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    Yap, Pumaren reveal how 'King James' almost went to La Salle

    May 22, 2020

    LA Salle was already the UAAP's blue blood in the early 2000s, winning the Season 61 crown in 1999.

    But can you imagine that team, then bannered by the likes of Don Allado, Renren Ritualo, and Willy Wilson, adding another weapon in the form of James Yap?

    That almost happened, said the two-time PBA MVP.

    Yap shared that he almost went to Taft when he was about to start his collegiate career here in Manila, even practicing with the Green Archers under coach Franz Pumaren.

    "Nag-eensayo na ako sa La Salle nung high school pa lang ako. Second year high school pa lang ako nun at walang pasok yun," the Escalante, Negros Occidental native said in an interview with 2OT of Carlo Pamintuan and Magoo Marjon.

    "Every time na walang pasok yung La Salle tapos wala rin kaming pasok, pumupunta akong Manila noon para mag-practice sa La Salle."

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    Yap, who studied high school in Bacolod Tay Tung and later on, Hua Siong College of Iloilo (formerly Iloilo Central Commercial High School), was already one of the hottest high school prospects that time, drawing interest from other UAAP schools like University of the East, Far Eastern University, and Adamson.

    As much as he loved the La Salle campus, Yap experienced a change of heart as the academic year of 1999 neared.

    "Noong malapit na yung pasukan, nasa practice ako noon eh, na-culture shock ako. 'Iba yung tao dito', sabi ko. Syempre, galing akong probinsya noon, di ba? Sabi ko, 'Hala!' Tapos nag-usap yung tito ko pati yung management, hindi ko na inalam," he recounted.

    Had Yap stayed, the 6-foot-2 guard would have easily been a key part of a Green Archers batch led by Mike Cortez, Joseph Yeo, and Mac Cardona. He would have also been a part of La Salle's four-peat from 1998 to 2001.

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    Yap would have been a difference maker, too, for the Green Archers in 2002, when they wound up as bridesmaids to fierce rival Ateneo in Season 66.

    Pumaren confirmed Yap's story and said the school even helped the latter undergo a procedure on his nasal polyps.

    "I remember La Salle helping James to have a procedure on his nose. Parang nahihirapan kasi siyang huminga," said the coach, who is now with the Adamson Falcons.

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    There was no doubt in his mind that Yap would have made a big impact for the Green Archers back then.

    "Baka mas marami pang championships napanalunan namin," said Pumaren.

    Fate, however, had other plans, taking him to UE where he steered the Red Warriors to a pair of Final Four runs.

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    It was a decision that Yap does not regret as he also won the UAAP MVP award in 2003 and has already developed a kinship with the school's owner, the late Bong Tan.

    "Nung high school ako, naglaro ako ng juniors sa PBL para sa Absolute na owned by Lucio Tan at na-meet ko nga si boss Bong Tan doon," he said.

    "Timing rin kasi pagka-graduate ko ng high school, nabili ni boss Bong yung UE. So para hindi ako mahirapan mag-adjust, nag-decide ako na mag-UE na lang kasi kakilala ko na yung may-ari. So doon na kaya ako napunta ng UE."

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    The Green Archers eventually had the chance to play with Yap, albeit in the PBL as he was a part of the ICTSI-La Salle squads in 2001 and 2002 before he made the jump to the PBA where he became the second overall draft pick in 2004.
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