Davao Occidental, San Juan begin MPBL Datu Cup Finals series today

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DAVAO — The Davao Occidental Tigers enjoy the comfort of home and after dethroning inaugural staging champions Batangas City Athletics, they are now taking advantage of getting a two-day rest before plunging back to action today where they face the San Juan Knights at the start of their MPBL Datu Cup best-of-five championship series.

For Don Dulay and the rest of the Cocolife-backed Tigers, getting to the championship series is proof enough that this team from the south is more than just a glorified “Ligang Labas” squad.

“This team knows how to win and that’s primarily because these guys are more familiar playing in ‘Ligang Labas.’ They built their character playing in these leagues, but as a whole, I think they’ve started to embrace our system and work into one and that’s part of the reason why we’re successful,” said Dulay.

But they will be meeting a Big J Sports-supported Knights squad that is teeming with talent.

Macmac Cardona has rediscovered his old form and showed his scoring prowess the past few games to steer the Knights to a division finals win over Manila.

Cardona got plenty of help from fellow ex-pros John Wilson and Larry Rodriguez, promising Larry Muyang, high-leaping guard Mike Ayonayon and Orlan Wamar, who had a breakout game in the Knights’ series-clinching win Monday night.

But for San Juan, getting back into the championship round is like reliving the glory days of the Knights reign in the regional basketball scene.

In 2000, the Knights became the kings of the Metropolitan Basketball Association, the precursor of the MPBL, and put the city in the pinnacle of the local basketball circuit. Two of those members are still with the squad — Randy Alcantara and Gherome Ejercito, who are now playing different roles as members of the coaching staff.

Alcantara is also looking to become the first coach to win back-to-back championships in the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league in the country.

Last season, Alcantara served as an assistant coach to Mac Tan of the Batangas City Athletics, who went on to become the inaugural staging champion of the league. — Rey Joble