Michael Mabulac, Chris Bitoon, and Basilan will be competing in another championship game on Thursday evening.
But this time around, Mabulac and Bitoon will not be wearing the team’s trademark red as they will be donning Nueva Ecija’s blue and gold in the 2021 Chooks-to-Go MPBL Invitational.
“Excited ako na kinakabahan kasi kasama ko lang siya nung last two championships ko tapos ngayon kalaban ko na,” said tournament MVP Mabulac.
“But basketball is basketball. Magkaiba na kami ng jersey ngayon.”
The bond between Mabulac, Bitoon, and Basilan is something that can’t be replicated as it is forged by memories that cannot be repeated.
A couple of months later, the same team made the move to Manila AICC in the 2021 Filbasket Subic Championship. It was the same old story as the team coached by Jerson Cabiltes ruled the tournament.
But the off-season saw the two, along with Bobby Balucanag, sign with the Rice Vanguards.
Both Basilan and Nueva Ecija have been dominating the tournament so far, going unbeaten heading to the finale.
“Siyempre galing ako dun at alam ko yung sistema ni Coach Jerson at gusto niya yung pressure ng pressure,” said Bitoon, who is averaging 8.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.
“Kaya sabi ko sa huddle namin kanina na expect na pupukpok sila sa atin kasi yun talaga yung laro nila. Dun sila kumukuha ng flow nila.“
“Ineexpect ko na rin yung depensa na gagawin nila sa akin at sa team. Kilala ko si Coach Jerson at right from the very start, talagang grind talaga gusto niya,” added Mabulac, who is norming 13.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per outing.
Moreover, they have cited two players Nueva Ecija should watch out for — mainstay Michael Juico and newcomer Encho Serrano.
“Although first time ko makakalaban si Encho. Kinakabahan ako kay Juico talaga kasi buwis buhay talaga. Kinakabahan ako sa kanilang dalawa,” opined Mabulac.
“Sa akin si Encho, maganda yung nilalaro niya e. Tapos yung [Jaymar] Gimpayan naman, energy guy. Pero sa akin, medyo malayo naman si Michael,” said Bitoon.
“Pero ang proproblemahin namin talaga yung depensa nila at si Juico.”
“They are the team to beat at this moment because they have a star-studded team. We are looking forward to that challenge. I’m happy to see Bitoon, Mabulac, and Balucanag performing well there.”