MANILA, December 29, 2003  (STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - In last Saturday’s piece, we began our list of the top ten basketball personalities of 2003. We continue with our top five, and add some notes for 2004.

Four aces. At number 5, a quartet of coaches. Louie Alas and Koy Banal led their underdog teams to the pinnacle of the NCAA and UAAP, respectively. In Letran and FEU, each had to unseat the defending champion. For Louie, his undersized Knights played ten feet tall. For Koy, he had to overcome his older brother and mentor, Joel.

And speaking of Joel, Banal the elder also made history by bringing the Talk ‘N Text Phone Pals to their first PBA title in five years in the league, ironically, the All-Filipino. Despite all the controversy swirling around them, the team kept its head, and finally went all the way.

Also at number 5 is Chot Reyes. After taking his Coca-Cola Tigers to bridesmaid finishes in the All-Filipino and Governors Cup, they put away a game San Miguel Beer in seven games in the Reinforced. The third time’s the charm.

RFM and FedEx-Air 21. Their commitment to the youth was outstanding, and made with corporate selflessness. Bert Lina’s group started a league for youngsters over six feet with an eye to the future. The results will surely be felt in the next few years.

Meanwhile, RFM head Joey Concepcion could not bear to be away from the game. Under the banner of Sunkist, they launched the Youth Basketball Champion-ship, bringing together the best high school teams in Metro Manila. Under the Selecta brand, RFM went a step farther, dedicating its Moo camp to grade-schoolers. They have solidified the base of basketball’s future.

Cebuana Lhuillier. Cebuana Lhuillier showed dogged determination in pursuing the dream of a full-time Philippine team. Despite the vacillation (and outright selfishness) of some college and PBL teams, they stuck it out the whole year through. The result was the easiest basketball gold we’ve ever won in a Southeast Asian Games. Kudos to Jean Henri Lhuillier.

Asi Taulava. Will this be the year he put all questions to rest? The Talk ‘N Text center survived a drug scandal, investigations by both houses of Congress, and won his first title and MVP accolade. How do you top that?

Noli Eala. No doubt about it, he had the kind of year you wouldn’t wish on your most hated mother-in-law. The PBA’s youngest commissioner was either in the frying pan or the fire from Day 1. From personal attacks to busting All-Stars and wrangling with the TV coverage, the former broadcaster was asking himself what else could go wrong. But he gritted his teeth and did what had to be done. That took guts. And that’s why Noli Eala was the top basketball personality of 2003.

I wish all of you a bold, wondrous, prosperous 2004. Always remember, we’re all on the same team. God bless.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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