Pinoy contender hammers Mexican foe

By Truth Esguerra, Correspondent

LAS VEGAS -- Top Filipino boxing contender Mercito "NoMercy" Gesta defeated Gilberto Gonzalez during his comeback fight on April 1 at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.

Gesta, who is coming from a 17 month layoff from boxing, was able to overcome a third round knockdown and pound his way to a victory over the heavy-handed Gonzalez.

The 29 year-old Cebu native pulverized the Mexican boxing contender with multiple punch combinations and slick boxing techniques throughout a majority of the fight.

Gesta was awarded the victory by the ring judges who scored the bout 96-93,99-91,and 98-92.

The rising Filipino boxing star, who is signed with Golden Boy Promotions, said he is looking forward to more fights in the near future.

"I'm back!" he said. "I can't wait to see what this year willunfold."

Gesta's record improves to 30 wins (16 KOs), 1loss, and 2 draws.

Fajardo takes home 4th All-Filipino Best Player award

June Mar Fajardo continues to etch his legend among the league’s greats.The ever-humble Cebuano giant rewrote the history books anew, winning his fifth Best Player of the Conference award on Friday.
The honor allowed Fajardo to tie the record set by Beermen great Danny Ildefonso, who also won five BPC awards in his 17-year career.

The 6-foot-10 big ma can’t help but be overwhelmed with the distinction he now shares with his mentor.
“Of course, I feel proud because I don’t expect that I can match him. I just feel really happy,” said Fajardo in Filipino.
Averaging 19.4 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.5 assists, Fajardo has once again stamped his class among the locals, winning his fourth BPC plum in an all-Filipino conference.
And after helping San Miguel reach the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup Finals, it’s all but a lock that the three-time PBA Most Valuable Player adds another hardware to his already loaded trophy collection.
Fajardo netted 1217 votes to nab the crown, besting fellow candidates GlobalPort’s Terrence Romeo, Alaska’s Calvin Abueva, and teammates Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos.
However, Fajardo’s goal remains the same: to help give San Miguel its third straight Philippine Cup and claim the Perpetual trophy.
“I’m thankful, but it’s better if all of us are happy so I really want to be a champion again.”

Romeo was at distant second in the BPC race with 711 votes, followed by Cabagnot (556 votes), Santos (381 votes), and Abueva (370 votes).

College basketball: Filipino superstar Kobe Paras awaits his turn with Creighton

OMAHA, Neb. -- In his native country, media call Kobe Paras a "hoops sensation" and "wunderkind," and his family is known as the "Kardashians of the Philippines."

At Creighton, Paras is the 13th man on a team that suits up 14.

While fellow freshman Justin Patton has made a name for himself as a potential NBA lottery pick, Paras is the one who's been asked for a picture not just by a middle-aged woman who followed him into the locker room after a game but by a Cheesecake Factory waitress in Providence, Rhode Island, who recognized him during a team meal. He's the one who had a cheering section of more than a dozen Filipinos he didn't even know behind the bench at a tournament in the Virgin Islands.

The 19-year-old Paras boasts a social media following that includes 461,000 on Instagram and 114,000 on Twitter. A YouTube video of him winning a dunking contest drew more than 1.7 million views. Clips of Paras dunking over LeBron James in the Philippines attracted more than 2.5 million. King James wasn't trying very hard to defend, but still.

Paras has been in the spotlight his whole life. His father, Benjie, was a two-time MVP in the Philippine Basketball Association who's become a popular television actor in the country. His older brother, Andre, also is in showbiz. Paras was named after Kobe Bryant and wears No. 24.

Given his lineage, there's pressure on him. He said he uses it as motivation

"It's not an everyday thing that a 19-year-old is representing his country," Paras said. "It's just a blessing to me that God gave me the ability to represent a country at an early age, and the hope (Filipinos) have is pretty overwhelming."
Paras, who left the Philippines at age 15 to play high school basketball in Los Angeles, developed into a three-star recruit who originally signed with UCLA. He enrolled in the summer, but an academic issue led to his leaving and he wound up at Creighton. Websites that cover Creighton have seen a wave of traffic from the Philippines this season. At home, media report Creighton results and note when Paras doesn't play, which is the norm.

"Basketball fans see him as having the best chance to play in the NBA since he is already playing in an NCAA Division 1 school," Reuben Terrado, a reporter for the sports website, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Female fans adore him because of his good looks."

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has appeared in 11 of the 24 games this season for the 23rd-ranked Bluejays. He is averaging 5.7 minutes and 1.5 points. Only walk-on Jordan Scurry, his best friend on the team, has played less. The two liven up the end of the bench with their creative celebrations of teammates' outstanding plays.

"Even though I'm not playing, I've been eyeing the game and seeing it," Paras said. "College and high school are way different. The pace is way faster, more physical. I'm learning a lot."

Paras has been wrapped in a cocoon by his former high school and club coach, William Middlebrooks, whose organization handles interview requests for Paras. Interviews are conducted with his brand manager on the phone line and occasionally offering comments or expanding on Paras' responses.

"People have different agendas, and those agendas aren't always in the best interests of the kids," said Middlebrooks, whose program includes high school, prep and travel teams.

In Omaha, Paras is able to maintain a relatively low profile. Scurry said he didn't know about his buddy's fame in the Philippines until he looked up some of his basketball highlights last July.

Because Paras is likable and humble, teammates don't give him much grief for being a matinee idol, Scurry said. On campus, Paras is known as much for his fashion as he is for basketball. Scurry called Paras' style a cross between "L.A. and the Philippines," while Paras described it as a mix of Kanye West, Russell Westbrook and Chris Brown.

RELATED: AP Poll | Reactions to poll after crazy weekend of upsets

Paras also likes to cook. Beef stew is one of his specialties, and Scurry said Paras makes a mean red sauce to go over pasta. Scurry said Paras told him he might become a chef "if this whole basketball thing doesn't work out."

Whether it's basketball, fashion, cooking or any other endeavor, Paras refers to each as part of his "brand."

"My name isn't just Kobe Paras. Everything I do is part of Kobe Paras, Incorporated," Paras said.

Mind you, there is no Kobe Paras Inc. right now.

"There probably is going to be one when I graduate," he said.

This article was written by Eric Olson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Simone Biles soars to AP Female Athlete of the Year

By Will Graves (Associated Press) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 10:12am
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In this Aug. 7, 2016, file photo, United States' Simone Biles performs on the floor during the artistic gymnastics women's qualification at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Briles was selected as the AP Female Athlete of the Year, on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. | AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File
Simone Biles tried to treat the 2016 Summer Olympics like just your average ordinary gymnastics meet. So what if the stage and the stakes were different?

The floor was still the floor. The vault still the vault. The uneven bars still uneven. The balance beam still a four-inch wide test of nerves.

And the 19-year-old with the electric smile and boundless talent was still the best in the world. Maybe the best of all-time.

Over the course of 10 days in August, the biggest meet of her life ended like pretty much all the others in the four years that came before it: with Biles standing atop the podium, a gold medal around her neck and the sport she's redefining one boundary-pushing routine at a time staring up at her. Not that she remembers any of it.

"It's kind of a blur," Biles said.

Maybe to Biles, but not to the rest of the world. Her massive haul in Rio de Janeiro — a record-tying four golds to go along with a bronze for the dominant U.S. women's team — propelled her to stardom and rendered her last name superfluous. Now there's one more honor to add to what on Twitter is known simply as #SimoneThings: Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

In a vote by U.S. editors and news directors announced Monday, Biles received 31 votes out of a possible 59 votes. U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and a silver in Rio, finished second with 20 votes. Serena Williams, who won Wimbledon for the seventh time to tie Steffi Graf's record of 22 Grand Slam titles, and three-time AP women's NCAA basketball Player of the Year Breanna Stewart tied for third with four votes each.

The AP Male Athlete of the Year will be announced Tuesday.

Biles became the fifth gymnast to win the honor, joining Olga Korbut in 1972, Nadia Comaneci in 1976, Mary Lou Retton in 1984 and Gabby Douglas in 2012. It's company Biles joined while completing a run of dominance that included three straight all-around World Championships, an unprecedented run at the top in a sport where peaks are often measured in months, not years.

The teenager from Spring, Texas, hardly seemed burdened by the outsized expectations. If anything, she embraced them. She opted out of a verbal commitment to compete collegiately at UCLA to turn professional so she could cash in on the lucrative opportunities afforded an Olympic champion, a bit of a gamble considering the window is so narrow and directly tied to success at the Games.

Yet Biles seemed immune to it. At least on the outside. Inside, there were more than a few butterflies when she stepped onto the floor during team preliminaries on Aug. 7. They vanished the moment she stepped onto the green and cream colored floor at Rio Olympic Arena as she and the rest of her "Final Five" teammates — Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian — put on a clinic that showcased how substantial the gap between the Americans and the rest of the world has grown.

Then again, the gulf between Biles and every other gymnast on the planet — even her good friends in red, white and blue — may be even wider.

"In prelims I did very well I kind of shocked myself," Biles said. "I came in thinking, 'I've been to three worlds.' I knew the gist of it. Once I got (prelims) out of the way, I just kind of relaxed."

Mbala wants to play for Gilas

By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 12:00am
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Ben Mbala (left) with two-time Olympic cager Tony Genato.
MANILA, Philippines - La Salle’s Ben Mbala said yesterday if ever an invitation to join Gilas as a naturalized player comes his way, it would be an honor to play for the country that the Cameroonian calls his second home.

“I love the Philippines,” said the 6-7 Mbala who this season became La Salle’s first UAAP senior men’s basketball MVP in 17 years. “I can see myself settling down in the Philippines but right now, I’m not thinking of getting married or raising a family. My priorities are to win more championships for La Salle and earn a degree.”

Mbala, 21, is taking up Business Management. He was on the Dean’s List two terms back and almost made it again this past term. “I got an A in Economics Statistics but my GPA wasn’t high enough for the Dean’s List,” he said. “As a student athlete, I’m trying hard to be a good role model. You’ll notice when I play, I smile a lot. Coach Aldin (Ayo) always reminds me to keep my cool because opponents will try to get me out of my game and mess with my mind by roughing me up. But I just walk away from all that with a smile. They double team me, sometimes triple team me, they choke me, they hold me down. I try not to get frustrated when the referees don’t call the foul. It’s worse when I get banged up and I get called for the foul. I know if I mess up, it won’t be good for the team. I’d rather be on the court than on the bench.”

Next season, La Salle will miss Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Julian Sargent and Thomas Torres who’ve completed their years of UAAP eligibility but Mbala said the Archers will remain competitive. “I remember when we won the Filoil Flying V championship, Jason and Julian didn’t play and Jeron missed some key games because of injury,” he said. “Still, we were competitive. Of course, we’ll miss them all, especially Jeron. We’ll also miss Thomas who sets up our plays and is such a smart point guard. That means others must step up. We’ve got guys like Prince (Rivero), Abu (Tratter) and Kib (Montalbo). Aljun (Melecio) will only get better as he matures. Mark (Dyke) is adjusting to the college game and I expect him to contribute. He was a big man in high school and now, his role is different. Andrew (Langston) took a year off and it was a blessing. He played without pressure in the offseason and picked up his game. Then, we’ve got guys like Santi (Dodong Santillan) who’s a stretch four and Gabe (Capacio) who’s a deadshot shooter.”

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Mbala said there’s pressure on La Salle to repeat. “This early, they’re calling us the team to beat,” he said. “I know the other teams are beefing up so it will be a challenge for us to retain the title. But my goal is a three-peat. After I graduate, I hope to continue playing. Joining Gilas would be an option if I’m invited to play as a naturalized player.”

The other day, Mbala met two-time Olympic cager Tony Genato, a veteran of the Philippine team that took third place and the bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Genato, now 87, played at the 1952 Helsinki and 1954 Olympics. “Of course, it’s a dream to play in the Olympics,” he said. “I’ve been invited to train with the Cameroon national team but the schedule conflicts with my studies. Besides, basketball isn’t a priority sport in Cameroon where football is No. 1. NBA players from Cameroon don’t play for the national team because the game isn’t popular, there is little support and they’re not covered by insurance.”

Unloads a career best 32 pts King Japeth deals Star royal bashing

By Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 12:00am
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Japeth Aguilar
MANILA, Philippines - For all his wondrous shooting touch, behemoth Japeth Aguilar is actually being developed to be Barangay Ginebra’s pillar of defense.

But Sunday night at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, Aguilar lit up the showdown with Star with tremendous offensive thrust, going 5-of-5 from the long range and finishing with a career-best 32 points as the Gin Kings toppled the Hotshots, 86-79, in the PBA Philippine Cup.

“I was surprised my offense came along. To be honest, I was focused on defense as I was instructed by coach Tim (Cone),” said Aguilar.

“One of those moments in my basketball career that I never expected to happen – five out of five from the three-point line,” he added.

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But Ginebra coach Tim Cone insisted he wasn’t a bit surprised by Aguilar’s three-point shooting, saying they’ve long been urging their athletic center to take the shots from the long range.

“If you remember, I coached his dad Peter. And Peter was like the best shooting big man I’ve ever seen. So when I first saw Japeth, he looked exactly the same, same form, everything,” said Cone. “Japeth has great form and great ability to be that kind of player that can shoot shots like that. So I’m not surprised by it. Hopefully, we don’t live by it, but that is a nice weapon to keep.”

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