MANILA, Philippines – Last year was a very eventful one for Philippine sports.
The local leagues – from the PBA to the UAAP to the NCAA, to the PVL and PSL, even to the brand-new PFL – all had jam-packed seasons highlighted by remarkable performances from its athletes.
The Philippines was also well represented in international tournaments, as Filipino athletes competed in the Southeast Asian Games, the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, and the SEABA Championship, among others.
As action-packed as 2017 was, 2018 figures to be an equally hectic year for Philippine sports and Filipino athletes.
1. Gilas Pilipinas' campaign in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers
The Philippine men's national basketball team eked out two close wins in the first window of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers in November. Gilas Pilipinas edged Japan in Tokyo, 77-71, then hacked out a 90-83 win over Chinese Taipei at home.
The road will only get harder for the national team in the next qualifying window. Gilas Pilipinas returns to action on February 22, when they travel to Melbourne to take on a powerhouse Australian squad. Three days later, they will host Japan in Manila.
The third qualifying window is in June. Gilas Pilipinas will go to Taiwan to play Chinese Taipei on June 29, then host Australia on July 2.
2. Team Philippines in the Asian Games
After a disappointing campaign in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Team Philippines will try to redeem itself in the 2018 Asian Games that will be held in Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia.
Forty sports will be contested in the Games from August 18 to September 2.
3. The Philippine Azkals' campaign in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers
The Philippine Azkals blew a perfect opportunity to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup last November, when they settled for a costly goalless draw with Nepal.
They remained at the top of their group with nine points, but must beat Tajikistan on March 27 to secure their passage to the Asian Cup.
4. Who will be the next commissioner of the PBA?
The 43rd season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) opened with a bang, as the Board of Governors announced that commissioner Chito Narvasa had resigned from his post after a controversial offseason.
Narvasa will stay until the end of 2017, and Willie Marcial – the longtime communications and external affairs director of the league – has been appointed as OIC.
Already, there are plenty of questions as to who will succeed Narvasa. The names of Charlie Cuna and Rebo Saguisag have been floated around, according to a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, but the PBA Board has yet to announce the start of a formal search.
5. San Miguel's quest for an all-Filipino four-peat
For the past three seasons, the San Miguel Beermen have been the standard in the PBA All-Filipino Cup.
They are looking to cement their place in the league's history this season, as they gun for a fourth straight All-Filipino championship. The Beermen got their title defense rolling by beating Phoenix during opening night.
However, the biggest challenges are still ahead. SMB coach Leo Austria has already expressed his wariness of contenders such as Ginebra, NLEX and TNT, all of whom are raring to knock the crown off the Beermen's heads.
6. A changed landscape in UAAP volleyball
UAAP volleyball already looked very different in Season 79, thanks to the graduation of established stars such as Alyssa Valdez, Ara Galang, and Mika Reyes.
The league should look even more different in Season 80. The graduation of star setters Kim Fajardo of De La Salle University and Jia Morado of Ateneo de Manila University definitely altered their respective teams. Also gone are middle blockers Rem Palma of Far Eastern University, and Ria Meneses of University of Santo Tomas.
But waiting in the wings are new stars ready to take their place. It will be interesting to see who will emerge as the playmakers for La Salle and Ateneo, and who will take Palma's place as the UAAP's premier trash talker at the net.
Of course, it will be equally fascinating to see how the current stars of the UAAP – players like Jaja Santiago, Bernadeth Pons, Sisi Rondina, and Kianna Dy – will take a step forward in Season 80.
7. The Akhuetie Era begins for UP
The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons have been the UAAP's feel-good team for the past couple of seasons, but they are expected to make the jump to full contender status in Season 80.
That is because former University of Perpetual Help big man Bright Akhuetie is set to make his debut for UP in 2018, after spending the past year fulfilling his residency requirements.
Akhuetie is already seeing action for UP in various offseason leagues, and was a fixture in the audience whenever the Maroons played in the UAAP last season. He will team up with Paul Desiderio, Jun Manzo, and the Gomez de Liaño brothers in UP next year, where they will try to end the squad's Final Four drought.
8. The Philippines hosts the FIBA 3x3 World Cup
The Philippines celebrated when it won hosting rights to the 2023 FIBA World Cup – together with Japan and Indonesia – earlier this month. But before it holds that major event, they will first host the FIBA 3x33 World Cup in June 2018.
The event will run from June 8 to June 12, with the final to be held on Independence Day.
Twenty men's and 20 women's teams will compete in the event. There will also be a dunk contest, a skills contest, and a shootout.