What makes Clint Escamis special isn't his ability to put up incredible statlines next to his name nor his penchant to knock down impossible shots against a tough defense.
What makes the 5-foot-11 rookie guard special is his ability to make those around him better.
Prior to Escamis' homecoming in Season 99, Mapua University was a struggling team and was still finding its identity back. The Cardinals surprisingly made it to the finals of Season 97 but they were quickly sent crushing back to reality when eventual champion Colegio de San Juan de Letran imposed its will in their championship duel.
There was nowhere to go but up for that Mapua squad, however, they failed to live up to the expectations in the following season after a gloomy 7-11 record to finish seventh overall in Season 98.
Change came in Season 99 when Escamis finally made a much-awaited return to a team so familiar to him that he showed no jitters i his first year back and even made it as one of the MVP frontrunners.
And for head coach Randy Alcantara, the pieces he has long been trying to put together are now complete.
"Nandiyan na ‘yung pundasyon eh, kumbaga parang nabuo na ‘yung puzzle so sana tuloy-tuloy at hindi naman ‘yan (Escamis) babalik kung walang purpose," Alcantara, who was part of the last Mapua championship team, said.
[The foundation is already there. It's like the puzzle was made whole. I hope this goes all the way and he didn't come back for no purpose.]
Escamis' arrival definitely made life easier for Mapua.
The shifty playmaker, who saw success with the Mapua high school program, is churning out veteran-like numbers for the Cardinals, averaging 16.53 points, 5.95 rebounds, 4.21 assists, 3.68 steals, and 0.26 blocks to steer his team to the finals and inch closer to ending a 32-year title wait as the last time the Cardinals copped the title was in 1991, when they defeated San Beda University in three games to rule Season 67.
Incidentally, they are pitted against the same team this upcoming Season 99 best-of-three finals showdown.
But good thing for the Intramuros crew, they have more than just Escamis in their arsenal.
Veterans Warren Bonifacio and Paolo Hernandez are steady as always with the graduating team captain posting 10.42 points and 5.95 rebounds while the grizzled sniper is averaging 9.21 markers, 4.58 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.05 steals, and 0.37 blocks.
But it is the rise of another senior Jopet Soriano and sophomore Marc Cuenco as well as the impressive debut of rookies JC Recto and Ryle Rosillo that make this Mapua team dangerous.
Soriano, who averaged 3.0 points and 3.72 rebounds last season, has now the emerged as the next reliable big man for Mapua behind his 8.44 points, 4.78 rebounds, and 0.83 blocks while Cuenco, a seldom-used last season, is now posting 9.74 markers, 3.89 boards, 2.16 dimes, and 0.89 steals. In Season 98, the sharpshooter only managed to collect 4.57 points, 2.86 rebounds, and 1.07 assists.
Recto and Rosillo also make sure to rally the bench with their production coming off of it.
The 6-foot-3 Recto is the sixth leading scorer for Mapua behind the quintet of Escamis, Bonifacio, Cuenco, Hernandez, and Soriano with 7.74 points laced with 7.26 rebounds, 2.32 assists, and 1.53 steals while Rosillo, a product of Adamson high school, has 4.39 markers, 2.89 rebounds, and 1.94 assists.
With Alcantara finally finding the perfect mix of players, he believes they can go all the way.
"‘Yung masasakit na nangyari sa amin nu'ng last season, ‘yun ang naging parang motivation namin," he said.
"Ang goal ay makipag-compete lang every game at naging maganda naman ‘yung resulta atsaka ‘yung hard work at teamwork ng mga players, ‘yun ang mga key."
[The disappointment from last season, that has become our motivation. The goal is to compete every game and it has produced results and the hard work and teamwork of the players has been key.]
The Cardinals have proven this season they are a championship-caliber team.
They opened their campaign with twin wins against San Sebastian and San Beda but fell to Jose Rizal University with a 70-61 defeat. But they came right back up, winning their next six games to regain the trust of the community.
Bouncing back hard is also the name of the game for Mapua as after their loss to Lyceum in the second round, the Cardinals have yet to drop a single game again. They closed out the eliminations round riding a six-game winning streak after topping the Stags, EAC, San Beda, Perpetual, Arellano, and JRU to claim the top seed.
They then sent Benilde packing after eking out a 77-67 win in their Final four encounter to clinch a finals berth. And they seek to pull off the same fate in a finals face-off with San Beda that is 32 years in the making.
"Nu'ng Season 97 na-fall short kami, last season struggle that season pero this season I'll do my best na makuha this season kasi ang tagal na ring nagaasam ng Mapua eh lalo na si Coach Randy," Hernandez said.
[In Season 97, we fell short. Last season, we struggled. But this season I'll do my best to get the title because Mapua has been waiting for this for so long, especially Coach Randy.]
"With Clint and Boni and the rookies, we will be all out this coming finals and we'll try to get this championship."
—JMB, GMA Integrated News
This article With right pieces to the puzzle, Mapua hopes to quench 32-year title wait was originally published in GMA News Online.2023-12-06T06:06:55Z dg43tfdfdgfd