Christmas, Homecoming, Panalay…
BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - December 22, 2019 - 12:00am

Christmas is a time for homecomings for all, and this includes sports. Having been involved in youth sports for quite some time, we have come to realize that the Christmas break has become an occasion for an informal homecoming of sorts of athletes who once played in the local sports scene. It’s a mix of relief, joy and pride that you bump into athletes who started their sports lives in Cebu, have moved on to different places but have made Cebu proud of their feats. One also gets to realize that Cebu is loaded with not only national-caliber athletes, but international achievers as well.

It literally starts at the top with the tallest. June Mar Fajardo, whose San Miguel team has been ousted from the ongoing PBA conference, is back home in Pinamungajan but has found time to be with former colleagues and coaches. Knowing the Kraken, he prefers staying home with his family. While I’m sure he would’ve preferred playing the PBA Finals and score a grand slam, he’s just as fine coming home early for Christmas. Other PBA players who have come home include Blackwater teammates Paul Desiderio and Brian Heruela, and NLEX’s JR Quiñahan and Kris Porter. Desiderio and Heruela have been featured on social media undergoing skills training under a private/independent skills coach. Quiñahan is also seeing action for Fighter Wine along with Dondon Hontiveros in the ongoing Mayor Edgar Labella Christmas Basketball League. The championship game will be played tonight at the Cebu City Sports Institute. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also play in pick-up games around the metro. Meanwhile, Porter said he is now injury-free and will rejoin regular practice in January.

Coming home for some Manila-based players has also been an opportunity to play in competitive games on top of holiday work-outs and pick-up games. At the Mayor Edgar Labella Christmas Basketball League, among the familiar names seeing action include Quiñahan, Royce Alforque (FEU), Will McAloney (Cebu Casino), JB Bahio (San Beda), John Galinato (NU), Patrick Yu (NU), and Jaybie Mantilla (Cebu Casino). They get to play alongside the former cage stars of way back led by Hontiveros and company. I was surprised to see that players like Jett Latonio, Danny Aying, Val Jueves and Ritchum Dennison were also playing. Also playing in the tournament are some of Cebu’s top college players today like Jancork Cabahug, Ted Saga, Gabriel Cometa, Melvin Butohan, Geleant Delator and a few others. High school player Ice Blanco-Hontiveros is playing in a rare father-and-son tandem with Dondon. Reports have it that the games have attracted good-sized crowds from the Pasil, Sawang Calero, Suba, Duljo-Fatima and Ermita areas as admission is open to the public for free. The irony of it all is that there are other players who could be seeing action here but are elsewhere due to a previous commitment.

Over in Tagoloan for a big tournament are other “panalay” veterans like Jojo Tangkay, John Abad, Ferdinand Lusdoc, Hafer Mondragon, Kevin Villafranca, Tricky Peromingan and Carlos Sayon. The tournament also features Manila-based players like PBA pros Mark Barocca, Jio Jalalon and Vic Manuel. Others include Mark Yee, Joshua Yerro, Dan Sara, Kent Salado, JR Cawaling, Cris Lalata, Gilbert Omolon, Roider Cabrera and ex-pro Egay Billones. The SWU-PHINMA team is also playing in the same tournament managed by Van Halen Parmis, a.k.a “Panalay Don King.” Even Coach Marvin Chelito Caro has come home from Manila to coach a team in Tagoloan.

What I’m more excited about with these tournaments is the hope that we can bring back the good old days of open category basketball, something that has been missing since the days of the Cebu Basketball Federation, MVBA and Liga Pilipinas. I’d rather not call it a commercial league for now. That might jinx the dream. But with the turnout of teams and their managers/sponsors, putting up a league shouldn’t be a problem. And with the number of players available in the market, forming teams will be easy. There are a lot of college level players, ex-college players and ex-pros who can form teams on short notice. The presence of the Cebu and Tagoloan tournaments taking place simultaneously is a testament to this.

Isn’t it amazing what a homecoming can do for basketball? But over and above all this, I’m sure all these players haven’t forgotten the most important reason why we’re all coming home. Getting to play basketball for them is just an added bonus to their Christmas vacation. The presence of family and to be home to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ will still be the main reason for all. Basketball players aren’t robots, have families and believe in the spirit of Christmas.

We at Bleacher Talk wish all a blessed Christmas and we pray that you get to touch base with our Lord and bring Him into your lives.

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