MANILA, December 16, 2005 
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Last week’s Dream Game between La Salle and Ateneo nearly became a nightmare for organizer Carlos (Bobong) Velez who never expected the All-Star contest involving Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) players to be marred by a flagrant foul at the Araneta Coliseum.

It was supposed to be a "friendly" exhibition match to raise funds for the sports development programs of both schools and the PBA’s own program for the national squad.

But there was nothing friendly in La Salle star Joseph Yeo’s clothesline on Ateneo’s Enrico Villanueva early in the third period. The forearm struck Villanueva across the face and left the burly Red Bull center with a fat lip and a bloody nose.

Here’s what happened. Yeo dribbled inside the lane for a layup and after a hop, let go the ball only for it to be slapped away by Rich Alvarez. The ball went loose and Villanueva grabbed it in mid-air, extending his elbows in the process to protect the leather. As Villanueva swung his elbows, Yeo — who was close by — got it in the chest. Trying to regain possession, Yeo took a swipe at the ball but missed. Villanueva held it beyond Yeo’s reach.

Then, as Yeo headed upcourt, he clotheslined Villanueva in the face with a cheap shot. Villanueva never knew what hit him and his head snapped back on impact.

Yeo was slapped a flagrant foul two, meaning ejection, two free throws and possession for Ateneo.

La Salle fans claimed Yeo was provoked. But Ateneo diehards insisted there was no justification for Yeo’s sneak attack and the Ninja deserved his embarrassing exit.

In the wake of Yeo’s assault, Ateneo sports director Ricky Palou said the Blue Eagles would walk out of the game because he couldn’t guarantee their safety. The implication was the Green Archers were out of control. Palou added he had Ateneo president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres’s go-signal to pull out the team.

Velez was caught in the crossfire.

Then, PBA commissioner Noli Eala stepped in.

Eala was supposed to anchor the telecast but backed out because he wanted to make himself available for whatever eventuality. He also wanted to enjoy the game as a fan. Luckily, Eala was not on the TV panel. If he were, Eala wouldn’t have been able to mediate as effectively.

Eala told Palou that since the PBA was a party to the event, it was his responsibility to the fans and sponsors for the game to finish.

Palou, who is usually cool under pressure, was infuriated and raised his voice at Eala. Ateneo coach Chot Reyes was as incensed. They wanted to hightail it out of the Big Dome.

But Eala stood his ground.

"I spoke to Enrico and he didn’t want to continue playing," said Eala. "He was very angry. So I told him if he wanted to retaliate, do it after the game but as a PBA player, his duty was to play and finish the game. I told Ricky what more does he want. Yeo was already ejected. In the PBA, things like that happen and we do something about it. But the solution isn’t to walk out."

Eala said he suggested a compromise where only PBA players — over whom he has jurisdiction — would play out the rest of the game.

The impasse lasted about 50 minutes and ended after Eala told both teams he would give them a five-minute deadline to decide if they would play or not.

Eala warned the teams that since it was a PBA event, any player walking out would be severely sanctioned.

Ateneo eventually agreed to play on but Reyes decided to sit down Doug Kramer, J. C. Intal and Japeth Aguilar the remainder of the contest. Only L. A. Tenorio was allowed to play because he is no longer an Ateneo player like the PBA stars in the lineup. La Salle coach Yeng Guiao decided to let Jun-Jun Cabatu and Ryan Arana play — but only briefly — because they were on the floor when the incident happened. He later used an all-PBA cast to finish the contest.

As it turned out, Villanueva emerged the game hero for hitting the marginal down-the-stretch triple that won it for Ateneo, 88-85. Guiao probably didn’t feel too bad about the loss since it was his Red Bull player who sank the winning basket.

Eala said the PBA is not in a position to sanction Yeo because he doesn’t play in the league. And La Salle is also not in a position to sanction the Ninja because he is no longer in the Green Archers lineup. Because the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) where Yeo plays was not a party to the event, it wouldn’t be right to ask commissioner Chino Trinidad to sanction the Harbour Centre star.

Eala noted that in applying for the PBA draft, a player must show "good character." The PBA has the power to reject an application if it considers a player unqualified.

"It’s premature to even think of suspending Yeo if he applies for the draft," said Eala. "First of all, he hasn’t applied. It’s possible that because of this incident, a PBA event, he may be suspended once he is drafted or his application may be deferred for a year as a penalty. All of these options are subject to study."

Of course, Yeo will be given due process if he is to be sanctioned.

Eala intimated that several go-betweens have already contacted him to ask for leniency.

Because of what happened last week, it’s not likely another Dream Game will be held in the near future. But then again, you’ll never know. All the more, the near free-for-all has fanned the fires of rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle. If ever there is a sequel, expect a full house because fans love a fiercely competitive game (in other words, a good fight).

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Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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