24 HS teams compete for title of ‘Best in the Philippines’
by rick olivares
“Now it gets exciting. Very exciting.”
Thus pronounced SM-National Basketball Training Center tournament director Eric Altamirano in front of media and a few participating teams who gathered at a press conference at the Wild Buffalo Wings restaurant at Capital Commons last March 9 on the eve of the country’s biggest basketball competition.
After four months of intense and rigorous competition, from a field of close to 800 high school teams spread across 62 teams from all over the Philippines and from four other countries, their roads now merge towards the Mall of Asia Arena where the pared field of 40 squads will compete from March 13-16 or the bragging rights of the best Division One and Best Division Two team in this basketball crazy republic.
The league, an official grassroots program of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, is now on its 10th year, and has grown from a handful of teams from three cities to a record of close to 800 schools from 62 cities all across the archipelago. And building on last year’s tourney that featured two Fil-foreign squads from Canada and Thailand, there are now four international teams from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America who will also be taking part in the competition.
“It seems that the theme for this tournament is ‘redemption,’” assessed Altamirano of the cast that has formed for the Division One championships.
Participating in the Division One tourney are NCAA champion Mapua, UAAP champion Far Eastern University, MMBL champion San Beda, CESAFI champion Ateneo de Cebu, and the Fil-foreign squads of AusPinoy Australia, Durham Crossover Canada, Camp David New Zealand, and FilAm Sports USA.
San Beda, recognized as perhaps the most bemedalled high school team in the land lost in the finals of the last two SM-NBTC tournaments – first to Ateneo de Cebu two years ago and then to National University last season. Mapua would also like to gain the upper hand on the Red Cubs after falling to them in the MMBL finals. Both squads are 1-1 in title play this year and should they meet in the SM-NBTC Finals, fireworks will surely explode.
Durham Crossover planed in with high expectations and with their US Division One aspirants. Yet in their first match of the tournament, they were defeated by Chiang Kai Shek College after a game-winning lay-up at the buzzer by John Galinato. “We haven’t forgotten that and we’re here for redemption,” said Canada coach Mike Cruz.
For FEU coach Allan Albano, winning a national championship would be a nice ending for this fairy tale season. “We do not want San Beda and Mapua to have all the fun,” playfully teased Albano.”
Said San Beda coach JB Sison, “Twice na kami nabigo. Sana walang three-peat para sa second place and mag-champion na kami.”
Speaking of fairy tales, De La Salle Lipa, as defending Division Two champions returns. Joining them are Isabela Colleges of Cauayan; STI-Malolos of Bulacan; St. Joseph’s College of Olongapo; La Finn’s Scholastica of La Union; St. Benilde International School of Calamba, Laguna; St. Jude College of Cavite; Jesus the Loving Shepherd of Naga; University of St. La Salle of Bacolod; St. Robert’s International Academy of Iloilo; St. Louis College of Mandaue, Cebu; New Ormoc City National High School from Leyte; Langatian National High School of Dipolog; Assumption Montessori School of Cagayan De Oro; Notre Dame of Midsayap College of Kidapawan; and Ateneo de Davao.
“We believe that this program is a very good one for talent identification not only for the national team but also for high schools and colleges across the country,” added NBTC founder Eric Altamirano. “Players like Roger Pogoy (who went on to fame with FEU) and Baser Amer (San Beda), and even coaches like Aldin Ayo who was with Sorsogon came up through the program.”
SBP Executive Director Renauld “Sonny” Barrios, lauded the SM-NBTC program citing its growth and reach, “It is a model grassroots program that provides so much opportunity for kids from all over the country to continue their education and to give life to their basketball dreams. We at SBP are happy to be supporting this.”
The SM-NBTC National Championships will be played this coming March 13-16 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City and will be televised on a delayed basis by ABS-CBN Sports + Action. The SM-NBTC National Championships are sponsored in part by Freego.