Flashback to MMTLBA history (part 4)
There were 19 high school products of the Metro Manila Tiong Lian Basketball Association (MMTLBA) that made it to the professional league Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
Among them are three trailblazing players who performed in the Asia’s oldest professional basketball league when it opened shop in April 1975.
These are Fortunato (Atoy) Co Jr. (Philippine Cultural High School/College), the late Lim Eng Beng (Chiang Kai Shek College) and Sunny Co, Lim’s Tiong Lian title teammate with the Blue Dragons in 1969 and 1970.
A 6-2 guard from Daet, Camarines Norte, the amibidextrous Co won a pair of Tiong Lian MVP hardware despite PCHS losing to Lim’s CKSC in the 1969 and 1970 finals. The former Mapua Tech King Cardinal also was a two-time NCAA MVP in 1970 and 1971.
Known for his trademark turnaround fadeaway jumper, Atoy made his PBA debut with the Crispa Floro Redmanizers. He helped lead Crispa to the 1975 Third Conference title and averaged a second team-best 20.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 49 games during the campaign.
A 5-11 guard out of Tondo, Lim combined with Sunny Co to reward CKSC with TL championships in 1969 and 1970. Although he had a short stint with China Bank and then Mariwasa in the old MICAA, Lim rejoined his De La Salle coach Valentin (Tito) Eduque, under whom he won NCAA diadems with the Green Archers in 1971 and 1974, at Concepcion Carrier when he broke into the PBA in 1975.
Lim normed a club second-leading 18.9 points in 28 assignments with the Carriers, who finished in the lower half of the nine-team standings.
Sunny Co, a 5-11 forward out of the University of the Philippines who eventually captured a record seven Tiong Lian coaching titles with his alma mater in three separate decades following his playing days, performed with CFC in the old MICAA and then debuted with CFC Presto franchise in the PBA in 1975, hitting at a 9-point clip in just 11 games.
Of the 19 TL to make the PBA grade, 10 came from the Xavier School factory.
In 2001, Joseph Yeo, a high school senior, helped lead the Golden Stallions to the Tiong Lian Juniors title. On the XS team were Christopher John (Chris) Tiu, a junior, and Tyrone Conrad (TY) Tang, a sophomore. Tiu and Tang went on to power the Golden Stallions to two more TL Juniors crowns in 2002 and 2003.
The 6-1 backcourter broke into the UAAP with De La Salle in 2001 and won a championship as a frosh despite limited minutes. He again helped the green Archers to the UAAP crown in 2004 but was subsequently taken away by league officials due to violations on player eligibility.
Yeo, who was monickered “The Ninja” for his swashbuckling, acrobatic drives to the basket, teamed up with former UAAP nemesis Lewis Alfred (LA) Tenorio from Ateneo to catapult Harbour Centre Batang Pier to the Philippine Basketball League crown in 2005.
In 2006-07, Joseph Henry Yeo (De La Salle) became the first Xaverian ever to suit up in the PBA. He made his debut in Asia’s oldest professional league with Coca-Cola Tigers, tallying 7.4 points in 32 games.
Yeo owned longest PBA exposure among the TL products, toiling with eight franchises in his journeyman 11-year (2006-17) career, with his final stop being the Meralco Bolts.
Yeo’s PBA career high was 38 points, which he set with Sta. Lucia Realty in his third season in 2008-09. He also once netted 37 markers with GlobalPort in 2015-16.
To date, Yeo continues to play with the barnstorming Mighty Sports team owned by a Xavier alumnus.
Tang earned a title ring with De La Salle during the 2007 UAAP season where the Green Archers upset the University of the East, 2-0, in the best-of-three finals after the Red Warriors had gone straight to the finals following a perfect 14-0 finish in the elims phase.
The 5-7 point guard played his entire seven-year PBA career from 2008-15 with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, earning a championship during the 2012 Governors Cup, before latching on with the touring Mighty Sports club in 2016.
Tang has been the head coach of the College of St. Benilde Blazers in the NCAA since 2016.
Tiu, a good-looking looking 5-11 point guard, won several titles with Xavier School at the intermediate and secondary levels and powered Ateneo de Manila to the 2008 UAAP crown.
Tiu spent a few years with the Philippine national team – including the 2011 Jakarta Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) and the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship where he was the team skipper – before launching his PBA journey in 2012.
He helped Rain or Shine to a PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown in 2016 before hanging up his pro jersey in 2018 after six seasons with the Elasto Painters.
For good measure, Tiu also is a popular product endorser and commercial model and currently has his own TV sports program on GMA 7.
Through the 2010s, more Xavier School products have earned berths in the PBA.
They are Woodward (Woody) Co (UP), brothers Jeric Teng (UST) and Jeron Teng (De La Salle), brother Gabriel (Gabby) Banal (De La Salle) and Raphael (Ael) Banal (played for XS Aspirants team before joining the Ateneo Blue Eaglets in the UAAP), Jose Anton (Jett) Manuel (UP) and Kyles Jefferson Lao (UP).
Lao, a 6-foot guard who was named UAAP Rookie of the Year in 2013, played for the NLEX Road Warriors during the 2018-19 wars when he averaged 2.3 points a game off the bench. He was signed to a new one-year deal by the Road Warriors last March 1 or a week before the PBA shut down its 45th renewal due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Manuel, a 6-2 guard who at one time took a leave from the UP Maroons to pursue a college degree and become a certified engineer, played just one season in the PBA after going undrafted. He appeared in 21 games and gained a championship ring with Barangay Ginebra in 2007-18.
With the exception of Raphael Banal, who attended an international school for college, all saw action with UAAP teams.
The complete list of players with Tiong Lian experience in PBA history is as follows:
XAVIER SCHOOL (10)
Joseph Henry Yeo, Tyrone (TY) Tang), Christopher John (Chris) Tiu, Woodward (Woody) Co 2012-13 PBA Barako Bull), Jeric Allen Teng (2013-14 PBA Rain or Shine) and Jeron Alvin Teng (De La Salle, 2017-18 PBA Alaska), Gabriel (Gabby) Banal (2015-16 PBA GlobalPort), Raphael (Ael) Banal 2016-17 PBA Blackwater), Kyles Jefferson Lao and Jose Anton (Jett) Manuel.
NOTES: Jeric Teng and Gab Banal helped XS to the 2008 Tiong Lian title with a 2-1 decision over against a Justin Chua-led Chiang Kai Shek College team coached by Sunny Co. Brothers Jeric and Jeron Teng were teammates on the 2009 TL championship team. Jeron and Manuel were on the 2010 team while the former and Lao were on the 2011 title squad.
CHIANG KAI SHEK COLLEGE (3)
Lim Eng Beng, Sunny Co and Justin Shaun Chua.
NOTE: Chua powered CKSC to the Tiong Lian title in 2007 and secured five UAAP championships (2008-12) in as many years with the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles. The 6-5 center joined the PBA in 2013-14 with GlobalPort and won a PBA title with San Miguel Beer in the 2014-15 Philippine Cup.
PHILIPPINE CULTUERAL HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE (2)
Fortunato (Atoy) Co Jr. and Benito (Benny) Cheng (9 PBA seasons, 1993-2001, 339 games).
NOTE: Former UST and PBA guard Bethune (Siot) Tanquingcen was unable to suit up for Cultural in the Tiong Lian because the school had left the league by the time he played.
ST. STEPHEN’S HIGH SCHOOL (2)
Kenneth Yap ( played first with La Salle Greenhills before transferring to SSHS and played for De La Salle in college; 2 PBA seasons, 1982-83, seven games) and Christian Luanzon (1 PBA season, 2006-07, nine games)
UNO HIGH SCHOOL (1)
Gilbert Lao (played for UST in college, 10 PBA seasons, 2002-12, 168 games)
GRACE CHRISTIAN HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE (1)
Alex Tan (5 PBA seasons, 1981-85, 184 games starting with San Miguel Beer)
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