Naascu title run prepped Cafe France
CAFE France may be a first-time champion in the PBA D-League, but its players are no stranger to title runs.
Fielding a squad bereft of big names, the Bakers still got it done by banking on the core of Centro Escolar University, a two-time champion in the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (Naascu).
“We took it as a challenge,” said CEU guard Alvin Abundo. “Even though we’re not in the NCAA or UAAP, we showed that we have the talent and that we can play.”
The Bakers outlasted Hapee, 56-55, in a thrilling do-or-die Game 3 Thursday where Congolese Rodrigue Ebondo buried the title-clincher with just 1.8 seconds left.
“It’s a bit different in the D-League, but the experience of playing in the Naascu championships gave the players the edge,” said Cafe France coach Egay Macaraya. “It was a big advantage for us.”
Hapee coach Ronnie Magsanoc also credited the Bakers for their game-winning play.
But Magsanoc likewise commended his Fresh Fighters—who had to deal with the absence of star players for various reasons throughout the conference—for coming so close to their bid for back-to-back crowns.
“The finish was different but the amount of sacrifice that they gave and the kind hardships we had to overcome, the boys are still achievers,” said Magsanoc. “From what I see, we gave our best and left everything on the line.”
For now, the Bakers look to build another title contender as Filipino-American guard Maverick Ahanmisi and several CEU players like Abundo, Samboy de Leon and Joseph Sedurifa are set to sign up for the PBA Rookie Draft in August.
“It’s an opportunity for the players to showcase their talent,” said team owner Johnny Yap of the Bakers. “We had good years and bad years, but our goal is to always improve.”