My Toughest Matchup, as told by Ken Bono

Editor's note: This is the second of four UAAP editions of the "Toughest Matchup" series that will feature former collegiate stars from the teams that made the Final Four of the UAAP Season 81 Men's Basketball tournament. This time we interviewed Ken Bono, a former player of the Adamson Falcons.

Ken Bono won the UAAP MVP award and led his Adamson Falcons to the Final Four in 2006. Although they were eliminated by Ateneo that season, it was an impressive performance from the Falcons whose offense revolved around their big man.

After playing four years in the UAAP, Bono moved to the now-defunct PBL where he also made a name for himself. The big man was the Most Improved Player and also a member of the Second Mythical Team in 2006. He was one of the league's MVP frontrunners before ultimately losing to Jayson Castro in 2007.

ESPN5 sat down with Bono during Meralco's stint in the semifinals of the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup to find out his toughest matchups in his UAAP career.

Bono on Defense

Bono's size and girth were his main weapons on defense. Posting him up and backing him down, which is similar to trying to move a brick wall, is never a good idea. Bono's toughest defensive assignment was a versatile big man who was also more mobile.

"For me, the toughest to guard is Jervy Cruz of UST," Bono said in Filipino. "In the UAAP, he could play the four or the five spot and he could shoot from the outside. He was smaller than me but he was quicker and he had a lot of moves."

Cruz was part of a loaded Growling Tiger squad that won the UAAP title when Bono was named MVP. The UST forward was a member of the Mythical First Team for three straight years, winning the MVP plum in 2007.

"What teams used to do against us was to try to get me out of the paint on defense so I couldn't help against slashers. UST always involved Jervy in their pick-and-rolls when I was defending him. I needed to step up outside to defend him so he was difficult to guard."

According to Bono, what made Cruz tough to defend, aside from his skills, is that he had good chemistry with his teammates and they moved the ball around instead of just dumping the ball to their main man.

"They had a really deep lineup and a great coach in Pido Jarencio who gave them a lot of confidence," Bono recalled. "They'd pass the ball around and look for the opening and when you scramble on defense, Cruz will find his way to the hoop for a drop pass or he'll pop out for a jumper."

Bono on Offense

Because of his size and ability to shoot from the outside, Bono was a handful to defend. Most teams opted for the quick double team as none of their bigs had the strength or size to cover him one-on-one. However, there was one particular player who knew what to do against Bono.

"Doug Kramer was the best defender in the UAAP against me," Bono admitted. "He was really strong and he also had speed."

Back then Ateneo had a long winning streak against the Falcons but Adamson was getting closer and closer to a breakthrough. Bono provided a unique challenge to the Blue Eagles as dominant centers were a rare commodity in the collegiate ranks. Luckily for Ateneo, they had an antidote in Kramer.

"Doug really worked hard on his physique so he was strong inside," Bono said. "They had the deeper lineup so when we were matched up against each other, Doug can just concentrate on defending me. He could also score. He had a reliable mid-range but I thought his priority was just to push me out of my comfort zone. For a big man, Kramer could really move his feet."

Toughest Matchup

When you are a 6-foot-5 center pushing 280 pounds, chances are you'd be much bigger than any of your matchups in the UAAP. This is why even though there were a lot of big men from Bono's time who would have decent careers in the PBA, his choice for his toughest matchup was a player who did not even step into the professional ranks.

"Joseph Lingao-Lingao of NU," was Bono's quick answer. "Because we were almost the same size. I enjoyed the challenge. On offense, he can also shoot but they didn't rely on him too much."

Back then, Lingao-Lingao formed a solid frontcourt tandem with power forward Edwin Asoro for the Bulldogs.

"When we went up against each other, it was really physical. We were colliding against each other in the post. It was intense but also fun because there were not a lot of players who could do that against me," said Bono, who was selected sixth overall by the Alaska Aces in the 2007 PBA Rookie Draft.

Bono has bounced around the league with stints for San Miguel Beer, Coca-Cola, Barako Bull, and B-Meg before landing with his current team, Meralco. Although he mostly rides the bench, Bono still flashes glimpses of his old form with a good game once in a while.