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Thursday, May 30, 2024

For Zambo and country

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Zamboanga City was a familiar fixture in my previous life. Aside from being the first ones from Manila to arrive and cover the unforgettable Zamboanga siege in 2013, the city has been my team’s unofficial “forward operating base” whenever I was deployed to cover conflicts and other worthy coverages in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the nearby island of Basilan. Aside from Maguindanao, it was in Zamboanga, where I spent the most days while being a member of the Defense Press Corps for more than a decade.

But this column will not be about my stay or about my favorite “barter” in Zamboanga City where it was a given to make a stop for malong, Apollo wafers, “Indomie” noodles and other pasalubong after being embedded with different MBLTs of the Philippines Marines assigned to different towns in Sulu or Basilan for several days and sometimes, weeks.

It is still about Zamboanga City, but on a happier note. Recently, I had the chance to see, for the first time, “live” the Zamboanga Valientes as they had an open practice with some members of the press. The team is set to represent the country in The Asian Tournament, the new basketball league that has replaced the old ASEAN Basketball League or ABL. Owned by Junie Navarro, the team has several prominent names on its lineup like former PBA players Mike Tolomia, ex-Meralco Bolts Franky Johnson and Rudy Lingganay. Collegiate standouts Peter Alfaro, the team captain of the reigning NCAA champions San Beda Red Lions, UP Fighting Maroons star Malick Diouf and FEU’s Mouhamed Faty are also in the squad.

In a short huddle with Navarro, he said the Valientes have modest goals in the tournament, foremost of which is to reach the semifinals of the league or finish among the top four teams.

Navarro added that the team is still pursuing former NBA star and slam dunk king Dwight Howard to join the Valientes.

“This is still under negotiations, but we are hoping to sign him but siguro nasa 70% na (in getting him). Ok naman daw si Dwight, hopefully around the last week of June, we will make an announcement,” he said.

Navarro expects his team to make a deep run in the tournament. He is confident that despite the limited time with his new acquisitions, the Valientes will make a strong case to figure prominently in the newest continental basketball tournament. Aside from getting several collegiate standouts, former PBA players along with foreign reinforcements, Navarro said that most of his players trace their roots in Zamboanga City. “Mas Zamboanga talaga ang team,” he said.

This alone gives the squad extra motivation to do well not only because they will represent the country but their city as well.

“We have been dominating several sports for quite some time now like weightlifting with Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo and in boxing like Eumir Marcial. We want to prove na sa basketball, kaya rin nating makipagsabayan,” Navarro added.

For Alfaro and Johnson, competing for the Valientes gives them the chance and opportunity to pursue future plans and chase further their dreams of extending their careers.

Also in the Valientes squad are Job Alcantara, Med Salim, Jerome Ferrer, Joewish Garcia, AJ Benson, Das Esa, Nick Evans and Denver Cadiz. Head coach is Bobidick Delos Santos with Jade Padrigao and Oscar Rebollos as his deputies.

The Zamboanga Valientes will open their bid against the Ningbo Bulls of China today.

Speaking of reconnecting, I had the opportunity to hear from good friend and former Defense beat colleague Alcuin Papa the other day. The former editor of ABS-CBN news online and reporter of Philippine Daily Inquirer, Alcuin now teaches Journalism at the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta. He is now tasked to help manage the media relations concerns of UPHSD especially with its varsity teams competing in the NCAA.

Alcuin said the university is quite on a high despite losing the title in the juniors’ tournament of the NCAA to the traditional powerhouse Letran Squires in the game 3 of the best of three finals.

“It was kind of disappointing because we really thought that our never-say-die spirit will carry us through Game 3 after we were able to extend the series to a rubber match. But hats off to Letran because they played a well executed game plan. I guess, at the end of the day, their experience was a big advantage over a finals’ newcomer like us,” he said.

Despite the defeat, Alcuin said the team learned a lot from its unprecedented run to the finals and will make sure to get back at the finals next season. For now, Perpetual has set its sights on its women’s volleyball team to make a good run in the NCAA. He is also hoping that with the arrival of Olsen Racela and the support of PBA icon Scottie Thompson, the Altas will soon become a powerhouse in NCAA basketball in the coming seasons.

On a personal note, congratulations to my nephew, Jacob Marcus Puno Navarro for helping his team, the Ateneo de Manila Grade School’s Midget D Born-2013 Football Varsity Team win the Rizal Football Association title recently.

Jacob and his squad routed Claret School, 7-2 in the finals to win the championship and the bragging rights. Jacob scored a hat trick and assisted on two more goals, a corner pass to best bud Miguel Tagarda and winger Ryujin Famorcan, in the finals enroute to winning the Most Valuable Player plum. Good goalkeeping from Niall Enciso also helped the Katipunan boys get the win.

Credit should also go to Coach JP Merida who has done a superb job with the boys. Jacob, Miguel, Ryujin, Daniel Guerrero Jr., Ryan Moti and Red Alminar will see action in the Palarong Pambansa that will start tomorrow. The Ateneo grade school booters will be part of the Quezon City squad that will compete in the national games.

Next stop for Jacob is to clinch a spot in the national Under-11 team. He is a future Azkal and a homegrown player to boot. As the saying goes “malayo pa, pero malayo na” indeed. Good job and keep it up, Jacob!

Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!

For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat


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