In this basketball-crazy country, It’s little-known knowledge that a low-profile but no less prestigious league has been producing top-calibre achievers who have gone on to become successful in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). This little league that could is the Metro Manila Tiong Lian Basketball Association (MMTLBA), the longest running Filipino Chinese high school basketball competition in the Philippines. It was founded in February 1970 to nurture the values of excellence and teamwork among Chinoy youth. Current member schools are Xavier School, Hope Christian High School, Grace Christian High School, Chiang Kai Shek College, St. Jude Catholic School, and St. Stephen’s High School.

In celebration of its 43rd year, MMTLBA is presented by the phenomenally successful global brand BonChon Chicken as the Tiong Lian - BonChon Basketball Tournament. BonChon Chicken Philippines Managing Director Scott Tan, himself an alumnus of a Tiong Lian school, says, “I can clearly recall the impact the Tiong Lian made on myself and my schoolmates in terms of cultivating teamwork and excellence. These are the same values that guide the work my BonChon team and I do everyday.”

In the four-decade-long history of the MMTLBA, they count several well-known luminaries as their alumi. Chris Tiu is the former Team Captain of the Team Gilas National Team, and is currently a prominent rookie on the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters PBA team. Joseph Yeo and TY Tang had much success in college with DLSU and are now playing crucial positions in their respective squads in the PBA.

The winning tradition continues with more recent batches of Tiong Lian graduates: brothers Jeric and Jeron Teng are now making a name for themselves in the college rank, leading their respective UAAP teams – the UST Growling Tigers and the DLSU Green Archers -- to strong finishes just this previous season

For former Chiang Kai Shek College stalwart Justin Chua, who won the last of his five straight championships with the Ateneo Blue Eagles just last year, the work ethic, fighting spirit, and winning attitude came from having a prolific Tiong Lian basketball upbringing. The attention given to the league by prominent universities and scouts looking for young basketball talents also gave him the edge when it came to having more opportunities post-MMTLBA. “There’s a unique kind of exposure and audience in Tiong Lian, so I was very fortunate to have played there,” says the now aspiring PBA player.

In between breaks for playing with the UST Growling Tigers, St. Stephen’s High School alumnus Kent Lao competed for the Philippines as part of the Energen Philippine Team U-18 in last year’s FIBA Asia, also sees Tiong Lian as a big opportunity for young athletes like him. Although he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself in terms of playing hoops professionally, remains positive that if it comes true – and will owe a major part of it to his brilliant Tiong Lian stint.

For Ms. Judy Go Tan, principal of this year’s host St. Stephen’s High School, even for those who have had less stellar college basketball showings, the association has remained a strong influence among students, particularly when it came to balancing education and life with basketball, so that they may be primed to face whatever challenges lie ahead, and whether or not they will choose to pursue their athletic dreams even further. “Above all, it’s character formation that we want to develop in our students. They can learn a lot of life lessons from Tiong Lian basketball through the positions that they play in their respective teams. They learn to sacrifice their small self for the greater good of everyone,” says the SSHS headmistress

Just like for former Stephenian Emarson Que, who is currently part of the Green Archers Team B lineup, he may not be looking into chasing after his basketball ambitions after college, but he’s self-assured about his current state in academics, and he has the Tiong Lian League and his alma mater to thank for.

Such is the enthusiasm surrounding this year in one of the most distinguished high school basketball events in the country, where dreams are born and future stars are made. Empowered by notable forerunners, brilliant display of talent and heart in playing and learning together, and all-out support from presenter BonChon Chicken, it’s yet another inspired and historic basketball season unfolding.

The Tiong Lian - BonChon Basketball is currently running until February 28. Select games are televised every Saturday at 5 pm, on Basketball TV (BTV).