MANILA, Philippines - There could only be one.
For 5 years, Mark Cruz and Baser Amer have battled it out on the hardcourt, giving not only their hearts but sacrificed their bodies game after another.
Little did we know that despite fighting for different schools, Amer and Cruz have much in common. Both play a crucial role on their respective teams, dominate the scoreboards and play each game like it was their last.
However this time around, as the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights faced the San Beda College Red Lions in the NCAA Finals, it was truly their last game in the oldest collegiate league in the country.
The ending was not as Amer nor the Red Army expected it to be as San Beda sat down on the throne for 5 consecutive years, expectant of another year of dominance.
It only took one game to add another similarity to the list and also make the biggest difference these players could have, as Cruz exited the NCAA with the long coveted championship, leaving Amer and the rest of the Red Lions without a trophy in hand.
The final buzzer in overtime sounded with the Knights on top, 85-82. Cruz scored 14 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 7 assists while Amer, who started slow before igniting San Beda's run to end regulation, scored 14 as well, plus 3 rebounds, 7 assists and one steal.
Cruz: 'Worth it'
"Ang tagal kong hinintay 'to," said a very emotional Cruz after the game. "Sobrang hinintay ko tong pagkakataon na ito."
(I waited so long for this. I really waited for this moment to come).
Despite being pint-sized, the Finals MVP Cruz never doubted that he and the Muralla-based squad could clinch the crown even if they failed to do so in the past years.
For Cruz, there is only one thing that matters most and it is the reason why his confidence didn't shrink a bit.
"Puso talaga," the 5-foot-5 sharpshooter Cruz quipped. "Yung puso ang pinakaimportante sa lahat."
(The heart is what matters, it is the most important of all).
And that is exactly what he showed in Game 3 against San Beda.
The trophy couldn't be more timely as Cruz bids his goodbye to the Knights and moves to the professional league; it was just right timing that he won his first and last NCAA trophy.
As the so-called "Antman" celebrates in the court with his teammates and was asked of how he felt as his team broke the 10-year title drought of Letran, he said, "Matagal pero worth it."
Amer: 'No regrets'
No doubt, Amer has proved himself to be one of the best point guards to have played not only for San Beda but in the NCAA.
Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
And losing to the Knights won’t bring down the 4-time NCAA champion.
But aside from the trophies and awards he has received in his collegiate career, Amer is more grateful of being a Bedan.
"We may not be able to get the championship but I have no regrets playing for San Beda," said Amer in his personal twitter account (@SBCBaserAmer). "Ang sarap maging Bedista, doon pa lang panalo ka na."
(It feels so good to be a Bedan and consider myself a winner because of that fact).
PROUD TO BE A BEDAN pic.twitter.com/RZOnqyie8Q — Baser Amer (@SBCbaseramer) October 29, 2015
Amer, who was named Finals MVP in 2012, played 7 years for San Beda and conquered a total of 6 championships in the NCAA Juniors and Seniors division.
Moreover, Amer is thankful to everyone who supported the Red Lions through thick or thin.
"Maraming salamat po sa walang sawang pagsuporta at pagdarasal ninyo sa team. My journey as a Red Lion ends but I will always be proud to be a Bedan," Amer quipped.
(Thank you to everyone who supported and prayed for the team).
The two may end up on the same court again with one day, with Baser Amer being drafted to the Philippine Basketball Association's Meralco Bolts, while Mark Cruz was selected by the Purefoods Star Hotshots.
There may be more court battles to come, but any future memories will have a tough time upstaging this most recent chapter. – Rappler.com