The children are our future, and in the case of Philippine basketball, the future is very bright. The recently-concluded 10th NBTC championship and All-Star games, which were aired on S+A, put the spotlight on the nation’s most talented high school players, showing us all that the Philippines is not just a basketball-crazy nation, but a country filled with great, young gems in the sport.
In ABS-CBN Sports’ quest to tell the story of the Filipino athlete, it partnered with the National Basketball Training Center once again to show the tough and humble beginnings of tomorrow’s basketball superstars and heroes – the hard work they put through in training, and what pushes them to outperform themselves one game after another. Get to know the budding stars who are poised to follow the footsteps of NBTC alumni like Roger Pogoy, Baser Amer, and Scottie Thompson after making heads turn in this year’s tournament, held at the MoA arena early this March.
1.) Encho Serrano (17 years old) – Adamson University
Serrano is one of the players NBTC is touting as the most college-ready in the loaded Class of 2017 of the NBTC, the other being the player at #2. Serrano has moved on from the controversy that has hounded him for the past season and is determined to make everyone’s jaw drop every time he takes the floor. In his stint at the NBTC Division 1 All-Star Game, Serrano showed that despite being “built” for the wings, he can fight it out down low with the big boys, as evidenced by his 17-point, 7-rebound performance. At barely 6-feet, Serrano is expected to be plying his trade and skills as an all-around guard, and not some undersized, Draymond Green-type of forward. But there’s no denying that when he’s in the zone, few people in the UAAP Juniors, and in the whole nation, can stop him.
2.) John Lloyd Clemente (18 years old) – National University
Clemente has been making a name for himself through his game and not for sharing the same name with a celebrity. The 6’3” forward for the NU Bullpups has come a long way since his entry to the UAAP Juniors, leading NU to championships during the Jeff Napa era. What stands out from the lanky high schooler is his ability to play the shooting guard, small forward, and power forward in small ball situations making him a handful on defense. He takes advantage of his height to shoot over smaller men, while having the length to contend with rebounds and passing lanes, similar to do-it-all forwards Anthony Espiritu and Kevin Ferrer of UST. Clemente tallied 10 markers, grabbed 6 boards, and had an assist and a steal during Team North’s victory over Team South.
3.) Jonas Tibayan (18 years old) – Chiang Kai Shek College
About a year ago, Jonas Tibayan’s name could be heard louder thanks to his Mythical 5 performance at the Philippine Secondary Schools’ Basketball Championship, representing Chiang Kai Shek College. This got him an invite to the Gilas U-16 team where he averaged 9.6 points a game and 6.2 rebounds. What people don’t know is that he was about to be a dual-discipline athlete with volleyball but chose to stay with his love for basketball instead. Wherever he goes for college, don’t let the 4-point, 5-rebound game he had for Team North fool you, for he’s a star in his own right.
4.) SJ Belangel (17 years old) – Ateneo De Manila University
Belangel is one of three Blue Eaglets crashing the NBTC All Star Party after having stellar outings in the past UAAP Juniors season. While Kai Sotto remains to have the most potential out of the bunch, and Dave Ildefonso boasts of the play that backs up his pedigree, Belangel has been the go-to-guy of Ateneo all season long. The 5’9” point guard is a tank in the high school ranks and plays much like a big man, racking up absurd rebound numbers for the position he plays at. Will he be better than say, LA Tenorio, when he goes up in college? Who knows. But what we all know, is among his peers, Belangel is the third-ranked recruit nationally, and probably top of his class. During the NBTC Division 1 All Star Game, Belangel led Team South with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists against only 2 turnovers.
5.) Kai Sotto (14 years old) – Ateneo De Manila University
No matter how much people pencil Kai Sotto, who stands at 6’11,” as a center, he has also exhibited promise in other positions. We are witnessing a unicorn in the making that has the potential to be like New York Knick Kristaps Porzingis, or Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo, or if we really want the home run, Kevin Durant. For his height and lankiness, Sotto isn’t your traditional big man. He can put the ball on the floor, has a silky-smooth release mechanic that needs fine-tuning before he can do those one-legged Dirk Nowitzki-faders. Being the youngest of everyone participating in the Division 1 ASG, Sotto barely got floor time but managed 5 rebounds in seven minutes of play.
6.) Sam Abu Hijleh (18 years old) – San Beda College
People had doubts on Abu Hijleh before. The young Red Cub won’t throw his weight around. He was soft. But instead of getting down, The 6’4 Abu Hijleh came out of the gates for Season 92 of the NCAA firing. He was a monster. He shed his baby fat and added a motor that enabled him to average a double-double for the season. If he still has one more growth spurt, he might just land a better chance of being college-ready. Sam only managed to grab a rebound in four minutes of play in the All-Star Game but that doesn’t relay the fact that he’s more than ready to dominate in the Juniors for one final season.
7.) Kamaka Hepa (17 years old) – Jefferson HS (Portland, Ore., USA)
This guy is the real deal. ESPN ranked him as a 4-star recruit (49th nationally), and 1st in his home state. Rivals 150 ranked him 32nd best for his class, and also number one in his home state. The kid has offers from big-name programs like Oregon, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas, to play Division 1 US-NCAA basketball like Kobe Paras. What separates Hepa, a 6’9” beast listed at power forward, from the celebrated Paras, is his ability to play point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. Scouts in America are raving over him and his ability to take his guy to the post, park at mid-range, or take him off the dribble and finish with force. His vision is also tantalizing for he picks teammates off cuts, fastbreaks, and kickouts. Oh, did we mention that he’s also a Fil-American? Hepa only got to play 19 minutes but still managed 9 points, 9 boards, an assist, and a block.
8.) Troy Mallillin (18 years old) – La Salle Greenhills
The DLSU commit put up 19 points and 10 boards a game during his swan song in the Juniors, allowing him to run away with the NCAA Juniors MVP. Seeing him play greatly reminds scouts of Jeron Teng before he developed a jump shot. Mallillin is a super athlete built like a tank that just rams straight at his defenders. With DLSU having a gaping hole at the wing position thanks to the departure of Teng, Mallillin has made head coach Aldin Ayo grin from ear to ear when he said yes to the Green Archers, making him the second NCAA Juniors MVP the program has nabbed after 4th year forward Prince Rivero. In true Mallillin fashion, he bullied Team South for 16 markers, 7 rebounds, and an assist.
9.) Sherwin Concepcion (18 years old) – Mapua-Malayan High School
Concepcion has been terrorizing the NCAA Juniors for quite some time now. The Grade 11 Red Robin is so versatile that people don’t know whether to dare him to shoot (he’s a very dangerous bomber), or let him rough it up in the post (he is still categorically Mapua’s inside presence). The young basketball player has expressed interest in engineering as a back up to his budding career. But when you almost average a double-double playing as a 6’3” forward, it’s almost uncanny how one can think that Concepcion is breaking down his opponents the way he breaks down math problems in class. Concepcion was the leading scorer for Team South, with 19 points and 6 rebounds, making it rain from downtown and in the midrange.
10.) Juan Gomez-De Liano (17 years old) – University of the Philippines
The reigning UAAP Juniors MVP is the younger brother of current UP Fighting Maroon, Javi. What differentiates the younger GDL (as they are fondly called) brother from the elder is his ability to pull up from anywhere whereas big bro always found a way to get into the teeth of the defense. While his brother was a double-double machine, Juan always had a flair for directing the whole team as a big point guard. His height alone is a big boon for he can see over the top of defenders especially when he drives to the basket and keeps finding people unexplainably. The UAAP Season 79 Juniors MVP tallied 16 points on just 9 shots while grabbing 6 rebounds during the NBTC Division 1 All-Star Game.
Now that you’ve read about the best the NBTC has to offer, watch the NBTC All-Star Game via video-on-demand on sports.abs-cbn.com. For more news and features and livestreaming of the game, visit sports.abs-cbn.com or follow @ABSCBNSports on Twitter and Facebook.