Confident Munzon out to recreate Doha memories after dominating Filipino 3x3 league
CALAMBA CITY (Philippines) - Joshua Munzon waved goodbye to the cameras before screaming in jubilation to spectacularly punctuate 3x3's return in hoops-crazy Philippines.
The country's top-ranked 3x3 player drained a two-pointer from virtually downtown Manila to cap Zamboanga City's thrilling 22-19 victory over Nueva Ecija in the Grand Final of the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup.
Dubbed the "Million Peso Game" due to the financial stakes on the line, heavy favorite Zamboanga City appeared to have blown the title when Alvin Pasaol, Philippines' second ranked 3x3 player, missed two free throws with the score at 20-17.
Jai Reyes bridged the gap to 1 with a clutch two-pointer before Pasaol failed another chance to seal the deal with a missed layup. Nueva then missed their chance of victory from long range before a composed Munzon called game to trigger his memorable celebrations.
"I had some room, so I knew I could make it," Munzon said. "As soon as it left my hands I knew it was going in. It was a big shot and felt great that we were able to accomplish something here and dominate the way we did."
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It completed Zamboanga City's domination of the two-week tournament, where they won four of the five legs in the "Calambubble" at the National University Laguna campus, where social distancing was strictly observed, face masks made compulsory and players had to undergo random Covid-19 tests.
There were no positive tests to underline the bubble's success and provide a blueprint for sports to safely return in the Philippines, which has been hard-hit by the coronavirus.
"It felt like being at a camp but it was better than I was expecting and we were able to focus on 3x3 all the time," Munzon said. "We wanted to put on a show for the country and give them something to look forward to after such a difficult year and I think we did that."
The popular Filipino league, which featured 12 teams, was established last year but became professional just a few months ago. It also doubled as a qualifier for the upcoming Doha Masters, where Munzon's team will return to the site of happy memories.
The Filipino underdogs stole the show on Day 1 of last year's Doha Masters with a stunning upset over powerhouse Liman before losing a tough quarterfinal to eventual champion Riga. Munzon is confident his team can perform even better in a field once again featuring Liman and Riga.
"We know it will be much tougher than what we experienced in the Philippines but it's a great opportunity for us," the 6ft 4 (1.93m) Munzon said. "We have the conditioning now, so we think that could be an advantage.
"We are undersized but can make up for that by displaying toughness and work rate."
Of course, it's been a tough year for everyone, including Munzon and his teammates who were only able to start training in August following a lengthy lockdown in the Philippines.
There have been, however, notable silver linings with the 25-year-old becoming a father in April and able to spend some precious family time in his native California.
Fresh and focused, Munzon is raring to get back playing against 3x3's best with an eye towards next year's Olympic qualifying tournament in Austria. "It's been really tough this year with everything that's happened but now the excitement is back," he said.
"Olympic qualification would be huge for the Philippines but right now I'm just focused on playing well in Doha and hopefully we can have a good showing because we finished off last year quite badly.
"I think Doha will suit us and we know we can match it with anyone."
The 'Calambubble' should be a timely reminder for opponents.
Leave a hungry Joshua Munzon open at your own risk.