No shortage of talents

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After watching so many high school games this year, I’m more convinced the future of Philippine basketball is in good hands. I have never seen so many talents from all over the country than what I saw when 24 teams representing different regions came to the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City for the 2016 SM-National Basketball Training Center (NBTC) League National Championships.

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When it comes to basketball, we’ve always known that the Philippine islands abound with so many potential talents. Opportunities like the NBTC competitions help a lot in the discovery of these talents, many of whom come from remote areas in provinces. The NBTC League last week gave us a front row seat in this talent showcase. And collegiate scouts had a field day marking potential recruits.

The 24 teams were divided into two groups – Divisions 1 and 2 – with the higher ranked teams like NCAA champion San Beda and UAAP titlist National University (NU) making up the First Division. As expected, the Red Cubs of San Beda and Bullpups of NU ruled Division 1, with the UAAP kings taking the NBTC crown via a dominant 84-74 triumph over the seven-time NCAA champs. But the road to the finals came with some stumbling blocks as other teams also posed threats to the usual Metro Manila powerhouses. Cebu’s top team and defending NBTC champ Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu barged into the semis and gave the Red Cubs a run for their money. The Cebuanos were quick and aggressive, and certainly not wanting in talent. San Beda eventually prevailed, 86-75. In the other semis match, another Manila-based team boasted of tremendous talent, with at least three players catching the fancy of scouts. Chiang Kai Shek College (CKSC) showed why it is among the elite high school hoops programs after a sterling performance in the NBTC. In the knock-out semis match, eventual champ NU overwhelmed CKSC, 72-49, but it took top Bullpup Justine Baltazar to bring out his best effort in leading his squad to victory with a 28-point, 11-rebound and three-block performance. Speaking of Baltazar, the 6’7” kid from Pampanga could very well be this batch’s topmost prospect. He has outstanding all-around skills with the ability to dribble drive and shoot from short to mid-range distance. Some say he could be an improved version of another former NU star Troy Rosario. But it was Baltazar’s teammate, John Lloyd Clemente, who took home the MVP award after uncorking five triples in the final game.

By the way, the NBTC invited two guest teams from outside the country – Durham Crossover of Canada and Trail International School of Thailand. Amazingly, these visiting squads also presented remarkable Filipino talents. In fact, James Canlas of Durham wowed everybody at the MOA Arena with his prolific skills. The 6’3” standout from William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Ontario plays very much like former NU ace Ray Parks Jr. And just like Parks, Canlas already has several offers from Division 1 schools in the States. James came with his mom Lolit, who hails from Angeles, Pampanga. The Durham Crossover team came a week earlier and played several friendly games with local schools. Head coach Mike Cruz was delighted with their experience here and vowed to return next season. Meanwhile, Traill International came with former San Beda assistant coach Troy Umali as head coach,and former juniors standouts Red Rubite, Gilian Flores and Kurt Calaguio from San Beda High and Enzo Joson from Ateneo de Manila. Rubite and Joson displayed magnificent scoring skills with 20+ performances. Calaguio is the son of ex-PBA campaigner Chris.

In the Division 2 finals, De La Salle Lipa of Batangas bested Rex Dei Academy of Lucena, Quezon, with Reyger Dimaunahan leading the charge with 14 markers to cop the MVP plum. Dima¬una¬han’s dad Aries is a former PBA guard.

Kudos to the NBTC team led by coaches Eric Altamirano, Alex Comp¬ton and Ato Badolato.

I won’t be surprised at all if at least 10% of the NBTC League’s participants appear in a collegiate team’s roster in the next few years. If more opportunities are given to these talents in the provinces, we will never run short of excellent ballers.

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