MANILA, January 2, 2006
(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - An abundant New Year to everyone.

Most of us would like to forget 2005. In a sense, the tenor of the times filled us with a sense of dread that the sky would cave in on us, particularly with the constant turbulence in our economy, the incessant posturing of headline-grabbing politicians, and the seemingly never-ending problems Filipinos faced overseas. Sports seemed like a balm to ease peopleís burdens, more than the emotional catharsis of welling up with tears watching a telenovela. Moments of real triumph have that healing effect. It may be the last communal experience available to man, vicariously sharing another Everymanís triumph.

Yes, we have much to look forward to this year. (By the way, Christmas isnít officially over yet, until the commemoration of the visit of the three magi to the Christ child.) Never a dull moment, it appears.

The Long Road Back. Will Gerry PeŮalosa overcome his recently-broken thirteen-month absence and get a legitimate shot at a world title again? What is the next move for the surprising southerner? Geronimo demolished a scary Dario Azuaga in ten rounds, showing spotless punching and smooth footwork to earn every round and floor the knockout artist twice in later rounds. Will his management team be able to put together another bout that will catapult him into contention for a bantamweight crown? The next few months will tell.

The Ball Never Ends. This January alone, two of the largest ó if not the largest ó private basketball tournaments open their 2006 tournaments. The Ateneo Basketball League (ABL), which boasts of a continuously growing roster of well over 100 teams, opens on the weekend of the 14th at several venues all over Metro Manila. For the first time, it will include a womenís division. In a span of days, the Metro Basketball Tournament (MBT), which swelled to over 100 teams last year, will likewise usher in an expanded line-up of teams for its three-conference calendar. That should keep many weekend warriors busy for a while.

Export Quality. This year will also be the coming out party for the two Filipino "exports" that The STAR first brought to the publicís attention. First, in April, high school coach Riki Magallanes was sent to Vietnam to take over their young menís basketball team. Before the year was out, he was promoted to head coach of the national team. He has set up coaching clinics all over that small country, scouting for whatever meager talent he may put into the national pool. It was a lonely uphill climb for a while, but this year, Magallanes is set to make bigger strides. Meanwhile, Maui Villanueva, a 6í4 former UAAP juniors Most Valuable Player, has been making waves as an athletic scholar in the Kyoto high school district in Japan. Villanueva, who spent a few weeks in isolation as he acclimatized (and so as not to let opponents scout him), has impressed his coaches and opponents, and is now a force to be reckoned with, opening the doors for more Japanese high school coaches to come to the Philippines to find basketball talent.

Never Resting. Weíre also looking forward to some movement regarding the case revolving around the death of high school basketball player Kenji Kanai. You will recall that in July, Kanai was crushed to death when a speeding car rammed headlong into the vehicle he was alighting from in front of the Ateneo De Manila campus early one Saturday morning. The case has been maneuvered from the Regional Trial Court to the Metropolitan Trial Court, where the initial burst of media attention has since subsided. The familyís pain has yet to be assuaged.

A New Ball Game. Now that the Southeast Asian Games are over, itís back to the political tug-of-war for basketball in the Philippines. Which side will back down in the struggle for power between the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Basketball Association of the Philippines? Will the third entity that may save the situation ever emerge in 2006, or will be mired in more stalling tactics, dragging the courts and other uninvolved agencies into the messy affair? When will they all just display some maturity and resolve their differences properly?

Formula for Success. The feedback among some of the godfathers of the Southeast Asian Games has been good. Many donors were satisfied with the way the First Gentlemanís Foundation and specifically, Mike Keon, handled the disbursement of funds. The overseas training obviously insulated the athletes from all the political turmoil and trepidation surrounding our preparations. Given the bigger goal of conquering the Asian Games in a shorter time span, will the same formula be retooled to boost specific sports? Will the godfathers dig deep into their formidable resources and answer the call for support again?

Silence Isnít Golden. We are also awaiting a formal closure to the investigation of the UAAP into the ineligibility of the two players who saw action for the De La Salle Green Archers. Will it be probation or suspension for the schoolís menís basketball program? How far will the ripples reach? Will other schools look inside their own systems and correct the flaws in their student-athlete programs? And will they institute reforms that will prevent ineligible students from matriculating and wearing the school colors, and check to see if they really do study, in the first place?

These are just some of the stories worth watching for in 2006. Never a dull moment, as you know.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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