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Hapee eyes D-League title

Reaching the finals right on its first conference in the PBA Development League after a five-year absence in the amateur league is already an achievement.

But the Hapee Toothpaste Fresh Fighters are not going to settle for that as they go for their ultimate goal when they face the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns in the finals of the Aspirants Cup.

With a star-studded lineup, the Lamoiyan Corporation-owned franchise advanced to the best-of-three title series nicely by sweeping CaféFrance in their semis series, 2-0.

The title series starts tomorrow at The Arena in San Juan, with the team determined to give owner Dr. Cecilio Pedro his first title since the Fash Liquid Detergent won the 2004 Platinum Cup of the now-defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL).

“Our company is thrilled with this opportunity of being this close to completing our mission of winning the title on our first conference in the D-League,” Pedro said.

During its PBL stint, the franchise won four championships, first by winning the 1996 Reinforced Import Conference with Chinese star center Ma Jian as the team and the tournament’s top attraction.

“That was the start of good things for the franchise,” said Hapee team manager and Pedro’s top basketball lieutenant.

Hapee’s success continued well into the 2000s by capturing the 2002 Chairman’s Cup and the 2003 Unity Cup before nailing its title No. 4 in 2004 under the Fash Liquid banner – a team bannered then by Ateneo stars, including Larry Fonacier and LA Tenorio, and Purefoods versatile guard PJ Simon.

This year’s batch of Hapee players are no strangers to stardom.

Coached by Ronnie Magsanoc, the Fresh Fighters will be led by former UAAP Most Valuable Player Bobby Ray Parks, Gilas cadet standout Garvo Lanete, San Beda stars Baser Amer, Ola Adeogun and Art dela Cruz, former National University star Troy Rosario, ex-Ateneo mainstays Chris Newsome and Kirk Long and NCAA MVP Earl Thompson of University of Perpetual Help.

“With the players meshing well under the leadership of coach Ronnie, I’m confident that the team can bounce back against Cagayan despite our loss in the elimination round,” added Yang, whose team’s lone defeat came at the expense of the Rising Suns.

A victory over Cagayan in the finals could give a tremendous boost to Hapee’s bid of joining the Philippine Basketball Association.

“It will all depend on our performance, but it’s our dream,” said Pedro.