BEST OF 5 PART 1: And still, 2017 was the year of San Beda
10 times in the last 12 years, San Beda has stood alone at the mountaintop of the NCAA
Read Part 2 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the San Beda Red Lions here.
Read Part 3 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the San Beda Red Lions here.
Read Part 4 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the San Beda Red Lions here.
Read Part 5 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the San Beda Red Lions here.
San Beda College has reigned supreme in the NCAA for the past dozen years.
Save for 2009 and 2015, they have claimed the championship – and in those two seasons, they wound up as runners-up.
That more than a decade-long dominance is a rarity in Philippine sports, and in all of the world even.
And yet, when the Red Lions won their latest title last November, Robert Bolick had a pretty simple wish: beer and the beach. “For now, I hope that we get rest. I want to go to the beach. I want to drink beer,” he told reporters following their Finals sweep of Lyceum of the Philippines University.
The pretty simple wish did come true for all of the pride of Mendiola and it was nothing but well-deserved as, for the entire year, all of them never stopped working towards their goal. “Since January, nag-(PBA) D-League kami tapos hanggang ngayon. Napagod na talaga kami,” Bolick, who was all smiles in his return to hometown Ormoc, Leyte this December, said.
San Beda continued reigning supreme in the NCAA, but the year also saw them extending their dominion in other leagues.
They began 2017 by seeing action in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup where Bolick and Javee Mocon played big roles in Cignal’s championship run.
With those two teaming up with the likes of Jason Perkins and Pamboy Raymundo, the upstart Hawkeyes bested longtime league fixtures in Tanduay in the semifinals and then Racal in the Finals.
Holding his own up against veterans and collegiate rivals alike, Bolick was even hailed as the MVP of the tournament.
The winning only continued for the Red Lions come the collegiate preseason as they had a clean sweep of the 2017 Filoil Flying V Preseason Tournament – a feat that had only been accomplished by National University in 2012 and De La Salle University in 2016.
The Mendiola-based squad’s undefeated run was the most impressive yet, however, as they edged out the Green Archers in a fantastic Finals matchup.
Still, that strong buildup guaranteed nothing when the NCAA wars finally commenced.
In fact, history has shown that a Filoil champion has never become the NCAA champion in the same year.
Head coach Boyet Fernandez was well aware of the fact. “Sa totoo lang, kinabahan ako nung nag-champion kami sa Filoil kasi kapag nag-champion ka ng Filoil, you cannot win a championship in the NCAA season,” he said.
HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER
Indeed, that seemed to be the case once the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament got rolling as the Pirates took the league, including the defending champions, by storm.
LPU rampaged through the elimination round and became the very first team to start the season 18-0.
Two of their wins were statement wins at the expense of San Beda – a close 96-91 affair in Round 1 and then a classic 107-105 overtime contest in Round 2.
And so, the Pirates were on the brink of history and needed just two more wins for the championship.
On the other hand, the Red Lions were forced to go the longer, tougher route as with a rule change, they no longer had a twice-to-beat advantage in the stepladder playoffs despite ending the eliminations at 16-2.
Without a doubt, it looked like a new king was destined to be crowned. “We know in the course of our season, people doubted us,” Fernandez said.
HEART OF A CHAMPION
“But this team never doubted. They never doubted each other,” the Mendiola mentor shared. “We were swept by LPU, but again, at the end of the season, the important one is the championship.”
Proving once more that there is such thing as championship experience, champion’s heart, and champion’s poise, San Beda got the better of the Pirates in the final frame of both Game 1 and Game 2.
Spearheading the charge was Bolick who brought out all the big guns when it mattered most.
The 21-year-old dropped seven points in the last two minutes in Game 1 and then scored seven points in the last five minutes in Game 2.
And perhaps there was no shot that defined all the Red Lions had to overcome than this cold-blooded triple from “Big Shot Bolick.”
In the end, San Beda swept in the Finals the sweepers of the elimination round. “This is for all my boys. They all deserve this one because they worked hard and sacrificed for around 11 months,” he said.
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT
For the first time in a long while, the NCAA’s dynastic team found itself as the underdog.
And yet, the dog had its day – and the dog still had the year.
Nonetheless, the Red Lions made it clear that nobody should take away anything at all from the Pirates. As he put it, “Ang galing talaga ng Lyceum. Feeling ko, sa buong career ko sa basketball, sila yung pinakamagaling na team na nakalaban ko.”
He then continued, “They’re a really good team. Talagang mauubos mo lahat. They bring out the best in us.”
Good thing then that this San Beda will only get to see more of this LPU.
After all, a dynasty can only be defined by the rivals it has taken down.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.