UAAP titlist National University and defending NCAA champion San Beda lead the cast of high school teams competing in the 31st Seaoil Metro Manila Basketball League (MMBL) which unfurls on Saturday.
Forty-eight high schools are entered in the event across four boys divisions and one girls tournament that will run until January.
The most prestigious in the tournament is the Division One, where the top teams in the UAAP, NCAA, Tiong Lian, and other leagues in the Metro Manila are entered.
NU joins the competition after winning the UAAP Season 76 crown via sweep, while San Beda is still a strong contender for the NCAA 89 crown after going undefeated in the regular season.
The Bullpups and the Red Cubs are entered in Division One-B along with Chiang Kai Shek, De La Salle-Zobel, Emilio Aguinaldo College, University of the Philippines Integrated School, and Xavier School.
Reigning Tiong Lian champion Hope Christian School is in Division One-A along with Adamson, Ateneo, Far Eastern University-Diliman, Mapua, Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU), and University of Perpetual Help System-Dalta.
Division One games actually begin on Sunday with NU facing Xavier, Adamson playing Hope Christian School, De La Salle-Zobel facing Chiang Kai Shek, and FEU-Diliman battling OLFU at the San Beda Gym.
Division Two to Four and girls matches, however, will already start on Saturday.
League founder Ato Badolato, however, said the staying power of the MMBL comes from the lower divisions where other squads have the opportunity to compete within their level.
“We started the league with eight teams, then went five, then six. Dati kapag tinatanong if (a school) want to join and they will see that the top teams are entered, they back out. So we thought of putting up another division,” Badolato said in a luncheon on Wednesday.
“Initially, we had one but it mushroomed to four. Basically, this is the reason why this league has lasted because the competition is more or less at the same level,” Badolato said.
The MMBL is part of the Seaoil National Basketball Training Center where the top performing teams will join other squads from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao in the NBTC-organized National High School Championship next year.
Aside from tournaments in several cities, the NBTC of program director Eric Altamirano also holds clinics for players and even coaches.
“For us, we share the passion of recognizing the Filipinos’ appreciation in playing basketball and we saw that there is a gap to be able to support the younger generation, develop their skills and competency in the field of basketball,” said Seaoil president Francis Glenn Yu.