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All the familiar highlights of a PBA All-Star event were there: the annual Terrence Romeo scoring outburst, the Arwind Santos-led choreography at the dance showdown, the vintage James Yap sweet shooting, and the Calvin Abueva MVP snub.
But this year's edition of the PBA All-Star managed to keep it fresh with a few changes. Aside from Jammer Jamito’s unprecedented Euro step at a slam dunk contest gimmick, for the first time, three games pitting the best pros against each other were played in three venues across the country.
Instead of the typical three-day festivity, the fun started as early as Wednesday—with the Mindanao All-Stars taking a crack at the crisp and untested version of the Gilas Pilipinas pool helmed by comebacking coach Chot Reyes.
Led by Troy Rosario, a Gilas pool member himself, the Mindanao squad gave the Gilas team a highly-competitive matchup that ended in a 114-114 draw. Leading Gilas in the Mindanao leg was Matthew Wright, who showcased his all-around game with 22 points on 4 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Rosario and Wright were deservedly named co-MVPs.
Meralco Bolts guard Chris Newsome juggles three balls before throwing one down off the backboard to win the slam dunk title at the Luzon leg of the PBA All-Star Week 2017. [Photo credit: PBA Media Bureau/PBA Facebook page]
From Cagayan de Oro, the action shifted to the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City on Friday for the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout, where both defending champs from last year's event were dethroned by a new generation of talent: Chris Newsome and Allein Maliksi. Newsome literally juggled his way to the crown while Maliksi outshot LA Tenorio in the closing seconds to win the competition.
Lucena City was also the venue for the Luzon All-Stars vs Gilas Pilipinas, which fielded a much younger roster of talent in Rosario, Kevin Ferrer, and Carl Bryan Cruz. The PBA squad, towed by Japeth Aguilar and Calvin Abueva, built a 17-point lead and threatened to blow the national squad out of the arena. But Gilas rookies Wright and Jonathan Grey carried the team to claw back in the fourth quarter.
When the buzzer sounded, Gilas came out on top, 122-111, with coach Chot's beaming pride and “puso” battle cry intact. The final Gilas 12 that will compete in the upcoming SEABA Championships was announced after the game.
The highlight of the All-Star Week came on Sunday, when the newly-minted Philippine team flexed its muscles against a stacked Visayas squad coached by Tim Cone. Fans in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu were treated to a much-awaited duel between Reyes and Cone, two of the most successful coaches in Philippines basketball.
The Philippine team again found itself in a 15-point hole—thanks to a strong start by James Yap—and had to rely on the relentless offensive attack of Abueva and Romeo. Gilas came out with a 125-112 win behind Abueva's 26 and Romeo's 25. Romeo edged out Abueva in the Most Valuable Player race, an eerily familiar repeat of the 2015 All-Stars when the Globalport superstar won the award over Abueva’s 37-point, 16-rebound performance.
PBA All-Star Visayas MVP Terrence Romeo shoots a jumper over Iloilo native James Yap at the Visayas leg of the PBA All-Star Week 2017. [Photo credit: PBA Media Bureau/PBA Facebook page]
Despite the similarities, the 2017 PBA All-Star Week was a better product compared to previous iterations—a much improved online presence and promising new faces added into the mix to wrestle with the tested vets. It’s in the early stages, but this year’s All-Star event showed the fans a glimpse of how the country’s premier league is open to evolution. After the new Gilas squad won over the Visayas All-Stars, Tim Cone praised the national team for having “some really good game changers.” This bodes well not only for the SEABA campaign in May, but for the PBA as well.