How San Beda turned a heartbreaking defeat to a momentous 5-peat
Gerry Plaza on Jun 24, 2016 04:04 PM
Baser Amer was at the center of San Beda's historic 5-peat.
His unfathomable pain is quite evident in his face.
Borgie Hermida, one who saw and led the 2006-2008 championship run that further made the San Beda Red Lions back in its fearsome state, was a broken man.
San Sebastian’s prized rookie Calvin Abueva was all over the court with his sheepish grin as he mocked the visibly distraught Red Lions shackled by his team’s swarming defense. Even if it was a full three minutes away from ending that burdensome payoff period in Game 2 of the Best of 3 title match, Borgie knew the writing was on the wall with a sad look at the scoreboard. The defending champions of three years were dethroned and the Stags made it even all-too merciless with a 76-61 win and a 2-game sweep of the Finals.
That heartbreak, however, did not bring Borgie and his gallant pride into a befallen stupor. With still his head up high in his way out of the Araneta Coliseum in that grisly October afternoon in 2009 for the Bedan lot, Borgie was already all too excited about seeing the Stags again next year and hopefully put this haughty newcomer in his place. “Babawi kami,” he vowed.
And this retribution came in one dynastic fashion over the next five years.
In the next season, Borgie and the rest of the Lions made a deafening roar that gripped the entire league. And with Borgie, who is in his last eligible season for San Beda, and a revitalized Red Lions squad with a vengeful Anjo Caram, Sudan Daniel, Garvo Lanete, Rome dela Rosa, Jake Pascual and Dave Marcelo, are surely out to take that title back, with the roster additions Fil-Australian twins David and Anthony Semerad strengthening that drive.
Unlike the last season, Coach Frankie Lim’s wards were too much for any team to cross its path, and were just too passionate to continue a title run it lost, racing to a 17-win streak in the eliminations earning a thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals. And, to make it one perfect season, the Lions ended up facing their 2009 Finals tormentors, now the Abueva-led Stags, for that opportunity of a lifetime: exact revenge.
And truly, the Lions devoured the Stags, 85-70, to reclaim the NCAA title in 2010, avenging the hurt Borgie and the rest of the Lions felt the previous year with a stern look at Abueva’s dejected face.
This became the start of another blistering championship run, which they wanted to stretch beyond the three-peat from 2008.
They worked hard on fulfilling it. And Coach Frankie had molded a deep, talented bench that worked as a solid, efficient unit in 2011.
But it had one big problem, playing the whole season without Daniel, whose ACL injury he sustained in the preseason forced him to bow out. But even with their 2010 MVP out of commission, the Lions were simply unstoppable with the remaining stalwarts Lanete, Dela Rosa, Manuel, the Semerads, and an impressive newcomer named Baser Amer in the forefront. And under their watch, San Beda topped the eliminations, then beat the JRU Heavy Bombers handily in the Final Four before facing a bruised Stags, who sneaked past the Letran Knights in their own semifinal game, anew in the Best-of-Three Finals.
Three players blossomed and pulled through for San Beda. The graduating Mar Villahermosa, rookie Baser Amer, and third-string center David Semerad all did breakthrough performances that caught the Stags off-guard. Villahermosa’s threes, Amer’s all-around play, and Semerad’s stonewall defense on Abueva took its toll on the gritty Stags, who were again swept in the Final series. The Red Lions now achieved a Back-to-Back feat!
Chaotic and controversial
Even if the picture was pompous and euphoric for the Bedans, the off-season turned out chaotic and potentially disastrous for the Red Lions’ second 3-peat in 7 years. The Semerad twins shocked the San Beda community by abruptly bolting the team and the school a few months after winning their back-to-back titles. It was learned that they had differences with Coach Frankie and his assistants and planned to transfer to the Ateneo Blue Eagles and joined the university’s training pool with the hope of earning slots in its UAAP roster to no avail.
And the most telling incident was the melee during an NCAA volleyball match in San Beda’s St. Placid Gym in December that same year between Coach Frankie and San Sebastian volleyball coach Roger Gorayeb over alleged racial slurs made by the Stags men’s volleyball players on incoming Nigerian rookie center Ola Adeogun. Both coaches were meted 2-year bans from the league, while 8 Red Lions were assessed one-game suspensions for participating in the brawl. This led to Coach Frankie’s resignation as coach, leaving a very huge void in the Lions team.
But despite all the off-season crises the Lions faced, the dust cleared in the few months before on-court hostilities began. San Beda named its former Red Cubs ace point guard Ronnie Magsanoc as head coach, while relying on its deep bench further reinforced by the entry of Adeogun to make up for the Semerads’ exit.
With its thrilling run-and-gun play, tenacious defense, and all around versatility of its players, San Beda again topped Season 88 going into the Finals series against a new challenger, the Colegio de San Luan de Letran Knights led by Mark Cruz, Kevin Alas, Raymond Almazan, and Kevin Racal. With the sweet shooting Caram, the prolific all-around player Amer, reliable scorer Pascual, tough enforcer Dela Rosa, and the imposing Adeogun in the paint, the Red Lions withstood a gallant stand by the Knights in the series before routing them in a low-scoring Game 3, 67-39 to clinch that coveted 3-peat and become the NCAA’s winningest champion team, with 17 titles.
Could they extend that roar to four? It seemed uncertain at first, given that starters Anjo Caram and Jake Pascual, and role player Melo Lim served their full eligibility. And, again marching to Season 89 without a coach, after Magsanoc decided to call it quits to focus on personal matters. But then again, San Beda with its full support from its corporate benefactors—most especially its heralded alumnus Manny V. Pangilinan—would immediately find a solution. And it found that key coaching replacement in former PBA player Boyet Fernandez, who is fresh off a spectacular tenure as coach of Pangilinan’s NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA D-League, where he guided the team to six championships in seven conferences.
Coach Boyet inherited a largely intact team from Coach Ronnie’s champion squad, plus the returning Semerad twins, who realized their mistake of leaving the school they hold dear and a team where they truly belong and indicated their wish to rejoin the Red Lions through an appeal they addressed to San Beda Rector-President Fr. Aloysius Maranan, who granted it.
As the Lions retained the winning talent that had won the 3-peat, Coach Boyet injected a more deliberate and systematic style that led to well-executed plays. Under its new coach, San Beda surged on top anew owing again to Amer’s versatility and Adeogun’s dominance in the paint. But, in the end, it had to face a largely improved Letran squad anew, also with a powerful intact lineup from its 2012 Finals appearance. Again their Best-of-Three meeting went the full distance of reaching a third deciding game. Indeed, the Knights seemed dead-set to deny the Lions a four-peat the second time with a commanding lead at the half.
But the Lions have had enough of this jinx and decided to take matters in their own hands by not giving up. Regaining their shooting touch, and shackling Letran scorers Cruz, Alas and Almazan, the Lions roared back in the third period and took advantage of the Knights foul trouble in the fourth period to have their way inside the lane, with gutsy conversions off fearless drives, dominating the boards, and forcing them to take bad shots from the perimeter.
In the end, the Lions repeated its Game 3 mastery of the Knights by staving off a late rally to eke out a close 60-56 victory, which finally gave the Mendiola-based dribblers their first-ever 4-peat.
And after this 2013 milestone, the Lions were now just one title away from tying the record of most consecutive NCAA championships—the 5-peat of San Sebastian Stags from 1993-1997 behind the Sensational Six of Rommel Adducul, Aramis Calpito, Jasper Ocampo, Ulysses Tanigue, Brixter Encarnacion and Rommel Daep.
Fernandez’s Lions were surely most prepared to achieve it, given the deep bench it continued to parade and still unmatched in the expanding league, with the likes of Amer, Adeogun, and the rise of Art dela Cruz. And, of course its court mastery and experience facing teams that have lost key players to the professional league.
Learning the hard way
But in Season 90, it had received a shocking wake-up call on its exposed Achilles heel—surviving a defensive full court trap, or staving off a well-orchestrated defense plainly based on raw aggression. This they learned the hard way, losing to a surprising revelation in the league, the defense-oriented Arellano University Chiefs coached by the PBA’s “Defense Minister” Jerry Codinera, who upset a confused, startled Lions in the first round.
Arellano’s incredible showing during the season led to its first Finals appearance since joining the league in 2009. But with their first-round loss to Chiefs serving as notice, the Lions would never allow a repeat of that shocker in their Best-of-Three series.
And, with the comebacking and improved Anthony Semerad delivering his best in his final year, drilling 30 points while limiting the vaunted Arellano backcourt Keith Agovida and John Pinto with his awesome defense, and Amer providing an exceptional 13 assists to execute the Lions’ dizzying plays, San Beda proved Arellano was still no match for their rampaging ways. And thus, the Red Lions made history, tying San Sebastian’s five-peat record 17 years back and salvaging that honor of maintaining one of the most illustrious dynasties in college basketball—eight championships in nine years, and 19th in total, the most by a seniors team in the league’s near century old existence. (Actually, San Beda also owns the record for the most titles by a juniors squad—the Red Cubs winning 22 NCAA championships, with 7 consecutive titles up to this day)
Another title run
While it did succumb in its attempt to rewrite history with a six-peat last year, bowing to the Aldin Ayo-coached Letran Knights albeit in a meltdown during the overtime period in their Game 3 duel, the Red Lions remain as fearsome as ever in again racing to another astounding championship run in the coming years.
We’re sure it will happen.
Why? From what we’ve witnessed, San Beda surely knows how to turn such a heartbreaking defeat into a stupendous and gripping 5-peat.