Withstanding the test of time, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) of the Philippines recently opened its 92nd Season in grand fashion at the Mall of Asia Arena. Probably the oldest collegiate league in Asia, the organization started by then University of the Philippines (UP) physical education professor Dr. Regino Ylanan in 1924 has had a great number of ups and downs in all its years of existence, but remains standing. The country’s version of the NCAA is about 18 years younger than the United States’ but isn’t behind its American counterpart in terms of a storied history and partisan collegiate passion.
The 92nd edition opened in usual grandiose ceremonial rites, highlighted by the honoring of its most illustrious son, Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga, who passed away early this year. Caloy, as he’s often called, is considered as the country’s greatest basketball player ever, after leading the Philippines to a third place finish in the 1954 FIBA World Championship and remaining the only Asian to ever make it to the Mythical Team of the same tournament. His No. 14 jersey number was retired during the event by his alma mater and Season 92 host San Beda College (SBC), in the presence of his family.
SBC is the only remaining founding member in the NCAA as most others – Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, University of Sto. Tomas, National University, Far Eastern University and UP – are now in the rival league Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). Another original member that’s with another league is the University of Manila.
But the NCAA enjoys its biggest membership in the last five years since the Lyceum of the Philippines University became the tenth member in 2011. Jose Rizal University (JRU), Mapua Institute of Technology, Letran College, San Sebastian College, University of Perpetual Help, College of St. Benilde, Arellano University, and Emilio Aguinaldo College complete the cast.
Past members no longer with the league are Trinity College, Philippine Christian University and Angeles University Foundation.
Now it’s looking like the predictions about this 2016 men’s basketball event are on the ball. Former five-peat champions SBC Red Lions struggled to upend defending titlists Letran Knights in the opening contest, 89-85. The Bedans erected leads of up to 13 points but the Intramuros boys kept fighting back. It took rookie Davon Potts to pour in nine points in the payoff period to keep Letran at bay, even as Knights star Rey Nambatac fought off cramps twice in endgame to try and salvage the win. Gone for the Lions are their long-time terrific trio of Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer and Arth Dela Cruz. Under second-year mentor Jamike Jarin, San Beda is looking to reclaim the crown it lost last year with a team composed of eight NCAA first-timers. Both Letran and SBC are perceived to be heavy contenders this year.
But so are second-game protagonists Mapua and JRU. The Heavy Bombers and Cardinals battled fiercely for 40 minutes in the main game of the opening day. The contest saw eight lead changes and five deadlocks. But Season 91 MVP Allwell Oraeme of Mapua was too much for JRU, coming up with another sterling performance as evidenced by his 26 points, 17 boards, four blocks and three assists against the Bombers, to lift his team to the 74-71 victory. Veteran guard Carlos Isit added 17 markers for the Cards that finally took a W on opening day after several attempts. JRU’s dreaded tandemof Paolo Pontejos and Tey Teodoro combined for 29 points but the Bombers threw the ball away 26 times, giving Mapua 20 turnover points. Mapua and JRU are also considered top contenders for the crown this year.
But it’s Arellano University that’s said to be the team to beat. The Chiefs of third-year coach Jerry Codinera have yet to test another contender in the Perpetual Help Altas as of this writing. Junior guard Jio Jalalon, believed to be the best amateur point guard in the land, hopes to lead Arellano to a first NCAA title this year. The Altas however have a couple of outstanding Nigerian slotmen in Bright Akhuetie and Prince Eze.
What a way to celebrate the NCAA’s 92-years of existence.