The second edition of the UAAP 3X3 Basketball tournament bounced off from the success of the inaugural event last year to even greater heights. Drawing the attention of more fans and providing them with spectacular performances, the event took place in the first weekend of March 2019 at the Ayala Malls Feliz. All schools were represented this time around, though the University of the East (UE) only fielded their women’s team; meaning there was no 3X3 action by Alvin Pasaol and Philip Manalang.
Even with all the schools coming in to play, there were hardly any assumptions for who would dominate the game as 3X3 has its differences from a regular basketball game. The teams play on a half court with 8 minutes to contest (10 for the knockout stages), each shot only garners a point while a range shot gives the team two, a size 6 ball is used rather than the bigger and more used size 7, it takes more fouls to get penalty free throws, and maybe the biggest change is the lack of a coach.
Given the circumstances, it was evident that some of the big players from the men’s basketball tournament during the first semester of Season 81 were not playing the way we usually see them. Jerrick Ahanmisi, the MVP-candidate from Adamson University (AdU), was barely involved in any action – his two good performances came in a loss and in their final game, but by then they were already out of contention. Wendell Comboy from 3X3 defending champions Far Eastern University (FEU) saw his hot shooting from beyond the arc slowly dwindle through the weekend, and FEU were unable to contest a back-to-back.
But because the UAAP 3X3 is still an exhibition sport, meaning it wouldn’t be counted in the official points tally, it was an opportunity for some of the lesser-known names to step into the spotlight and excel. UAAP 1-on-1 champion Jordan Bartlett from De La Salle University (DLSU) was the Archers’ busiest player and definitely one of the tournament standouts, while Rhenzo Abando led the underdog University of Santo Tomas (UST) all the way to finals to prove how excited fans should be for Aldin Ayo’s young team.
The women’s division demanded just as much attention, even providing some better match-ups than their male counterparts. Ateneo de Manila University’s (ADMU) Trina Guytingco hustled and bustled for the Lady Eagles, driving to the basket whenever she could, or would seek help from teammate Lettice Miranda to shoot from range. The Lady Maroons from the University of the Philippines (UP), though unable to make the knockout stages, continuously gave opponents a difficult time with the young Noella Cruz and Cindy Gonzales’ grit and agility.
In the end, almost as expected, the ever-dominant National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs carried from their five-season undefeated streak in the regular tournament and swept the women’s 3X3 once again without much hindrance. Ria Nabalan capped off her final games in an NU jersey with good leadership, and Monique Del Carmen frequently came off the bench to display her range shooting. The definite key to NU’s back-to-back championships was their “Twin Towers” Rhena Itesi and Jack Animam; Itesi was just unbeatable inside the paint, whether going for the close shot or collecting boards, while former UAAP MVP Animam used her Perlas Pilipinas experience to dominate the court.
While NU’s wins were nothing but convincing, ADMU’s championship in the men’s division was rocky, facing tough competition from the likes of FEU, rivals DLSU, and finalists UST (which happens to be their first 3X3 appearance, they sat out the year before). Still, the Blue Eagles showed that they were still kings of the game as the roster of Thirdy Ravena, Angelo Kouame, Matt Nieto, and Matthew Daves swept their way to the top.
Ravena, fresh from his FIBA World Cup qualifiers stint with Gilas Pilipinas, led all scoring as he proved why he was the next in line for the King Eagle title – shooting back-to-back two-pointers from game to game, and relentless to drive to the rim for a monster slam. Kouame barely sat during ADMU’s games and found tough competition from DLSU’s Mark Dyke and UST’s Soulemane Chabi Yo, but the reigning Rookie of the Year made his first year count as he owned the paint. Daves frequently came off the bench for some sweet dishes and fancy lay-ups, while Nieto took a step back into a playmaker role – though his ice-cold shots were often called upon, and he delivered.
The clear highlight of the entire tournament was UP’s Ricci Rivero donning the Fighting Maroons jersey. In their first game, Rivero scored 11 of UP’s 13 points and featured some of his signature step-back shots and cool lay-ups, and even built a good combination with Javi Gomez de Liano. One of the most memorable games of the tournament came during UP’s match-up with FEU, where Rivero got a little rough with the Tamaraw’s Alec Stockton, going as much to garnering two unsportsmanlike fouls and sending Rivero off the court early.
UP was definitely the team that most of the fans in Ayala Malls Feliz came for, mainly because of Rivero. If there was anyone who could have matched the flashiness of the ADMU, it was the Fighting Maroons (although they were knocked out by underdogs UST, who also beat them in the group stage). Rivero had his U23 3×3 World Cup experience while Javi’s brother Juan came off the bench every game to present his handling prowess and sleek shooting. Fans were disappointed that UP’s other new acquisition Kobe Paras could not make it, but substitute Will Gozum filled in well for the big man role.
The tournament’s success gave us a good preview of what to expect in Season 82. DLSU fans will now be urging for Bartlett to be included in the Archers’ first 12, while Abando and Chabi Yo teaming up with Renzo Subido and the sensational CJ Cansino will light up UST’s resurgence. Not to mention UP bouncing from a magnificent Season 81; just imagine the GDL Brothers teaming up with Rivero and Paras, and MVP Bright Akhuetie rounding them up – it will make ADMU’s contention for a three-peat much harder.
The 3X3 set up is something any basketball fan can relate to, as it can be played in streets, alleyways, garages, barangay courts – all they need is a ball and ring. Hopefully, the success of its second edition prompts the UAAP board to make the sport official and include it in their official points tally. Whatever the implications are, one things is certain: next season will feature more outstanding plays, tougher match-ups, and a countrywide love for the sport.
Photos by Kristofer Purnell.
— Nowhere to go but UP: The Fighting Maroons’ book-worthy story
— UAAP Men’s Basketball: What’s New, More Thrills for You
— #UAAP81: What can we expect from the UP Fighting Maroons Next Season?
— #UAAP81Finals: Blue Eagles overpower Fighting Maroons in Battle of Katipunan
— UAAP 81 Women’s Volleyball: A Fan’s Fun Forecast