More than a regional playground, MPBL nurtured dreams of many

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Will McAloney thought he was done chasing his dreams of playing professional basketball after he started working as an inspector for PLDT in Cebu three years ago.

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Aris Dionisio was ready to return to his province of Bulacan after his playing years at St. Clare College.

Mike Ayonayon was flying under the radar after his stint at Philippine Christian University and felt his stock wasn’t enough to be considered in the pro league.

Chris Bitoon was never even considered as one of the top guards in his batch in the collegiate ranks while he was at Manuel L. Quezon University.

Playing outside of the bright lights of the UAAP and NCAA meant the four players had to improvise for them to get noticed. They saw that chance with the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).

After playing two seasons in the MPBL, the four standouts successfully chartered paths to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), where they’ll be needing all of their skills, experience and desire to thrive—let alone keep their status—in Asia’s pioneering pro league.

Perhaps no other player boosted his stock in the MPBL more than Ayonayon, who was named Finals most valuable player last season when San Juan clinched the Datu Cup crown.

“If not for the MPBL, I don’t think PBA teams would consider drafting me,” said Ayonayon, who toiled in Letran’s Team B before transferring to Philippine Christian University to play in the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities.

Yeng Guiao has had many surprise Draft picks, and he hopes Ayonanon becomes one of them, like what Larry Fonacier turned out to be for the defunct Red Bull more than a decade ago.

“I know how hard it is to make the PBA,” said the 6-foot-5 McAloney, who suited up for two seasons with the Cebu Sharks. “After college, I wanted to work and focus on my family. But the opportunity to try out for Cebu was there and that turned out to be the decision that led me to where I am now.”

McAloney was selected by NLEX as the 15th pick of the draft as the Road Warriors shored up their front line.

Dionisio’s emergence as a solid two-way star was also hastened by his MPBL stint.

While the remainder of the Lakan Cup will be played as soon it is safe to do so, the MPBL has called its 2020-2021 season because of the pandemic, with players set to receive just 20 percent of the salaries stipulated in their contracts.

Sports in the world has ground to a halt because of this enemy that nobody sees, and the MPBL—like leagues of different sports in the country—needs to get back on its feet and restore every player’s dream of taking that big next step. INQ


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