BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - August 1, 2015 - 10:00am

It’s that time of the year again when Cebu Basketball’s biggest spectacle kicks off. It’s the CESAFI 2015 season. Every time August rolls around, Cebu basketball fans are up and excited for Cebu’s most established tournament that traces its roots all the way back to the past 50 years (or more). It remains to be the only long-running basketball show in town, a testament to its rich history and tradition.

If one takes a closer look at the CESAFI, it’s officially “only” the 15th season of the league composed of twelve member schools. The irony is that there is so much more than 15 years as the CESAFI traces its roots all the way back to the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association in the 70s and 80s, the Cebu Collegiate Athletic Association before that and the Visayas Amateur Athletic Association even way beyond. These leagues didn’t only feature Cebu’s best players; they also produced players who made it all the way to the biggest stages of Philippine basketball. The CESAFI’s most popular product these days is back-to-back PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel who played for the University of Cebu during his college days. He was recognized by the CESAFI at yesterday’s opening ceremony. Also in the PBA are the likes of PBA rookie of the year Greg Slaughter (UV), the ageless and still reliable Dondon Hontiveros (UC), JR Quinahan (UV), and Brian Heruela (UC). But did you know that there are more products out of Cebu College Basketball who were also stars during their time? We can cite an endless list of stars that include Mon Fernandez (USC), Abet Guidaben (USJR), Arnie Tuadles (UV), Bernie Fabiosa, Jojo Lastimosa (USJR), Dondon Ampalayo (USJR), Al Solis (UV), Boy Cabahug (UV) and so many more. Looking further, with us these days is Julian Macoy of USC who once scored 126 points for USC in a game that didn’t have the three-point line; Robert Callelero who once played for the Philippine team, Ramon Manulat and Jake Rojas. How I wish I had enough space to write all the names of the biggest products out of the Cebu College Basketball scene.

And so we kick off another season of producing the future stars of Philippine basketball. Who will come out of the current crop of players and make it big one day? Leading the pack of college teams this year are USC and UV. Both are considered favorites to make it to the championship with Southwestern University crippled down to only nine players. USJR will crowd them for the final four along with UC, CIT-U and the comebacking USPF. While the top two slots are almost certain to be taken by USC and UV, the real battle will be for the third and fourth spots. We can thus expect games among the “non-favorites” to be close and competitive. The interesting development is to see how SWU will defend its title with its “lucky nine” players. Gone are JR Parker, Bernie Bregondo, Daryl Goloran, Rey Acuno and its import Mupungo Boko. This is a huge vacuum suddenly being felt by the Cobras, making USC and UV the sudden pre-tourney favorites. In the high school division, it looks like a three-way battle among defending champion Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, UV and USC, with CEC, UC, USJR and CIT-U serving as a possible spoilers. USPF is   making a comeback while the “comeback” of SWU will have to be put on hold for very interesting reasons.

CESAFI 2015 will also mark a milestone with the entry of VIVA Sports as the league’s TV partner. VIVA will cover one college game per playdate and air this over IBC-13 on a next day delayed basis nationwide. Last night’s game between UC and USJR will be aired tonight at 7:00 pm. The entry of TV is going to be the start of bigger things to come for CESAFI. The entire country will now get to see up close the league that produced Fajardo, Fernandez, Tuadles, Hontiveros et. al. In pre-prod chats and negotiations with VIVA’s big boss Vic del Rosario and veteran sportscaster/producer Ronnie Nathanielsz, the duo was adamant and confident that a TV coverage of the CESAFI will do wonders for the league, its players and the brand called Cebu Basketball. It’s a unique opportunity for all parties and they’re working to ensure that the coverage goes well and lasts “forever and a day,” Ronnie would say. True, the CESAFI has had its share of miscues, issues and booboos. But is this going to bring the league down? Surely not. In fact, it’s going to make the league stronger, bolder and better.

It’s game time for CESAFI 2015!

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Time-out: Happy 50th birthday to Romy Cal!

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