It’s officially over. The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws and San Beda Red Lions were named co-champions of the Philippine Collegiate Championship League (PCCL) to formally close one of the greatest college basketball seasons ever. Due to typhoon Nona’s heavy rains, the PCCL had to cut short the tournament by declaring the four semi-finalists—FEU, San Beda, USC and Letran—as finalists, therefore making the winners of both finals games co-champions.
Barely two weeks after capturing their 20th UAAP crown, the Tams subdued reigning CESAFI champions University of San Carlos (USC) Warriors, 82-77, despite playing without stars Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, and other veterans like Achie Inigo, Raymar Jose, Russel Escoto and Francis Tamsi. FEU coach Nash Racela opted to give exposure to his younger crew, which will be tasked to defend the UAAP title next year. And they did not disappoint their trusting mentor. Rookie center Ken Holmqvist, a 6’7” Filipino-Norwegian, was a revelation with a 17-point and 11-rebound output that bagged for him the tournament MVP plum. Sophomore play¬maker Jojo Trinidad from Los Angeles also had a breakout game with 19 markers. Holmqvist, Trinidad and Nigerian recruit Prince Orizu all made it to the Mythical Five along with USC’s Ian Tagapan and Shooster Olago. Racela is starting his wards early for next year’s hostilities and it looks like the young Tams are up to the task.
Not to be outdone is San Beda, which won its second straight PCCL title via a vengeful 94-72 triumph over NCAA champs Letran Knights. Like Racela, coach Jamike Jarin also showcased his fresh recruits that are raring to take back the NCAA title the Red Lions lost to Letran this year. Fil-Am Davon Potts and former La Salle guard Robert Bolick made a good impression and landed in the Mythical Five along with teammate Donald Tankoua and Knights Rey Nambatac and Jeric Balanza. Potts led the Lions with 11 markers, while Bolick finished with eight points and seven assists. The Red Lions, without former top guns Ola Adeogun, Arth Dela Cruz and Baser Amer, led by as many as 30. Looks like next year’s gang of Lions will be running like an express train.
But other than San Beda and FEU, USC also made a splash this year when it coveted its first CESAFI diadem in 57 years. Add to this feat the Warriors’ 82-72 victory over UAAP Runners-up University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers in their PCCL quarterfinal match, a day after ousting UAAP heavy weight National University. The Cebuano champions certainly proved to be among this year’s elite.
Although anti-climactic in the finale, this year’s PCCL tournament can be considered highly competitive with teams like USC, Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) and University of Visayas holding their own against the traditional powerhouses. The TIP Engineers upended NCAA Final Four member Mapua earlier in the tournament and almost pulled the rug from under San Beda in the quarterfinals, bowing by just two points.
Having two National Champions however did not appeal to many. It was a tough call the organizers had to make following the cancellation of the December 16 games due to Nona’s wrath. The safety of all stakeholders was a top priority. The frantic Holiday Season further compounded the league’s woes as most venues were fully booked for the rest of the year. Tough luck.
Still, we have been witness to a great college ball season. The NCAA hailed a new hoops king in Letran as San Beda’s five-year reign came to a screeching halt after three heart-pounding championship games. This NCAA Season was also the most balanced in the last ten years as six schools remained in contention for the Final Four even at the end of the second round.
As for the UAAP, this season had some unexpected outcomes like UST topping the elims and barging into the finals, and La Salle missing the Final Four. In the end, FEU survived UST in three games to erase the bitter memory of last year’s defeat to NU in the finals.
What a year for college basketball. And we can expect the 2016 Season to be just as appealing as this year’s spectacle.