.’ Siyempre, galing akong probinsya nun ‘di ba? Sabi ko, ‘Hala!’
“Tapos nag-usap ‘yung tito ko, pati ‘yung management, hindi ko na inalam. ‘Yun ‘yung nangyari kaya napunta ako ng UE,” he shared.
UE ended up feeling like home for Yap, especially after forming a bond with son of school owner Bong Tan.
“Nung high school ako, naglaro ako ng Juniors sa PBL para sa Absolute na owned by Lucio Tan,” Yap said. “Na-meet ko nga si Boss Bong Tan nun.
“Timing rin kasi ‘yun kasi pagka-graduate ko ng high school, nabili ni Boss Bong ‘yung UE. So para hindi ako mahirapan mag-adjust, nag-decide ako na mag-UE na lang ako kasi kakilala ko na ‘yung may-ari, ganiyan. So dun na, kaya ako napunta ng UE.”
From 1999-2003, La Salle won three championships, taking a three-peat from Seasons 62-64. The Green Archers placed second in Season 65, while placing fourth a year later.
For his part, Yap led UE to Final Four appearances in Seasons 65 and 66. The Red Warriors experienced heartbreak at the hands of Gec Chia and third-seed Ateneo in the do-or-die semis game.
Though bowing to eventual champion Far Eastern University in Season 66, Yap won the MVP award of that season.
Fans still had a glimpse of how deadly Yap would’ve been for La Salle, as he suited up for ICTSI-La Salle in the PBL in 2001 and 2002.