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Yearender: A triumphant year for Team Philippines

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 01 2020 06:07 PM | Updated as of Jan 01 2020 11:52 PM

MANILA -- 2019 was an exceptionally eventful year for Philippine sports. The major sports leagues – the PBA, the UAAP, and the NCAA – all proceeded as usual, but the country also sent its basketball team to the FIBA World Cup in China. And then, to end the year, the Philippines hosted the 30th edition of the Southeast Asian Games.

A packed sports calendar kept the athletes in the spotlight. Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao continued to dominate the headlines, especially after his sensational fight with Keith Thurman in July.

But the year also saw the emergence of the Philippines' new sporting heroes. Diminutive gymnast Carlos Edriel "Caloy" Yulo, in particular, captured the nation's imagination as he rose to world champion status.

There were, of course, several controversies as well. Calvin Abueva, one of the most popular basketball players in the country, endured a particularly difficult year. The FIBA World Cup exposed how far the Philippines has to go when it comes to reaching the highest level of basketball. The organizers of the SEA Games were under fire to start the event as questions about the budget, preparation and its now infamous cauldron swirled.

Still, the lasting image at the end of the year was that of a triumphant Team Philippines, celebrating its record-breaking haul in the SEA Games. Filipino athletes returned to the top of the podium, with a combined 387 medals including 149 golds.

10. Spiderman makes a scene in the PBA

On May 10, 2019, "Spiderman" hogged the local headlines when he stormed onto the PBA court, disrupting Game 5 of the Philippine Cup finals between San Miguel Beer and Magnolia Hotshots.

The man, later identified as Paolo Felizarta, rushed to the court carrying a placard that had "Vote! Love!" written on it and accidentally hit June Mar Fajardo on his right jaw while running.

Felizarta was arrested for the stunt but was eventually released.

Photo. Credit: Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports

9. Jimuel Pacquiao tries boxing

Manny Pacquiao's son Jimuel followed his superstar dad's footsteps in 2019.

After taking boxing lessons from coaches and even his father, Jimuel took on his schoolmate Lucas Carson in a 2-round pro-am fight. He beat Carson on point and went on to score two more victories against two other opponents.

But in September, Paquiao's son tasted his first defeat after being outpointed by a more experienced rival in Ken Danila of Cavite City.

Photo credit: Screengrab Sports Unlimited

8. Carlos Yulo makes history

Carlos Yulo had a breakout year when he scored a victory no other Pinoy gymnast has ever done before.

The pint-sized Filipino topped the men's floor exercise in the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in October, assuring himself a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was a historical feat for Yulo, who nearly quit the sport due to his brutal training regimen in Japan.

Yulo continued his roll in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, scoring two golds and five silver medals. This assured him of at least P3.25 million cash bonus from the government.

Photo Credit: Thomas Kienzle, AFP

7. San Sebastian mourns death of high school player

The San Sebastian Staglets were in mourning to start the 95th season of the NCAA, after one of their teammates, Miguel Bonalos, passed away in early July.

Only 20 years old, Bonalos died of cardiac arrest. He averaged 5.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in the Staglets' campaign in Season 94, though he played in just nine games.

To honor him, the Staglets wore shirts with his surname printed on the back and his No. 23 on the sleeves for their first game of Season 95 against Jose Rizal University.

Photo Credit: San Sebastian College Recoletos, Manila Facebook page

6. Ateneo completes a perfect season

Ateneo de Manila University completed one of the most dominant campaigns in college basketball history in late November, after the Blue Eagles barreled through the UAAP Season 82 tournament without a single defeat. They won their elimination round games by an average margin of 17.36 points per game, including a pair of routs over last season's losing finalist, University of the Philippines (UP).

Challenging the Blue Eagles in the finals were the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers. Considered dark horses at the start of the tournament, Aldin Ayo's squad showed they were for real almost immediately, when they defeated UP in their second game of the season. The Tigers would go on to stun the Fighting Maroons in the semifinals to advance to the championship phase.

As they did in the elimination round, however, Ateneo proved too strong for UST. They swept the Tigers in two games, and Thirdy Ravena emerged as the Finals MVP for the third consecutive season. It marked the first time in UAAP history that a men's basketball team went a perfect 16-0 for a season.

Photo Credit: Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

5. Gilas Pilipinas in flux

The Philippines qualified to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in thrilling fashion last February, winning its last two games in the qualifiers to punch a ticket to China. Qualifying, however, was just the first step in a long and bumpy journey for Gilas Pilipinas. Their preparation was less than ideal: for months, the team could only practice once a week, and they only had a brief training camp in Spain where the full team couldn't even attend.

The squad was completed with just a little over a week to go before they left for the World Cup. Still, coach Yeng Guiao and his players were upbeat heading into China, believing they had a chance of pulling off momentous upsets in the group round. Italy quickly dispelled that optimism, crushing Gilas, 108-62, in their first game. It was just the beginning of a disastrous campaign for the Philippines, as Serbia, Angola, Tunisia and Iran all handed them painful defeats. Gilas went home without a single victory, and Guiao resigned days after the tournament.

Determined to end the year on a right note, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas tapped Tim Cone to put together an all-pro team for the SEA Games. Bannered by the core of Barangay Ginebra, the Philippines stamped their class on their Southeast Asian neighbors to earn an 18th gold medal in basketball. It became a double celebration, as the Gilas Pilipinas Women's team won the gold for the first time ever.

The national team program is still in flux as the year ends. Cone is not expected to take on the role of Gilas Pilipinas head coach full time, and Tab Baldwin has already said that he will not call the shots for the team, either. According to SBP president Al Panlilio, more concrete plans are to be made by 2020, as the Philippines turns its attention to the 2023 FIBA World Cup which it is co-hosting.

Photo Credit: FIBA Basketball

4. Abueva's woes in 2019

Calvin Abueva is no stranger to controversy as he has been linked to trouble in the past. But 2019 has not been kind to him after a series of encounters that led to him being indefinitely suspended by the PBA.

The Phoenix Pulse upstart had a verbal confrontation with a female fan that turned out to be Bobby Ray Parks Jr.’s girlfriend Maika Rivera. This was followed by a physical altercation with TNT import Terrence Jones, who was hit with a clothesline by Abueva.

He was later allowed to join Phoenix's team practices after posting a public apology over the confrontations.

Photo Credit: Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports

3. Warriors dethroned by Kawhi, Raptors

New kings were crowned in the 2019 NBA Finals, when the Toronto Raptors dethroned the Golden State Warriors in six games for their first championship in franchise history. Kawhi Leonard won Finals MVP honors after a sensational series that saw him average 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.

Injuries were a major storyline in the championship series. Kevin Durant, the Finals MVP in each of the Warriors' last two runs to the title, missed the first four games as he continued to struggle with an injury to his right calf. He returned in Game 5 with the Warriors facing elimination, but ruptured his Achilles in the second quarter and had to leave for good. It would be his last game with Golden State before signing with Brooklyn as a free agent in the summer.

In Game 6, Klay Thompson suffered an ACL tear in his left knee, a brutal development for the Warriors as he had been carrying their offense in the game. Toronto went on to hold for a 114-110 win, denying Golden State a "three-peat." They defended their title without Leonard, however, after the "Klaw" signed with the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent.

Photo Credit: Ron Turenne, NBAE via Getty Images/AFP

2. Pinoy athletes give triumphant ending to SEA Games

The Philippines' hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games was quite the roller-coaster. In the weeks leading up to the Games, organizers came under fire once the budget was revealed. The cauldron, with its P50-million price tag, became the focal point of criticism after it came to light how much it cost.

More problems emerged once the delegations from other countries began arriving. The travel and accommodation woes of the football teams went viral; netizens were aghast when the Philippine women's football team claimed they were fed kikiam for breakfast, which the hotel later denied. So rampant were the criticisms that the organizers addressed media ahead of the opening ceremonies, imploring for a more "positive" coverage of the event.

But the performance of the Filipino athletes created plenty of positive stories. Team Philippines delivered from the start of the Games until the end, winning a whopping 149 gold medals to return to the top of the table. Plenty of new stars emerged, with the home crowd cheering the Filipino bets from Mall of Asia to Rizal Memorial to New Clark City to Subic to Tagaytay. The heroism of surfer Roger Casogay was widely hailed as well.

Yet while the triumph of Team Philippines became the lasting image of the SEA Games, the questions and controversies about the hosting remained. A day after its closing, Senator Panfilo Lacson said they cannot cancel a probe on the irregularities of the Games despite the Filipino athletes' record haul.

Photo Credit: Ann Wang, Reuters

1. Pacquiao grab 2 wins, WBA 'super' title

After signing with Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions in October 2018, Manny Pacquiao started taking on some of the best welterweights in Haymon's stable.

On January 19, he faced Adrien "The Problem" Broner to defend the WBA "regular" welterweight title. He dominated the former boxing champion en route to a unanimous decision and a $20-million paycheck.

Pacquiao went on to face another PBC boxer in Keith "One Time" Thurman, who holds the WBA "super" welterweight crown. Despite the bravado he has shown during the prefight festivities, Thurman bowed to the hard-hitting Pinoy via a majority decision.

Photo Credit: Steve Marcus, Getty Images/AFP