MANILA A total of 24 teams will see action in the SMART National Basketball Training Center (NBTC) League National Finals, which kicks off at the Mall of Asia Arena on March 15.
"After three years of hiatus, we couldn't be any more thrilled to bring the NBTC back. It has always been our mission to put the spotlight on the grassroots level of Philippine basketball and after 13 years, that remains the same," NBTC founder and program director Eric Altamirano said during the national finals' launch at the Mall of Asia Arena's Premier Cafe restaurant on Thursday.
"We firmly believe that investing in the future now can only set us up for a brighter tomorrow. If there are still doubts on that, one need not to look far. Just take a quick glance at the PBA, the premier collegiate leagues and our imports who had flown the country's flag, high and proud internationally. Chances are, a big chuck of these players have that indelible NBTC mark with them wherever they go," he added.
Altamirano, a former PBA player, noted that as in past editions, regional champions and homegrown stars have fought hard in local qualifying tournaments to compete in the national finals.
"Eight overseas teams from the NBTC Global Games tournaments are joining as we expand our reach and unearth the untapped Fil-foreign talents who we could look forward to watching in the future,” he said.
He said top high school teams in Manila, including from the University Athletics Association of the Philippines and National Collegiate Athletic Association, would position themselves to be the next household names once they leap to senior ranks.
“If you are not familiar with the players now, just wait until March 15 when we finally see them in action," Altamirano said. "Developing skills, building character and raising leaders, more than the game, we want to ingrain into these young kids, and even those who will watch them play, that they should be role models and good stewards of the game, on and off the court. We believe that laying down the foundation this early could only benefit Philippine basketball in the long run.”
Also present were SM Prime Holdings Chairman Hans Sy, PLDT 1st Vice President and Head of Sports Jude Turcuato, Under Armour Philippines senior marketing manager Jojo Estacio, Samahang Basketball sa Pilipinas (SBP) Executive Director and Gilas Pilipinas team manager Butch Antonio, and National University high school team member Reinhard Jumamoy.
"It's every player's dream to play in the NBTC. I am super excited," said the 5-foot-11 Jumamoy, who was a reserve player when the NU (National University) Bullpups won their second straight UAAP title in Season 82,” Altamirano said.
The SMART NBTC National Finals also features an All-Star game between Team Heart and Team Hustle and side events slam dunk, 3-point shootouts, and skills challenge contests.
Fil-Am Select USA, seeded fifth in the tournament, will take on 20th-seeded Doc Boleros of Quezon City, while sixth-seeded Sacred Heart School-Ateneo De Cebu will face 19th-seeded Rome Elite.
A team from Toronto, seeded seventh will battle 18th-seeded St. Benilde International School of Calamba City, while eighth-seeded Pampanga Delta take on 17th-seeded Homegrown Crusaders of Australia.
The other NBTC Super 24 games feature Level Up Team Abro of Davao City taking on the University of Luzon in Dagupan, Team United of the United States battling a selection from Winnipeg, and Holy Trinity College of General Santos fighting Pinoy Mavs of New Zealand.
Meanwhile, five teams, namely the Dubai Patriots, Philippine Christian University (PCU)-Dasmariñas, Batang Tiaong, Team Tarlac, and St. Louis School of Don Bosco will have to wait for a little while before they find out who they will face first in the NBTC.
Dubai has been drawn into a first-round battle against whichever will prevail in the Batangas local qualifying tournament.
The Batangas qualifiers will only end by March 11.
Meanwhile, PCU-Dasmariñas, Tiaong, Tarlac, and Don Bosco-Dumaguete will face either a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) team in the Super 24.
The UAAP is now in the Final Four phase where Adamson takes on the University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University-Diliman battles Nazareth School of National University on Tuesday at the FilOil EcoOil Centre in San Juan City.
On the other hand, the NCAA Final Four began also on Thursday with San Beda-Taytay beating La Salle Greenhills, 83-77, in the playoff for the second seed at the San Andres Sports Complex in Manila, which serves as Game 1 of a virtual best-of-three.
The other Final Four pairing sees top-seeded Letran battling fourth-seeded Malayan High School of Science on Monday with Letran holding a twice-to-beat advantage. (PNA)