By Jonas Panerio
WHEN Philip Manalang canned the buzzer-beating, three-pointer that gave Basilan-Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot the “2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Invitational powered by TM title” in the wee hours of Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, he turned his back, tears in his eyes in front of the jampacked SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The emotions that came was more than the P2,000,000 pot that he helped give Basilan. It was the culmination of a year-long journey of redemption for the point guard out of University of the East.
“Maybe it’s destiny, God’s will for our team,” said the 24-year-old guard out of San Fernando, Pampanga.
Back in March 2020, Basilan was supposed to take on Davao Occidental-Cocolife in a do-or-die Game 3 Southern Finals tilt in the MPBL’s Lakan season. But it was postponed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A year later, the league was able to clear clearance to resume the playoffs inside a bubble in Subic. Basilan though was not able to play out the game as two of their players and some of their staff members tested positive for Covid-19. And one of those players was Manalang.
For the next few months, Basilan went on a redemption tour in various leagues in the country. They went on to win the inaugural Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup title last August in Pagadian. Two months later, the same team, now carrying the name Manila AICC, ruled the Filbasket tournament in Subic.
Despite winning two tournaments, Basilan head coach Jerson Cabiltes wanted one thing—the MPBL crown.
“When Basilan was asked to join the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Invitational, it was not about redemption anymore, not about us redeeming ourselves after not being able to play the last championship game,” he said. “If this would be one of our reasons to play, then this would be unfair to the new additions to our team.
“The truth is I just wanted to create an opportunity for my team to play the sport that we love and to have work this holiday season,” he continued.
Basilan showed character all throughout the tournament, winning close games en route to a 6-0 record heading into the final. But they had to hurdle the fancied Nueva Ecija team that had the likes of Roi Sumang, tournament MVP Michael Mabulac, and top prospect Justin Gutang.
For 40 minutes, the two teams battled with no team leading by more than five points. By the end of four quarters, the two teams were deadlocked at 74-all.
For his part, Manalang was cold from the field, going 0-of-8. Still, he never lost his confidence as he waited for his moment.
“I continued to have confidence in myself and in my daily training. Even when I struggled during the first half, I continued to play with confidence.”
With both teams tied at 80-all with 1.9 seconds left, Manalang found himself wide open on top of the three-point arc. He then threw up an in-rhythm triple that found the bottom of the net.
It was the perfect Christmas ending for Manalang after a rollercoaster year.