By Jerome Lagunzad
(Muntinlupa Sports Complex)
7 p.m. – Batangas vs Valenzuela
9 p.m. – Navotas vs Muntinlupa
With forward Gab Dagangon leading the way, Parañaque-Yakimix turned back Caloocan-Longrich, 70-60, on Thursday night as the inaugural Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League got going at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-3 Dagangon sizzled with a game-high 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field and came up a rebound shy of a double-double to help the Patriots hold off the Supremos in the opener of the home-and-away tournament made possible by Senator Manny Pacquiao.
Former University of Santo Tomas stalwart Jemal Vizcarra added 14 points while Dagangon’s fellow Perpetual Help product, Harold Arboleda, collected 11 points, as many rebounds and four assist for Parañaque, which turned to its rock-solid defense to foil Caloocan’s rally down the stretch.
“Bumalik ‘yung nerbiyos ko ngayon,” Patriots’ well-respected coach Aric del Rosario said in jest. “Pero ngayon masaya ako kasi nakabalik ako sa first love ko – which is basketball. Sana lang mapaganda itong liga na ‘to.”
Former San Beda product Mar Villahermosa and ex-Arellano guard Donald Gumaru accounted for 11 points each for the Supremos, who charged back from nine points down in the third period but still ran out of steam in the crunch.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao, 39, expressed high hopes that the fledging league, which has lured 10 teams for the inaugural conference known as the Anta Rajah Cup, will soon developed as the local version of National Basketball Association if things fall according to plan.
“Marami pang teams ang gusto sumali. Kapag dumami ‘yan, parang magiging NBA-style. Kung sa kanila may East and West. Dito naman magkakaroon ng North and South,” said the eight-division world boxing champion, who tapped former pro league great Kenneth Duremdes as the league commissioner.
“Mahigit isang taon ‘yung formula na ginawa natin para mapaganda at ma-involve ‘yung mga mamayan sa liga na’to. At naisip ko talaga na ma-involve rin ‘yung local government (units).”
Action resumes tonight at the Muntinlupa Sports Complex, with Batangas-Tanduay Athletics taking on Valenzuela Classic at 7 p.m. followed by Navotas Clutch against host Muntinlupa Cagers at 9 p.m.
Former Kia mentor Chris Gavina will call the shots for the Classic, bannered by former pro Paolo Hubalde, while ex-Far Eastern University stalwart Ron Dennison is expected to lead the Clutch’ title bid.