ILOILO CITY—It is easy to forget that James Yap has been an All-Star 17 times already, and has never missed a game in the midseason extravaganza. It is hard to imagine that until this season, Kevin Alas has never been to one.
Yap’s staying power and Alas’ compelling return from a pair of career-threatening injuries are career arcs that intertwine in a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) All-Star Game they both thought would never come.
And it’s no surprise both vowed to make the most out of their respective chances on Sunday.
“Of all places, it’s here where I started to play basketball seriously,” Yap told the Inquirer on Saturday after a short practice ahead of the exhibition at City of Passi Arena.
“I came from Escalante, but it’s here [in Iloilo province] that I went to high school. I’ve also played in Passi City. I think I’ve actually played on every court here,” he added with a smile.
Yap is a multi-time All-Star and two-time league Most Valuable Player (MVP) who is way past his prime. He somehow cracked this year’s roster of players for the exhibition—while several more actively producing stars were snubbed—despite a year-long absence to kickstart a political career, garnering 1,190,624 votes over the course of a 21-day window to wind up sixth in the balloting.
“I thank God that he has made me healthy enough to reach a 17th All-Star [game], going [into my] 19th year in the PBA. I’ve never missed [the showcase],” he said.
For a time, Alas had thought an appearance among the league’s most popular stars would never come. In fact, after two tears to the same knee ligament, the NLEX ace felt just playing at an elite level had become a pipe dream.
“After two ACL surgeries, I never expected to be playing at a high level,” he told the Inquirer while marveling at his fellow stars’ half-court shootout at Iloilo Sports Complex.
“I had only one prayer, and that was just to get back to playing basketball,” he said. “So to play alongside these superstars? I never really expected any of this.”
Alas drew 1,148,628 votes, which put him above Meralco’s Chris Newsome, Ginebra’s Nards Pinto, and TNT’s Mikey Williams in a poll that was a divisive topic on the internet for weeks.
Both Yap and Alas make up Ginebra standout and league MVP Scottie Thompson’s namesake squad which will also feature a healthy mix of high-motor and sweet-shooting stars: Christian Standhardinger, CJ Perez, Calvin Abueva, Robert Bolick, Arvin Tolentino, Jayson Castro, Stanley Pringle, Marcio Lassiter, and Mark Barroca.
Team Scottie battles Ginebra teammate Japeth Aguilar’s squad hoping to better the show put on by the league’s rookies, sophomores and juniors last Friday.
“[We’ll] have about the same tone,” said Team Scottie coach Yeng Guiao. “We’re going to enjoy ourselves and we’re letting fans enjoy by not shortchanging them with a sloppy game.”
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