LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – With 13 of the 14 teams coming from the 13 municipalities of the province present for the orientation and verification of players last Saturday, all is set for the first Cong. Eric Go Yap Basketball Cup next month.
Teams from Bokod, Itogon and La Trinidad I are among the early favorites after representatives presented their respective line up to the organizing committee at the Benguet State University.
Bokod on paper is the strongest with six former college varsity teams in its line-up, three of them former champions.
Brothers June Rey and John Ric Buenaventura will be two of the players to watch for Bokod with the former helping UC win the 2016 crown and was named the most valuable player that season. The big man is backed by a reliable point guard in his younger brother John Ric, who has one up on his literal bigger brother, when he helped the Jaguars win its second straight title in 2017.
Rey Gabino hopes to bring back the glory days of the Cordillera Career Development College as he suits up for the team from the home of the Ambuklao Dam.
Gabino was instrumental in the back to back wins of the La Trinidad school in 2007 and 2008 where he joined the likes of sweet shooting Harold Sabado and the high leaping Aaron Aquino.
The Admirals defeated perennial powerhouse University of Baguio Cardinals in the 2007 season of the Baguio Benguet Educational Athletic League, under former Cardinal and Philippine Basketball Association veteran Tony dela Cerna, and the Saint Louis University Navigators in 2008. Former Baguio Colleges Foundation (now UC) player Gerry Estranero called the shots for CCDC in the latter year.
Add Ramil Alimba in the mix and Bokod is a powerhouse, with the former SLU big man help man the paint. Alimba was part of the 2008 SLU squad which went down the wire against Gabino and the Admirals only to lose it on a game three at the UC gym despite being the top seed after the eliminations.
CCDC was pumped up after a semifinal come from behind victory over second seed UC when Aquino came out from nowhere for a two handed dunk that broke the Jaguars spirit.
Alimba and the Navigators avenged their BBEAL defeat to CCDC when they won the 2009 Philippine College Conference League by beating the La Trinidad based team.
Two former CCDC players, who played opposite the Buenaventura brothers are also in the line-up, Darwin Fernandez and Nestor Cuillan, who helped CCDC take first runner up in 2015.
Cuillan will, however, miss much of the early parts of the tournament with four of his right hand’s fingers still stitched due to an accident during typhoon Egay’s rampage when the now policeman helped in the town’s rescue missions. Cuillan suffered a deep cut when he removed a bamboo. The prompt response of doctors helped save the digits which may need an additional six to eight weeks to heal.
“It is one of the teams we will be watching,” said La Trinidad team B co-coach Dennis Billanes when they submitted the capital towns two teams where players were also measured for their uniform provided by the congressman.
“Bokod has a pretty strong line-up,” said the Trinidad mayor’s office staffer while not discounting Itogon, which has former UC big man Chad Villanueva, who is now a cop in said town.
Trinidad’s first team boasts will lean on present CCDC coach Manual Felix, Jr., who played alongside Cuillan in the latter part of 2010s. The big man, who is a dependable ball carrier, will be joined by former Baguio College of Technology big man Armando Pollante and former SLU player Clyde Earle Habon.
Add current CCDC players Neil Ralph Ulep and Will Kean Lee in the team once mentored by the Valley head coach Kurt Panagan, who will be playing, and the squad is surely one of the team’s to watch in the semi-home and away formatted three month competition.
Billanes said that he sees the team make it to the semifinals or even the finals.
Billanes said that Trinidad’s team B will have eight 25 under player from BSU, CCDC and SLU and five players 40 years and older.
“It is a mix of young and old players,” said the former Baguio Centennial Commission staff.
Tuba will also field a young squad mostly members of the UB Red Robins under Estranero and former CCDC coach Jun Rimando.
“We have a very young squad of high school players as we try to build their confidence,” said Rimando, who returned as Admirals head coach in 2017 but left when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Games are expected to be played in all towns except for Bakun which will need neighbor Kibungan host games when it is time for it to do so.
The Congressional Cup is expected to start early September with the single round robin eliminations expected to be finished by the end of October. The finals is projected to be finished by the third week of November with the awards during the celebration of the Adivay or Benguet Day in the last week of the month.
Winners will expect cash prizes while a Beguet selection team will be named also.
Another meeting will be staged anytime soon to finalize the line-ups of each team. Pigeon Lobien