Don’t let the title fool you: this post has nothing to do with nights. FYI the heading need not always reflect the article’s content. For instance, there is little or no catchers in Salinger’s novel. I am not here though to give a stance on that observation. Rather, I am here to share how I usually spent my Saturday afternoons when I was a teen. My junior year of high school, I discovered this thing called UAAP. This was no coincidence, as in years prior I did not have the chance to do so. Let’s just say that I am thankful for NSTP and some serious class work, which then ensured that I could follow the action. For more information about the former, check out my older post.
Of course, I’ve heard about the UAAP, the premiere collegiate competition in the country. Students battled it out in various sports, doing it all so that their uni would emerge as the overall champion in the comp. Almost all of these sports were not televised on TV, everything except the all-important men’s basketball. Athletes have up to five years of college eligibility, and the games were always intense. After all, these were the finest schools in the country and there were no holds barred. They had the best jerseys, the optimal players, the coolest commentators, and they battled it out in the Big Dome.
During my time, there were eight teams in the field. The season had two stages: the elimination round and the Final Four. In the former, teams followed a dual round robin format where they matched up against the rest of the league twice. The teams with the four best records advance to the playoff level. The top two squads obtain a twice to beat edge in the next round and the two Final Four victors play each other in a best of three championship. Thus, the UAAP was a short season, with each quintet playing a minimum of fourteen weekends. This mostly overlapped with the first semester of the school year. Perhaps I feel nostalgic because of the advent of September, where the business end of the games would unfold.
The Blue Eagles were my favourite team during these tilts. Run by the Jesuits in a sprawling campus on Loyala Heights, Ateneo is an Ivy League school. Their prestigious location and long history mean that only the best recruits could join their varsity. They are among the perennial frontrunners in the comp. I am not only a fan of their colours, but I like their style of play. During my time, LA Tenorio was their best player. Dude was able to nab a triple double in the classification phase. Of course, the point guard was able to parlay his college success into a long, decorated career in the PBA.
Any convo of the UAAP wars would not be complete without mentioning the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. Said fireworks is the most storied and enduring tussle in the history of local college hoops. I remember during those days that the air changed whenever their next game rolled around. Ateneo were always slow starters and La Salle – led by the electric Joseph Yeo – would get off to flying starts. It was like the Celtics-Lakers, which had a little of everything: terrific offense, stingy defence, dagger three’s, hard fouls, one-on-one exploits, teamwork, ball hogs, ball hawks, no-look passes, ball fakes, and Cold Wars that could escalate quickly. They usually went down to the wire, sometimes even to the last few possessions.
Game One of the 2006 Men’s Finals was one of the most memorable matches I witnessed. Down one with one tick left, Ateneo coach Norman Black called timeout and drew up a play on his board. Point guard Macky Escalona fired a touchdown pass from half-court, faking once before hitting Doug Kramer perfectly underneath the basket. The giant then turned and sunk the layup. Easy. The play was reminiscent of Grant Hill’s full-court pass to Christian Laettner. This was also a good comparison since it kept their title hopes alive, although the US NCAA is single elimination. Sadly though, my Eagles would lose the next two tilts – and the series. I remember that finale for being a stormy encounter, with the typhoon Milenyo and flooding forcing the postponement of Game 2.
The UST quintet, under the direction of new coach Pido Jarencio, shocked the Eagles with their hard-nosed play, versatility, and poise. They did not have stars, but their teamwork was their strength. Some would also say that they have the best team colours, and it is hard not to agree. Meanwhile, a UP cager named Axel stole the scene for being one of the best rebounders despite his height (5-11). He just had an uncanny nose for the ball, his height be damned. The Tamaraws of FEU were a powerhouse team in those days, bolstered by the talents of Arwind Santos and Dennis Miranda. I recall how they almost won the chip against the Archers, but Arwind rushed his tip just as Denok’s shot was on the verge of dropping through. I remember my classmate saying ‘Mataas kaya yung point guard ng FEU.’ I told him he’s not that tall, only 5-8. I would later learn that I was feeding my friend bad information as Miranda was a legit 5-11, and NOT 5-8. Yes, he was indeed tall for a one. Speaking of facilitators, there was a time where Adamson’s slight point guard went down the court and made a post-up move not once but TWICE. This play intrigued the announcers to say the least. How about the time when a certain centre named Howie became a hot potato at the free throw line? Or those Maroons, who, in spite of a dismal start, almost made the Finals? There’s a lot more to the games than jump shots.
All this is old info, more like a time capsule or even an anachronism. The guys I’ve mentioned have long moved on to greener pastures. But once upon a time, they were my heroes. They were the hot topics in our section, and those precious years where I tuned in were a portrait into my youth.