ZAMBOANGA CITY — What once served as shelter became a sports venue once again after the Seaoil National Basketball Training Center (NBTC) League opened shop on Sunday at the Zamboanga City Coliseum.
Ten high school teams compete in the regional tournament in this basketball hotbed in Mindanao, a sign of normalcy for a city that found itself under siege from insurgents just months ago.
High school players aged 18 and below played in the stadium that was, almost three months ago, the home of families and kids who had to seek shelter after being displaced when rebels attacked the city.
Federacion de Basketbolista de Zamboanga (FBZ) president Pedro Alfaro Jr. said the tournament will be a big help to the players who were affected by the traumatic experience.
“Galing kami sa conflict. This is one way na maalis ’yung trauma ng mga bata,” said Alfaro, who is also an area head of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
Two of the schools that were just glad to return to playing basketball are Southern City Colleges and Claret School of Zamboanga City, considered powerhouse squads in this part of Mindanao.
“Grabe dito,” said head coach Ednie Morones of Southern City Colleges, the same school that produced former Far Eastern University star and now Globalport cager RR Garcia, among others. “’Yung nakikita sa TV, hindi isolated ’yun."
Southern City Colleges was near where the Zamboanga attacks occurred, forcing the school to suspend classes for a month.
“Apektado kami dahil nasa sentro kami nung gulo. Walang pasok ng isang buwan. Hindi kami nagkikita ng mga players kasi natatakot sila. Kaya hindi kami masyadong nakapaghanda para sa mga tournaments namin,” Morones added.
The conflict in their city was also one of the reasons why Claret School of Zamboanga City failed to put up a strong showing in Mindanao tournaments, according Larry Victorio, one of the members of the coaching staff.
“Hind kami makapag-practice dahil sa mga bala,” Victorio admitted. “Nag-champion kami last time sa isang tournament dito pero nung pumunta kami sa Davao, nabisto ’yung wala kaming practice.”
Also competing in the Zamboanga tournament, which runs until February, are Western Mindanao State University, Don Pablo Lorenzo Memorial High School, Pilar College, Bethany Child Development Center, Zion Evangelical School, Saint Joseph School, Zamboanga Chong Hua High School, Ferndale International School, and Zamboanga City High School.
The champion team will play in Manila for the Seaoil National High School Championship set next year.
Outside the Zamboanga siege, both coaches said the NBTC tournament is a big exposure for the players in their locality as well as nationwide.
“Malaking bagay ito dahil nationwide program ito ng Seaoil at ni coach Eric (Altamirano). Maraming produkto na rin dito, magandang programa ito para ma-scout ’yung mga bata at magkaroon ng magandang kinabukasan,” said Morones.
Victorio said: “Dapat paghandaan ito dahil malakas ang opposition dito. Under-18 ito, usually mga players namin, 16 years old lang. Kahit papaano, dapat paghandaan dahil 18 ’yung mga kalaban namin.”