THE best of the best.
That's how the recently-concluded 2019 Chooks-to-Go NBTC League National Finals has been billed after the top 32 high school teams both from here and overseas converged at the Mall of Asia Arena for a week of top-notch basketball.
But as much as stars like Jalen Green and Kai Sotto, as well as powerhouse squads like Nazareth School of National University hugged the headlines, the NBTC also brought a number of talented youngsters to the national consciousness.
Here are eight of them:
Mark Nonoy - G - UST via Team Hustle
Let's start with the one who stole the show with a single game. The 18-year-old future-Growling Tiger shone the brightest in the Division 1 All-Star Game where future NBA players like the Greens and the Sottos roamed.
Nonoy took over and scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including 14 straight to lead his side to victory. Sotto was spot on when he picked Nonoy first for his team and called him "the best player in high school."
Tony Ynot - F - San Beda
How about this year's breakout star?
With all eyes on the debut of Rhayyan Amsali, Ynot did his part and helped the Red Cubs reach the Fearless Four. The Misamis Occidental native turned heads, not just for his palindrome name (his real name is Winston) but also for his game. His shining moment came when he shut down Jalen Green in the endgame of their duel with highly regarded FilAm Sports USA.
As Ynot claimed the Best Defensive Player trophy, pundits could only wonder how bright San Beda's future is now.
Kai Ballungay - F - FilAm Sports USA
All eyes were on Jalen Green and Jeron Artest, but little did the Mall of Asia Arena crowd know that coach Bong Ulep had another ace up his sleeve.
Fil-Am forward Kai Ballungay burst into the scene with his ferocious game, turning out to be a two-way stud who made the scouts salivate with his potential.
Ballungay made life hard for Kai Sotto when FilAm met Ateneo in the Supreme 16, just as he was in the rounds prior.
The 17-year-old may have already committed to Cal State Stanislaus, but Philippine teams sure should move heaven and earth to get a talent like Ballungay.
Jiam Quiambao - G - St. Augustine Institute-Pampanga
Yes, St. Augustine Institute-Pampanga may have won the Division 2 title behind Brianne Angeles' late heroics. But that should not overshadow Quiambao's brilliant performance all tournament long.
The feisty Kapampangan guard was a big reason for St. Augustine-Pampanga's rise, averaging 26.0 points and 8.8 rebounds as his side's go-to-guy.
Though he had to sit on the sidelines and watched the conclusion of the Division 2 championship from the bench, Pampanga would not have bene in this position if not for Quiambao.
Mctroi Crisostomo - G - Holy Trinity College-General Santos
Since we're talking about players who can heat up in bunches, how about this young kid from General Santos?
Crisostomo couldn't get any hotter than in Holy Trinity College-Gen San's Fantastic Eight, drilling five triples in a losing effort to Lyceum-Cavite.
But if you thought that was the end of the road for him, you're wrong, as Crisostomo went at it again, this time in the Division 2 All-Star Game. The spunky guard fired 17 points to help Team Dedication get the W.
John Erolon - F - St. Louis Don Bosco-Dumaguete
Looking for a marksman? Well, John Erolon may just be your guy.
This sweet-shooting winger from St. Louis Don Bosco-Dumaguete has established himself as one of the most lethal gunners in the tourney, shooting 38.5-percent from distance for his 21.7 points per game.
His on-point accuracy was a big reason for the Negrenses' run to the Fantastic Eight of Division 2, and it came as no surprise to anyone that Erolon came away with the Three-Point Shootout crown.
John Barba - F - Lyceum-Cavite
Much have been written about Mac Guadana being the fulcrum for Lyceum-Cavite's ascent. But equally as important to the Junior Pirates' campaign was John Barba, who was a perfect dance partner for the Batang Gilas playmaker.
The 6-foot-2 forward continued his tear from the NCAA to the NBTC, emerging as the squad's top scorer at 20.7 points per game, to go with his 7.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Barba has proven time and again that he can heat up in a jiffy, quickly scoring in bunches just like what he did to St. Mary's-Tagum in the Division 2 Fantastic Eight, where he scored 13 straight points to put the game beyond reach just in the first quarter.
John Bravo - G - First City Providential College-Bulacan
First City Providential College-Bulacan wasn't even supposed to be here as the MMBL Division 2 champions stepped up in the absence of regional champion STI-West Negros Bacolod.
Lucky for us that they did as the public got to see the scoring outbursts of John Bravo.
The young Bulakenyo was quick to introduce himself, firing a tournament-best 42 points for the Eagles in his first game against Durham Crossover Canada in the Super 32 before sustaining his groove in Division 2 action.
Although he was already a marked man, it didn't stop Bravo from netting 26.3 points, the best scoring average in the tournament, to go with 15.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists for First City Providential College-Bulacan.