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2015 in Basketball: A year-end report

THE year 2015 was a basketball year full of intrigues.

While the breakthroughs were there, it was the side stories that highlighted the year in the Philippines' national pastime. Here are the top basketball stories of 2015.

1. Ending a Drought

Letran and FEU last won their respective league titles ten years ago, so winning it this year was a breakthrough for them. For the Tamaraws, it was actually a year in the making as they were feted to win last year's UAAP crown only to be stunned by consensus underdogs NU Bulldogs. This year, FEU was once again tagged favorite to win it all, and the team finally lived up to the tag by beating UST in three games. The win handed the Tams their 20th UAAP crown, solidifying their stature as the winningest squad in the league. The case of the Knights, though, was different. Nobody expected Letran to win it all, but rookie coach Aldin Ayo made it happen. Despite not having a legit star, he banked on his stroke of genius, a pressure defense-oriented playing system, to pull the improbable, winning the first seven games of the NCAA season and putting trust on undersized center Jom Sollano in the endgame of the deciding match of the finals.

2. Ayo to La Salle

However, the Letranites' jubilant faces instantly turned into frowns when Ayo himself officially announced that he is leaving the north side of Taft for the greener south side. Ayo's transfer to La Salle was actually a shocker among the sports fans and pundits alike because no one expected a champion coach leaving his team right after he won the title. However, he clarified that neither money (the contract was reportedly a three-year, PHP9 million deal) nor politics (Ayo is an incumbent councilman in Sorsogon, while La Salle's chief backer Danding Cojuangco is the head of the Nationalist People's Coalition) played a role for him to say yes to the La Salle offer.

3. San Miguel's Dominance

Meanwhile, in the PBA, San Miguel nearly duplicated sister team Star's grand slam feat after winning two titles. The treble bid, however, was derailed as early as the Commissioner's Cup when the Beermen made an early exit. Still, SMB showcased brilliance, especially in the paint with the vastly improved Junemar Fajardo, who would win his second MVP title.

4. There Can Only Be Two?

For the first time in PCCL history, two national champions were crowned with San Beda essentially pulling a two-peat by beating NCAA finals tormentor Letran and FEU essentially becoming the second three-time PCCL titlists after downing the lone non-Metro Manila team in the finals, USC. While everyone was aware that the weather condition played a factor in having two championship games (Typhoon Nona prompted the organization to make last-minute schedule adjustments), many were still intrigued that the PCCL had to do it.

5. Women's Basketball Renaissance

The year 2015 also saw a breakthrough in the distaff side when Perlas Pilipinas earned a promotion to the FIBA Asia Women's Basketball Level 1. Joining the top-tier for the continental play means that the Philippines can now earn a spot in the FIBA Women's World Cup. To add to the blessings, the PBA launched a women's 3-on-3 tournament and a club league was organized by women's basketball legend Merenciana Arayi, putting the girls just a few steps away from having their own play-for-pay cagefest.

6. #AlPob

Probably the biggest shocker to hit the sporting world. Model and former ring girl Abby Poblador dropped a huge bomb at an episode of a certain podcast when she admitted that she had an affair with a PBA team official, who she later revealed as Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua. The said revelation became a massive talk of the town that eventually led to the PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa banning a Spin.PH reporter Snow Badua from the games. Many journalists from the traditional and the online outfits wondered if the ban was a stern warning by Narvasa to them. He later clarified that the press freedom was still not curtailed with the said decision.

7. Another Silver Shining Like Gold

Gilas Pilipinas again won the silver in the FIBA Asia Championship, making the championship game for the second straight time. Many Filipino fans, however, believed that the team at least could have been at a close margin with eventual winner China if not for some bum calls. Still, Gilas put up a gallant effort.

8. #Puso2019

And finally there's the Philippines' hosting bid to the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Everybody expected the SBP to be sincere in persuading FIBA to hold the games, but nobody expected SBP to be on a high-level of sincerity that even became a tearjerker for some. In the end, however, the reality bites sank in as China, who boasted its transportation breakthroughs and its colorful history of even hosting the Olympics, won the bidding.

Next year, Gilas Pilipinas, by virtue of finishing second in the FIBA Asia Championship, will vie for one of the remaining three spots in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics. Also, Aldin Ayo will make his La Salle debut, while Letran is looking for his successor. Another thing to watch out is the PBA Draft, where arguably the most-anticipated draft class ever featuring Kiefer Ravena, Rey Nambatac, Kevin Ferrer, Mac Belo, and Jio Jalalon will show up.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno