Two years ago, I envisioned bringing back home a group of special kids to showcase their basketball talent and let them experience the beauty of their ancestral country. With the help of friends, networks, and technology, I got hold of few collegiate and university coaches to schedule exhibition games. I also got in touch with NBTC Program Director Eric Altamirano and sold him the idea of having our team as a guest on their annual National High School Championships. Coach E, as most people call him, asked for our resume and game video for evaluation. I sent my wife Marlyn to personally meet up with Eric in Manila, to show that we were serious in pursuing the endeavor. A year later, we got a formal acceptance and an invitation to join the prestigious tournament.
I then asked for the help and guidance of our good NABA Commissioner Ron Damasco and NABA Liaison Officer Edgar Tojino, as we prepared for this journey. We held a tryout with the help of my DCB family and assembled the team. We then mapped out the plan and finances for the trip. We had media blitz with the help of Kuya Jojo Taduran and Li Eron. We had radio program interviews with Pinoy Radio Program host Judith Gonzales, Arlyn Ayo, Randy Bucao, Tony San Juan and Talakayan Radio Host Karen Tan, Jesse and May Cabrias. Filipino Bulletin Carlos Unas, Balita’s Tess Cusipag and Filipino Waves’ Tess Torralba provided their support through their newspapers. We were also able to drum-up support from local business, like Mr. Arnaldo’s PNB Remittance, Mr. Gutierrez of TFC, Body Bliss and V Six Consulting, to name a few. Fast-rising local artist Fieness Mendoza and Keanna Cerezo helped by showcasing their talent during our fundraising concert for the team. Team practices were held every Saturday at Northview Heights Secondary School with Assistant Coaches Ramon Lim and Abe Oligane at the helm.
On Feb 23, high on spirits, we embarked our journey back home with the mission of winning them all. The first week of our stay was spent with our families, relatives, and relaxation visits to tourist destinations. First stop was in Tagaytay to see the beauty of the famous Taal Volcano. The next day we attended the SM NBTC press conference held at the Mall of Asia with Coach Eric, Alaska Coach Alex Compton, and legendary San Beda Jr. Coach Ato Badolato. We also had a chance to visit ABS-CBN TV Station and watched Show Time. The following week we played exhibition games against different college and universities, starting with my high school alma mater Pasig Catholic College, which resulted in an 80 all draw. The first game was a rude awakening, as we experience firsthand the brutal heat of the weather and the speed, agility and hard work of Filipino basketball brand of play. The second stop was an upset win against Jose Rizal University Men’s Basketball Team B of PBA Aerial Voyager Vergel Meneses. On the 3rd day we faced the San Beda College Men’s Team B and lost by 7 points, but gained the admiration of their Team Manager Jude Roque. The team was fatigued due to the weather and we lost by 11 points to a well-oiled Mapua Men’s Basketball Team of Coach Atoy Co on our 4th exhibition game. The following day we were able to rest due to unavailability of Team UP Diliman of Coach Rensy Bajar to play. It allowed us to recover from the hot weather and busy schedule. On our final exhibition assignment, we defeated De LaSalle Greenhills Jr. Team. With a 2-2 win-loss record at hand against top colleges and universities; I felt that we’re getting ready for the NBTC tournament. However, I must admit that the brunt of organizing this journey and pressures from coaching the team was taking its toll on me. We rested for another day and I prayed to that we get the guidance and motivation help us get through the planned events. Tension, excitement, and anxiety were piling up and tried my best to maintain composure and focus.
On the day of the tournament, we were all hyped up as we learned that we will play the opening game against former NBTC national champion Chiang Kai Shek with our Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines, Neil Reeder, watching on the sidelines cheering us on. We were so proud and excited during the parade and as Canada’s national anthem was sung by Keesha Cerezo. There was an adrenaline rush in our system as we awaited our game. We started the game with a bang making our opponent looked clueless as to what may have hit them. Fil-Canadian sensation James Canlas sizzled through the first three quarters with mainstay Avan Nava, Matthew Daves, and Robert Ocampo contributing, as well. However, the former champion did not go down without a fight, used the last quarter to mount a fierce comeback and took advantage of our last two misplays to deliver the winning dagger on the final buzzer. 60-62 was the final score. We were all shocked and at loss as to what happened in this must-win game for us in order to advance to the semifinals. Cracks began to show and morale was at its lowest. The next day we faced St. Roberts International, Visayas Region Champion from Iloilo and here we vented our anger and demolished the opponent with a 45-point win advantage. Although we got eliminated, we were left with the consolation that three players from our team got invitations to play for the NBTC All Star Game and Events. James Canlas, Matthew Daves, and Phaul Peralta played in the All Star Game. Chew was a runner-up in the Slam Dunk Contest and Team Canada of Alvin Florido, Andre Cruz, Rob Ocampo and Matthew Oligane were finalists at the NBTC 3 on 3 Championships. We also had players who caught the eye of coaches and got offers from coaches of college and universities to play back home.
It was a very good experience overall, and lessons were learned. While we have all hoped to win the championships but lost, I looked at the bigger picture of what we have achieved. We did not win the championship trophy but we got a lot of respect from our opponents, coaches, and organizers. Organizers were so impressed with how we carried ourselves during the course of the tournament that we got an automatic slot for next year’s championship. We will always treasure the lessons learned and the experience we have gained. We made lots of friends and followers. With this, I came to realize that winning was not all about the championship trophy but finding peace and pride knowing we did our best and gave the games we played our all.