MANILA – A huge early Christmas gift awaits the champion of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) Invitational.
Chooks-to-Go president Ronald Mascariñas announced on Friday night that he would be giving away PHP2 million to the team that will win it all in the short tournament from December 11 to 23.
MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes believes the huge pot money at stake should give the teams another reason to go all-out.
“That’s added motivation to those who are involved in the organization, especially the players, dahil papunta na rin sa Pasko eh (because Christmas is nearing),” the Philippine Basketball Association legend said.
The other two podium finishers will also not be leaving the pre-Yuletide event empty-handed.
The second placer will receive PHP500,000, while the third placer will take home PHP250,000.
The announcement happened during the group draw for the elimination round of the MPBL Invitational at the Crowne Plaza Grand Ballroom in Pasig.
The 22 participating teams were divided into four groups of varying numbers of clubs.
Groups A and D will have six teams each.
Western Visayas-based teams Iloilo United Royals, Bacolod All-Star Ballers, and newcomers Negros Muscovados have all been drawn to Group A to be joined by Luzon-based clubs Bacoor City Strikers, Pasig Realtors, and the Caloocan team now known as the Excellence.
The other six-team group, Group D, will have Manila, Rizal, Imus, GenSan, Mindoro, and Bulacan in it.
The other two groups, Groups B and C, will have five teams each.
However, the two teams tipped to be the strongest on paper have been seeded in each of the groups.
As part of their “perks” for topping the previous Chooks-to-Go sponsored events this year, Basilan and San Juan have been seeded to the two five-team groups.
The Peace Riders, the inaugural Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup champions, will headline Group B, which also has the Laguna Heroes, Marikina Shoemasters, Bicol Volcanoes, and the newly-renamed Makati Blazers in it.
On the other hand, the Knights, the runners-up from last season but got the bonus with eventual champions Davao Occidental Tigers not joining, are seeded to Group C, which also has the Valenzuela Classic, Sarangani Marlins, Muntinlupa Cagers, and the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards.
“Ang assessment ko is parang fair yung playing field dahil pare-pareho silang na-off nang matagal (My assessment of the group draw is that the playing field is fair because they have been laid off for a long time),” Duremdes said, analyzing how the draw went.
He noted that for most of the teams, this is their first basketball event amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
He also ruled out that a “group of death” has been formed during the draw despite the storylines that could swirl within the four first-round groups.
In Group A, for instance, the intense Western Visayas sports rivalry between Bacolod and Iloilo is expected to be reignited MPBL-wise with all the three Western Visayas teams drawn into the group.
Group C, however, looks stacked on paper with San Juan, Nueva Ecija, and Valenzuela, which played in the VisMin Cup Visayas leg as the Talisay Aquastars, in it.
‘Go all-out from start to finish’
The teams will play a single round-robin group stage phase among their groups.
Up to five games will be played per day during the preliminary round.
The top two teams per group will qualify for the knockout stages, where all the games from the quarterfinals until the championship round will be do-or-die matches.
The tournament calendar is similar to how FIBA organizes its main tournaments either at the club level or the national team level.
For Duremdes, going all-out from the get-go and excellence, especially during the playoffs, are the keys for a team to win in this tournament setup.
“Kailangan mo talagang makipag-bakbakan sa eliminations, and then doon sa crossover playoffs – sa quarters, semis, at final – wala ka nang room for error. Di ka na pwedeng magkamali doon kasi pag natalo ka, out ka na (You really need to clash with the other teams in the eliminations, and then in the crossover playoffs – in the quarters, semis, and the finals – you have no more room for error. You cannot make a mistake there because if you lose, you’re out),” he further said, adding that this is something the coaches should be getting used to.
Hopeful for a fan comeback
Meanwhile, Mascariñas also confirmed that the MPBL Invitational will happen at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, the first time the venue will host a sports event amid the pandemic.
Games and Amusements Board official Rodil Manaog first announced the development during the agency’s monthly press conference earlier Friday, although Duremdes hinted at this possibility during the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum last week.
While Bounty Agroventures, Inc. spokesman Mark Zambrano initially said during the MPBL Invitational press launch earlier this month that the games might be held behind closed doors as part of the league’s Covid-19 protocols for the event, Duremdes said during the group draw that there could be a chance that fans would be allowed to watch the games in flesh.
Pasay, like the rest of Metro Manila, is under Alert Level 2, allowing sports centers to accommodate fully vaccinated fans at a 50 percent capacity limit.
Duremdes expressed hope that the city’s local government would clear the MPBL to welcome fans into the MOA Arena.
“Hopefully, bibigyan tayo ng Pasay LGU (local government unit) ng konting crowd para naman masaya ang mga laro natin (the Pasay LGU would give us some crowd to make the games more fun),” he said, although he added that allowing fans to watch would also need approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
MPBL fans, however, need not frown if the league’s appeal gets vetoed as all the games will be streamed live on its Facebook page.
Duremdes, however, said the league is in talks with a major network for a national television broadcast.
He did not disclose which TV station got the nod but he assured that the broadcasting deal is up “for confirmation.” (PNA)