HAS Pampanga surpassed Cebu as the new hotbed of Philippine basketball?
That question popped into mind as the rise to prominence of Pampangueno dribblers hit new heights with the victory of Arwind Santos and Calvin Abueva in the recent PBA Annual Leo Awards.
Santos and Abueva bagged the two most important honors during the annual awards rites, having been named Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, respectively, of the league’s 38th season.
Abueva grew up in Balibago in Angeles City, while Santos hails from Lubao.
Jayson Castro, who also comes from the country’s culinary capital, also figured prominently in the race for the MVP derby, finishing third behind Santos and Barangay Ginebra's LA Tenorio.
To cap a proud night for Pampanga, Santos, Abueva, and Castro also made the Mythical First team - three of the league's best players hailing from the same province that has now produced a second league MVP after Ato Agustin, now coach of Ginebra.
Other players who came from Pampanga or trade their roots to the province include Gilas Pilipinas mainstays Gary David and Japeth Aguilar, Solomon Mercado, Mark Macapagal, Ronnie Matias, Marc Agustin, Jojo Duncil, Yousif Al-Jamal, JC Intal, and Jimbo Aquino.
Aside from Agustin, there's one other Kapampangan in the league's roster of coaches in the multi-titled Yeng Guiao.
The growing pool of talent being produced by the Central Luzon province has in fact convinced legendary Cebuano player Julian Macoy that Pampanga, and not Cebu, is the new bailwick of basketball in the country.
To the uninitiated, Macoy is the popular Cebu cager best known for pouring in 126 points in 28 minutes for University of San Carlos in a Cebu City Athletic Association game against Cebu School of Arts and Trade in 1959.
“Wala na. Pampanga na ang pinanggagalingan ng mahuhusay na player ngayon,” Macoy told Spin.ph. “Yung Pampanga kasi dati andyan `yung Clark Airbase noong araw. Kaya madaming matatangkad dun.”
“Noong araw itong Cebu ang parang hub ng teams sa Maynila, dito kumukuha ng players,” he added.
Of course, no one is happier with the success of Santos and Abueva than Pampanga vice-governor Dennis Pineda, the man credited for discovering the new MVP and top rookie awardees.
Other than Abueva and Santos, Pineda has a couple of potential marquee players waiting in the wings including Ian Sangalang, projected to be a top three pick in the coming PBA rookie draft, Gilas cadet mainstay Ronald Pascual, and collegiate players Dexter Maiquez and Michael Miranda.
But wait, there’s more.
Pineda bared to Spin.ph this is just the tip of the iceberg as he has several upcoming basketball players in his stable who could make their mark in the big leagues in the future.
“Marami pa tayong tine-train ngayon na mga bata at malalaking players,” Pineda said a few hours after his two discoveries ran away with the two biggest individual honors during the Leo Awards.
The soft-spoken cage backer revealed he has around six Under-16 players who are 6-foot-5 or taller, apart from a handful of quality below 6-foot-4 players that play the point.
“Sinasabak na namin sa iba’t ibang liga rito sa Pampanga at sa ibang probinsya. 'Yun naman ang best way para bigyan sila ng exposure, sisimulan mong patibayin,” said the son of Pampanga governor Lilia Pineda.
“Ganito rin namin na-train sila Arwind at Calvin noong araw,” he said with a smile.
Pampanga provincial sports director Allan Trinidad claimed provincial officials continue to scour far-flung areas in a bid to discover more players.
“Sinusuyod talaga namin. Saka gusto talaga ni boss (Pineda) i-expose nang husto ang mga Kapampangan sa iba’t ibang sports, hindi lang sa basketball,” said Trinidad, who is also supervising volleyball programs handled by top Manila coaches.