It’s been a week since the culmination of NCAA Season 84. It’s only now that I got my thoughts together to write a postscript of the things that transpired during this year’s tourney. It has been an interesting season for the NCAA. It was the most hotly-contested season in recent history. There were a lot of rumors, intrigues, scandals that surrounded the country’s oldest league. Nevertheless, the league, with all permutations considered, netted the same end result as it had in the last three seasons… San Beda still on top.
As it has been the past seasons, the Red Lions were in the center of all these controversies. It began with Emeka Udo’s mysterious disappearance during the Red Lions’ annual summer training in the U.S. Word from the grapevine has it that Udo has found new refuge in a university somewhere in the States to continue his basketball pursuits there. This left a large void in the basketball program of the Red Lions, looking ahead into the future. “With a heavy heart”, they had to move on with their training. Upon their return to Philippine soil, they were up against intense competition in the pre-season. The Red Lions had a fairly strong showing, however, losing the title to UE in the Fil-Oil Flying V invitational, and missing the final of the Father Martin’s Cup.
Invincibility was severely threatened prior to season opening when the NCAA Mancom disallowed prized rookie Jake Pascual to suit up for the Red Lions. Bedans from all over the world were scrambling for justice for Pascual, launching a text and email brigade to campaign for the appeal of Jake’s case. These efforts bore fruit as the NCAA Policy Board cleared Pascual and allowed him to play in RED.
San Beda surged to a rampaging start, routing season host Mapua on opening day. Everybody thought, wow, the Red Lions will be smoothly sailing to the finals, like last year. Oh boy, was everybody terribly mistaken!
Then emerged the newest strategy to win a game without any sweat. The uniform incident that saw San Beda forfeit a clearly won game against Saint Benilde. It was totally revolting to swallow this loss. But then, rules are rules, as the ManCom explained. Okay, yah, whatever…
The inevitable then happened. San Beda loses…. on the court. Not once.. but twice! The Red Lions succumbed to three point shooting and hard-nosed,elbowed,kneed (or whichever sharp edged body part imaginable) defense of the JRU Heavy Bombers. Another heartbreaking loss came in the hands of Mapua’s astral time travel to the retro basketball strategy of milking the clock to the very last second and throwing bombs from all around the rainbow arc. The defending champions were unbeatable, no more. It was then that the basketball world turned to the fact that, hey, this season will not be boring after all. We all saw two teams, not named San Beda, building 8 game winning streaks. Teams from top and bottom reversed in fortunes. What a wily, wily league!
9 and 5… The win-loss record that proved to be the magic number. In seasons past, it was enough to amass 8 wins to enter the semis, but not this year. We were all introduced to the FAB 5 of NCAA 2008: San Beda, and the four way logjam of San Sebastian, Mapua, Letran and JRU. Hearts broke, and new heroes were born. Darkhorse San Sebastian was booted out of the final four, and gone in thin air was Jason Ballesteros’ dream to exit the NCAA with an MVP award neatly tucked under his long, gangly arms. Why? Because rules are rules, baby.
JRU jetsetted into the finals as San Beda needed extra time to set Mapua aside in a rubber match of the Final Four. At this unforgiving time happened the most sensitized and controversial event of all season, the even more mysterious police incident involving Sam Ekwe. To this day, police officials, San Beda or Ekwe have kept mum about the entire incident, what with the active involvement and intervention of the Nigerian Embassy. It is unfortunate that this horrible incident happened to a foreigner whose only intent was to secure an education and play no-nonsense basketball for his alma mater. Ekwe, with the all-out support and commendable distinction of both his school and his government, brought the limelight back to the NCAA with his energy-filled brand of play and God fearing persona. Never has a foreign baller attracted so much attention in college basketball from our side of the world. Not only has he ruled the painted lane of the NCAA for the past three years, he has upped the level of competition in the league because of his superior strength and his accelerated development in skills. Despite this chain of unfortunate events, Ekwe went back to his winning ways, clinching his second MVP award in three years. He thus became part of an illustrious list of multiple MVP award winners, amongst the likes of Adducul, Quilban and the rest of the gang.
With their MVP back at the helm, San Beda finally barged into the championship against their new favorite nemesis, the JRU Heavy Bombers. An interesting sidelight constantly played up was the hate-hate relationship of Coaches Ariel Vanguardia and Frankie Lim. Spectators held their breath each and every time these teams meet if Lim and Vanguardia will meet at center court for their ceremonial handshake. Uhhhh, maybe, not in this lifetime..
The two teams split the first two games. It was then down to a fitting end, the rubber match of all rubber matches this season, GAME 3. Game 3’s give the Red Army chills down its spine as we stroll back in time to 2006 against PCU. Remember way back when Belga threw his last attempt and the ball landing in the hands of Aljamal? Who will ever forget those last seconds of Season 82?!
Thank the high heavens, this time was different. The Red Lions came in their wrecking crew armour. Led by graduating Red Lions Season and Finals MVP Ekwe and Talk and Texter Escobal, they zoomed to an early lead and never looked back. The able supporting cast of Menor, Hermida and Pascual sent a message to all that San Beda’s backbone is rock solid, despite the departure of its top gunners. They were back to opening day form, as if nothing happened in between. As the final buzzer sounded, “CHAMPIONS” placards filled the coliseum, confetti fell. Misty-eyed Bedans threw their fists high up as the Red Lions made history of their first three-peat, post war. As each Red Lion told his story, one thing was clear, the bitter memories of the past season made this victory sugar-sweet.
Of all the heroes that emerged this season, one man etched his name on that championship trophy in bold– Coach of the Year Frankie Lim. From day one, voices from all fronts heavily criticized his inexperience, his shortcomings. But each and every day after that, he laid his cards face up as he and his boys inched their way up. With the rest of the team, he struggled amidst the controversies and setbacks. But he never let up, nor let his boys down. His heart was big enough to beat for this team. To you dear Coach, this victory is as much yours as it is to each and every member of this team. To a valiant Bedan, a grand salute and a resounding Animo!
To all Bedans, the courage of our lions sailed us through rough seas, to bring home the crown. Our pride pulled us through.
Till next season, Go San Beda Fight!