Philippine basketball: What happened in 2022 and what’s in store for 2023

Twenty twenty-two was a great year for sports as several events were given the green light to resume after a near two-year ban as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The return of competitive basketball was welcomed by Filipinos across this hoops-crazy nation as most major leagues, including the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP), and National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), raised their curtains in 2022. These leagues also opened their doors to a live audience. 

But the year also saw other developments in local basketball that drew mixed emotions, like the exodus of some professional and collegiate stars to other Asian leagues, and changes in the leadership of the Gilas Pilipinas National team program.

Here are some of the most momentous events in local basketball in 2022. 

Gilas Pilipinas

Coaching change and early debacle; Clarkson suits up

Early in 2022, many-time national coach Vincent “Chot” Reyes was named new program director and head coach of the Gilas Pilipinas program, replacing Tab Baldwin. Tim Cone, Jong Uichico, and Josh Reyes were the main deputies. They got off to a rocky start. In May, a team composed of PBA veterans and college stars finished second in the Southeast Asian Games. Then with very little preparation heading into the FIBA Asia Cup, the newly-formed Gilas squad of Reyes only managed to finish ninth place in the tournament after an 81-102 blowout loss to Japan. Then a month later, Gilas split its fourth window games in the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers – an 81-85 defeat to Lebanon, and an 84-46 rout of Saudi Arabia. NBA star Jordan Clarkson suited up for the Philippine team in both games. He wowed the Lebanese home crowd with 27 markers, seven assists, and six boards versus the home team. 

Jordan Clarkson suited up for Gilas Pilipinas in teh fourth window of the FIBA qualifiers. (FIBA)

20-man pool and fifth window of Asian qualifiers

Before the fifth window of the Asian qualifiers, Reyes announced his 20-man pool for the Gilas team that will prepare for the 2023 FIBA World Cup here. The players selected are June Mar Fajardo, Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar, RR Pogoy, Poy Erram, CJ Perez, Jamie Malonzo, Chris Newsome, Arvin Tolentino, William Navarro, and Calvin Oftana from the PBA, Kai Sotto from the National Basketball League (NBL) of Australia, Ray Parks Jr., Thirdy Ravena, Kiefer Ravena, and Dwight Ramos from the BLeague of Japan, and Carl Tamayo, Kevin Quiambao, Lebron Lopez, and Ange Kouame from the collegiate ranks. 

In the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, Gilas showed tremendous improvement after sweeping both games – 76-63 versus Saudi Arabia, and 74-66 versus Jordan. Kouame served as the naturalized reinforcement for this batch. Because of the twin wins, Gilas heads to the sixth and final window in February 2023 with a 5-3 win-loss card. Shortly after the fifth window, FIBA announced that the Philippines moved up one notch, from No. 39 to No. 40 in the latest FIBA World Rankings in men’s basketball. However, the country still ranks eighth in the Asia Pacific zone behind Australia, Iran, New Zealand, China, Jordan, Korea, and Japan.

Chot to focus on Gilas prep

The SBP announced later in the year that Reyes will temporarily leave his coaching chores at the PBA team TNT Tropang Giga to focus on Gilas’ preparations for the 2023 World Cup. Chot steered TNT to a runner-up finish in the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup behind San Miguel Beer, while being at the helm of Gilas’ games and training. But in the succeeding PBA conference, the Tropang Giga failed to enter the playoffs after a series of losses in the elimination phase. TNT Team Manager Jojo Lastimosa will be filling the shoes of Reyes for the Tropang Giga squad as it gears up for the coming PBA Governor’s Cup in early 2023. 

Brownlee nears naturalization status

Popular Barangay Ginebra import Justin Brownlee recently got the Philippine Senate’s nod in the third and final reading of his Philippine citizenship application. All 21 of the senators present in the reading okayed the bill granting the 34-year-old two-time PBA Best Import awardee Filipino citizenship that will allow him to suit up for Gilas as a naturalized player in FIBA competitions including the Basketball World Cup. Now fondly called Justin Noypi, the five-time PBA champion only needs the final signature of Philippine President Bongbong Marcos to complete the naturalization process, which the SBP hopes to attain before the Sixth and final window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers in February 2023. When he obtains the citizenship, Brownlee is likely to suit up in the sixth FIBA window in February and the 2023 Southeast Asian Games in May. 


2021-22 Governor’s Cup

2022 started with the resumption of the PBA Governor’s Cup on December 8, 2021. Barangay Ginebra, powered by Brownlee and eventual season MVP Thompson, snatched the crown in Game 6 of the best-of-seven finals on April 22, 2022 at the expense of the Tony Bishop-led Meralco Bolts. Brownlee received his second PBA Best Import award, while Thompson was declared Finals MVP. Before the championship series, Ginebra defeated the NLEX Road Warriors, 3-1, in the semis, while the Bolts needed five games to oust the Magnolia Hotshots.

Scottie Thompson was named Finals MVP of the 2021-22 Governors’ Cup. (PBA Media Bureau)

2022 Philippine Cup

On June 5, 2022, the PBA’s 2022 season officially commenced with the Philippine Cup. After the exciting elimination round and quarterfinals, four teams remained in contention – San Miguel Beer (SMB), TNT Ka Tropa, Meralco Bolts, and Magnolia Hotshots. In the best-of-seven semis, TNT trounced Magnolia in six games to secure the first finals berth, while SMB and Meralco went the distance before the Beermen earned the second finals ticket. But in the best-of-seven finals, June Mar Fajardo and the Beermen remained the standard in the Philippine Cup, winning the title in Game 7 with a commanding 119-97 triumph over the Tropang Giga. Fajardo won both the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) and Finals MVP honors.   

2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup

The PBA welcomed a guest team in the Hong Kong-based Bay Area Dragons as the 13th team in the import-laced tournament. The Dragons are coached by Australian national team coach Brian Goorjian, who is no stranger to Philippine basketball. After the single-round elims, Bay Area topped the standings followed by Magnolia, Ginebra, and newcomer Converge. The four other qualifiers for the quarterfinals are Phoenix, Northport, San Miguel, and Rain Or Shine. Rain Or Shine upended NLEX in a playoff battle for the eighth and last spot, which marked the first time in a long while that no MVP Group squad entered the quarters. In the best-of-five semis, Bay Area and Ginebra arranged a title showdown after drubbing San Miguel and Magnolia respectively, 3-1. The best-of-seven title series is a much-anticipated one, especially after the Dragons clobbered Ginebra in their lone elimination match. But in Game 1 of the finals, Barangay Ginebra imposed its will in the shaded area to come out victorious, 96-81, especially after four of the five Dragons came into foul trouble. But in Game 2, Bay Area made remarkable defensive adjustments that stymied Ginebra’s many offensive options to even the series with an imposing 99-82 win. Game 3 is set on January 4.

College hoops

Both the UAAP and NCAA returned to hardcourt action in early 2022 but in a bubble set-up. Both shortened tournaments, the games were held in closed doors during the elims as a safety precaution to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak in the games. However, in the playoffs, live audience was allowed but under strict health protocols. The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons finally ended a long 36-year drought after defeating then four-peat seeking Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles in a thrilling three-game series. In Game 3 of the finals, which needed extra five minutes to play, sensational guard JD Cagulangan drilled a triple to beat the buzzer and winfor UP only its second UAAP men’s basketball diadem.

Over at the NCAA, Rhenz Abando proved too good as he spearheaded the Letran Knights to back-to-back titles at the expense of the Mapua Cardinals. Letran swept the best-of-three series as Abando took both the Rookie of the Year (ROY) and MVP honors. 

The UP Fighting Maroons lift the UAAP Season 84 championship trophy. (UAAP Media Bureau)

UAAP Season 85

On October 1, 2022, Season 85 of the men’s and women’s basketball competitions kicked off. There were a few surprises even when UP and Ateneo still finished the elims on top in the men’s division, while the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs maintained their dominance of the women’s event. ADMU finished the elims as the No. 1 seed followed by UP. Both the Eagles and Maroons enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage in the semis but needed just one game against Adamson and NU respectively to set a finals rematch. UP took Game 1, 72-66, as the Maroons used a high-octane game to outplay the Blue Eagles. But in Game 2, Ateneo used its muscle in the shaded area to tie the series, 65-55. The highly-charged Game 3, which saw over 20,000 live spectators at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, was a tight one even as Ateneo controlled most of the contest. New heroes emerged for the Blue Eagles as guards Vince Gomez and Sean Quitevis rose to the occasion to steer Ateneo to its fourth UAAP championship in five years after a pulsating 75-68 finale win. Kouame was declared Finals MVP, while UP’s Malick Diouf won the Season MVP plum and La Salle’s Kevin Quiambao took home ROY honors.

In the women’s division, six-peat champion NU saw its 108-game winning streak snapped by La Salle in the first round of eliminations. But the loss only motivated the Lady Bulldogs to bounce back strong as they cruised to their seventh straight crown by sweeping La Salle in the finals, 93-61, and 76-64.  University of Santo Tomas’ Eka Soriano was voted Season MVP, while Ateneo’s Kacey Dela Rosa annexed the ROY award. 

NCAA Season 98

Even as Season 97 MVP Renz Abando left Letran for the pros in Korea, the Knights still managed to grab their third consecutive NCAA diadem in Season 98, but not without a stiff resistance from a new and surprising challenger in the College of St. Benilde (CSB) Blazers. The Blazers of coach Charles Tiu finished the elims at No. 1 and nipped the San Beda Red Lions in the semis, 62-61, to tow Benilde to the finals for the first time in 20 years. Letran, on the other hand, shaded Lyceum of the Philippines, 67-58, to barge into the finals for the third straight season. The Knights’ experience and size advantage were enough to secure Game 1 of the finals, 81-75. But CSB rode on the back of Season MVP Will Gozum in Game 2 to get the upset win, 76-71, and force a sudden death Game 3. Also in Game 2, Season 96 Finals MVP Fran Yu was ejected in the game after elbowing Mark Sangco above the shoulder. As a result, Yu also earned a one-game suspension, which meant he wouldn’t be around for Letran in Game 3. 

But in Game 3, the Knights of coach Bonnie Tan totally dominated the game, even erecting a 23-point lead in the second period to snag the prestigious three-peat NCAA crown via an 81-67 triumph. Senior forward King Caralipio seized the Finals MVP plum. Arellano’s Cade Flores was the Season 98 ROY.

Earlier in the season also, the NCAA made headlines after Jose Rizal University forward John Amores stormed the CSB bench and threw punches against several Blazers that halted the game for good. The video of Amores’ rampage towards the other side of the court went viral on social media and earned thousands of reactions from netizens, and even politicians and government officials. Amores was suspended indefinitely by the league. 

The Letran Knights scored a three-peat in NCAA Season 98. (NCAA Media Bureau)

Exodus to Japan, Korea

Last year during the pandemic, several top local basketball talents were recruited by professional ball clubs in Japan, particularly in the surging BLeague. The Ravena brothers Kiefer and Thirdy, Kobe Paras, and Dwight Ramos all packed their bags for Japan, where they’re all making waves. In 2022, more outstanding players, both from the PBA and collegiate ranks, sought greener pastures in Japan, Korea, and even Taiwan. Japan’s BLeague plucked Ray Parks Jr. (Nagoya), Matthew Wright (Kyoto), Jordan Heading (Nagasaki), Roosevelt Adams (Kagawa), and Greg Slaughter (Fukuoka), while the Korean Basketball League (KBL) snagged SJ Belangel (Daegu), RJ Abarrientos (Ulsan), Justin Gutang (Changwon), and Rhenz Abando (Anyang). 

There are rumors that these Asian clubs are now eyeing Adamson’s Jerom Lastimosa, UP’s Carl Tamayo, and CSB’s Will Gozum.  It looks like the exodus of players to East Asia will persist in 2023.


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