Any finals matchup in all of sports is bound to celebrate superstar performers and marquee matchups among top protagonists. The NCAA Season 99 Finals between the Mapua Cardinals and the San Beda Red Lions has no shortage of that. In fact, the series is so talentedly stacked that an ‘unsung heroes’ conversation may not even qualify as such.
All eyes have deservingly been on the likes of Jacob Cortez, Yukien Andrada, and Jomel Puno (San Beda Red Lions); and Clint Escamis, Warren Bonifacio, and Paolo Hernandez (Mapua Cardinals). But two other players have not shied away from the bright lights for their respective Game 3-bound squads: Pinamalayan, Mindoro-native JC Recto of the Cardinals, and Davao De Oro pride James Payosing of the Red Lions.
JC RECTO’S FINALS NUMBERS: 9.5ppg 11rpg 2apg in 24mpg
John Christopher Recto is a 6’3 forward from Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro. He is no stranger to high expectations, as he has been a starting five mainstay for Coach Randy Alcantara since the start of S99.
It will be a daunting task to look for a better and more striking indication of how good a player is than an almost double-double average in the Finals, and by ‘almost’ means 0.5p short.
The Intramuros-based squad wingman upped his numbers across the sheet from his season averages of 7.9 points and 7.62 rebounds. That means one thing: exactly when stepping up is necessary, JC is ready, willing and able to show up.
JC Recto’s 7.6 rebounds a game is 7th overall in the league this season, and he is eight on the steals list with 1.4 a contest.
JAMES PAYOSING’S FINALS NUMBERS: 9ppg 11rpg in 25 minutes per contest
Davaoeño James Payosing came off the bench in Game 2 of the Finals. That was right after a 14-point, 12-rebound outing during a valiant Game 1 effort that just fell five points short against the Cardinals. On top of a team-high double double, he also blocked a shot and forced a turnover off a steal.
The 6’2 guard-forward was a source of strength at a time when their King Lion seemed to have lost his roar. Particularly in the 4th, James fought for loose balls like his life depended on it, and scored multiple crucial baskets that breathed life into a struggling Red Lions offense.
Despite a non-start in Game 2 that saw his minutes go down from 30 to 22, he took almost the same number of shots (only that his percentage went significantly down), but controlled dominantly the boards just like in the first game. He finished with 4 points and 10 rebounds.
Payosing’s Game 2 performance revealed an essential intangible that underscores the role he plays in Coach Yuri Escueta’s stable - his ability to create impact and hold his own despite a cold shooting night is key for the Red Lions to win the series.
WINNER-TAKE-ALL GAME THREE
This year’s NCAA Finals has gone back to square one. The Cardinals struck first on December 6 but the Red Lions roared right back in Game 2 to set a winner-take-all Game 3 on December 17, 2023 at the Araneta Coliseum.
Forget about the Mapua Cardinals sweeping the San Beda Red Lions in the elimination round. Make no mention of the first two finals games. As the two best NCAA basketball teams collide one last time in Season 99, the stage belongs to all the heroes and the bravemen, celebrated and unsung, for Game 3 will not be for the faint of heart.