THE Palawan Basketball Association (PaBA) proved to be a resounding success as teams representing 11 municipalities and cities saw action in a tournament with a PBA-style system and a home-and-away format patterned after the NBA.
Puerto Princesa South emerged the champion in the senior’s side after winning its do-or-die encounter against top seed Bataraza Pines, 84-73, behind the heroics of Russell Mendoza, Jeff Rordriguez, Jomar Morales, and Jade Rodriguez before a hostile crowd at the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation Townsite gym.
Bataraza rallied from a 47-57 deficit at the start of the payoff period to tie the game at 60-all behind its hustle plays and full-court pressure.
But Puerto Princesa Central stepped on the gas in the final four minutes to take the fight out of its elimination-round tormentor.
See video of the finals recap:
Puerto Princesa South forced the winner-take-all affair after beating Bataraza, 95-78.
“Ginawa talaga namin ang lahat. Kasi future ng mga kababayan naming kabataan ang nakataya rito,” said Gie Lao, playing coach of Puerto Princesa South.
“Sabi ko sa mga players ko, huwag ninyong pansinin ang crowd. Focus lang tayo sa game,” he added while taking pride in his team becoming PaBA’s inaugural seniors cup champion.
Bataraza’s mentor, John Mari Gaafar, expressed shock following the loss as the team enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage going to the finals.
“Sayang, twice-to-beat kami, nakahulagpos pa sa amin ang championship. Nagpapasalamat kami sa mga sumuporta sa amin, kaso hanggang dun lang talaga ang kaya namin,’ said Gaafar, whose town enjoyed majority of the benefits given by the mining activities of Rio Tuba and Coral Bay Nickel Corporations.
“Gusto pa rin sana namin na mapanalunan 'yung finals, kasi hindi lang talaga trophy ang at stake sa liga, eskwelahan at cash prize pa,” he added.
Meanwhile in juniors’ play, Puerto Princesa Central never needed its twice-to-beat edge after beating Narra Tigers, 79-64, to emerge inaugural champion in the under-23 division.
The win was worth P100,000 for the Big City dribblers aside from a P1 million grant for a two-classroom building, which is to be built by event organizer Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation.
The agricultural municipality of Narra, meanwhile, will receive one-classroom building worth P500,000 and P80,000 cash as first runner-up prize.
A brainchild of former Coca-Cola Tigers PBA board representative JB Baylon, PaBA is the biggest cage league in the province after giving away close to P5 million in prizes.
After the inaugural tournament, Baylon bared the PaBA program will continue as Rio Tuba and Coral Bay corporations will conduct province-wide clinics to be supervised by former PBA superstars around Palawan.
“Tuloy-tuloy ang liga namin. We don’t just end with the league, may basketball clinics din tayo. Regalo ito ng Rio Tuba at Coral Bay sa mga kababayan natin dito sa Palawan,” said Baylon, vice-president for corporate affairs of NickelAsia.
“We just want to give back to the community and to the people of Palawan and at the same time, prove to the whole country that we are here for responsible mining,” he said while taking pride in how NickelAsia rehabilitates all its mined out areas in Palawan.
“All of our mining activities were done in logged out areas. Mga nakalbong lugar dati 'yung pinag-miminahan namin. And now we’re proud to say, majority of it has vegetation already,” he added.
Baylon also promised to come up with a bigger PaBA next year.
“What my boss, Manny B. Zamora, wants is for us to bring a bigger second season of PaBA. Kung ngayon, yung finalists lang ang may cash prize at eskwelahan, next year pati mga conference champions na,” said Baylon, while readying prizes for the four conferences based on geographical locations of the teams.
Baylon also hopes other provinces in the country will also adopt the format of the league, which was supervised by former national coach Joe Lipa.
“Okay lang sa amin na kunin ng ibang companies and provinces `yung aming format dito sa liga. The important thing is mas may malawak tayong grassroots basketball development program,” he said.
“Kita mo naman, all of our games, puno ang venues. People kasi don’t just cheer for their respective municipalities, they also cheer for the chance at winning a school building,” said the former PBA vice chairman.