They came from all over the country, young athletes of different backgrounds and lineages, bound by their love of basketball. Their passion, dedication, and hard work had brought them to this point, allowing them to distinguish themselves from the hopefuls who first joined the Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA Regional Training Camps in January. Now, at the SM Mall of Asia Music hall, the handful of Finalists played it out in a series of games to determine who would be the 2016 Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA All-Stars. Also up in the air was who would be named Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA Coaches of the Year.
The culminating activity was part of the legacy of excellence in honing young ballers’ skills that has been the core of the program since its launch in the Philippines 10 years ago. Since then, the program has produced superstars such as Kobe Paras and Kiefer Ravena. With the introduction of the Coach of the Year program and, later on, the Jr. WNBA in the Philippines, the Jr. NBA has distinguished itself as a developmental platform for young athletes to realize their dreams.
The level of anticipation in the Mall of Asia Music Hall was electric, with families and coaches alike keeping focused eyes on their young charges’ individual performances, and with good reason: those named as All-Stars would have the chance to travel abroad to meet and train with their Jr. NBA peers from five other countries and watch an actual NBA game!
The day began with alumni from Jr. NBA years’ past, as the veterans showed the young ones what they had to look forward to if they kept up their training. After lunch, the 2016 batch broke off into teams under the colors of either 2-time NBA Champion Norris Cole of the New Orleans Pelicans or WNBA legend Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Thus it was, with everything on the line that, this year’s hopefuls showed their hearts on fire to prove they had what it takes to play with the regions’ best.
Competition was intense as the 2016 Jr. NBA Finalists played with hearts on fire to make the All-Star squad.
Stellar play followed stellar play, with invited guests and media noting the extra effort that everyone was putting in. The intensity and competition were powerful, but even if each player knew they were essentially testing themselves against each other, they never gave in to their base instincts, embodying the values of teamwork and good sportsmanship that had been emphasized to them over the last four months.
When the final buzzer sounded, and the customary handshakes had been exchanged, the suspense felt before the results was palpable. When the All-Stars, Special Awards and Coaches of the Year were finally announced, with applause and emotions flowing in equal measure, everyone knew they had just witnessed something special.
When all was said and done, the players may have come from all over the country, young athletes of different backgrounds and lineages, but after all the drills, trials, and obstacles they had overcome, they were leaving as something more than competitors – they were leaving as friends: a legacy more than worth playing for.