(this appears in today's edition January 28, 2008 of the Business Mirror)
Siot Tanquincen paused for a moment when asked why such the talent-laden line-up of Magnolia seemed to be underachieving. The youthful coach was gracious to grant time for a post-practice interview despite falling to the tough and dangerous Red Bull Barako team of Yeng Guiao.
He wiped the sweat off his furrowed brow and sucked in some air. “That’s a tough question isn’t it,” he replied with a guarded smile. “I’ll be brutally frank… we’re a work in progress.”
Progress. The word itself seems to be a hallmark of the San Miguel franchise, the sole remaining original member of the Philippine Basketball Association. They were the first team after all to break the Toyota-Crispa stranglehold on PBA titles in 1979 as Royal Tru-Orange under the great Ed Ocampo and later again in 1982 with another coaching genius in Tommy Manotoc.
When they re-joined the league in late 1986 after a brief sabbatical, the team rechristened as Magnolia (which featured the core of the fabled Northern Consolidated squad that as an amateur entry won a PBA title the year before also on the strength of its three naturalized players in Chip Engelland, Dennis Still, and Jeff Moore) suffered a trying and winless third conference. As talented as they were, they had to adjust to a power shortage due to the ouster of their naturalized players. It also seemed that the team needed acclimatize to their line-up (now beefed up by Abet Guidaben, Ricky Brown, and playing coach Norman Black) before they flexed their muscles the following year by winning the Reinforced Conference but this time as San Miguel.
After a period of sustained success wherein they won nine conferences and finished first runner-up three times and second runner-up six times, the team went through an overhaul where they laid the foundations for another run of greatness.
In the team’s third wave (under Ron Jacobs and later Jong Uichico), they brought in players like Olsen Racela, Danny Seigle, Danny Ildefonso, Dondon Hontiveros, and Dorian Peña who helped win six more crowns in addition to three second-place and three third-place finishes.
Now the team is undergoing another transfusion – its fourth wave -- to complement the core that gave them that second bunch of titles. They brought in Lordy Tugade, LA Tenorio, Rico Villanueva, Larry Fonacier, Jonas Villanueva, Samigue Eman, and Willy Wilson. For a conference they had Chot Reyes and now Siot Tanquincen who masterminded the revival at sister team Ginebra San Miguel.
And hoop fans everywhere are wondering about such a pedigreed team could lose so badly.
“It’s as if people expect us to walk into any arena and beat anyone on any given night,” Tanquincen. “Only it doesn’t work that way.” In spite of expansion, there is more parity in the league right now. On any given night, anyone can pull the rug from another.
“If anyone is keeping scorecards,” said a concerned Danny Seigle. “We just went through three coaches in the last two years who have similarities and differences in their philosophies. We have a bunch of new players and people have been in and out of sickbay. It’s not an excuse, but people haven’t really gotten our full measure.”
Observers who argue that “all-star” rosters don’t win because they cannot subdue their individual selves for the good of the team point to the New York Yankees or the Real Madrid teams of recent vintage as proof. There are even the American basketball national teams that have faltered in the Olympics and other international competitions.
Er, so what are the current World Series champions Boston Red Sox – the low-rent Oakland A’s? their payroll is only second to the Yankees. The Real Madrid team that won the last Spanish La Liga is said to be the last of the Los Galacticos despite the absence of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, and Ronaldo. They still had David Beckham and Roberto Carlos, the last of Fiorentino Perez’ era as the Merengues’ President. But for sure, they brought in newer galacticos in Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro and Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.
And what of the Argentine basketball national team – a line-up teeming with NBA and Euro league talent? If you don’t know the team outside Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni then that’s maybe because people are too predisposed to the American media.
“I don’t think anyone should expect us to win overnight,” added team consultant Hector Calma who was the point guard during the second wave of titles back in the 80’s and early 90’s. “The chemistry will come and when it does…”
One of the values that the club prides itself about is loyalty. Calma has been with the club since 1986 and works in its sports division along with former teammates and colleagues like Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic, and Chito Loyzaga among others. He along with former teammate Alfredo Jarencio who likewise has been with San Miguel for more than 15 years of his basketball life in one capacity or another provide a link to their storied past. And team management is hoping that they could also help channel their knowledge to the new team and breed the next generation of champions.
A couple of years ago, Tanquincen had a sit-down with Ron Jacobs who discussed with the youthful point guard about his pro career options. Jacobs told him that he probably will never get the opportunity to show his wares in the pro league what with there being bigger, faster, and even deadlier guards. The former UST stalwart’s heart fell for all his life he loved the game and he badly wanted to succeed in it. Only the coaching guru wasn’t done. The American mentor said that Tanquincen had the brain and smarts for coaching. And if he wanted in, his future lay there and he could do it within the SMC’s structure.
Tanquincen thought about it for a moment then said yes. And soon later, he steered Barangay Ginebra to back-to-back crowns. That all seems a long time ago especially after a disappointing quarterfinals sweep at the hands of Red Bull. But the young mentor looked ahead to the Fiesta Conference with its import-spiced games yet made sure to note at the lessons of history.
In its second go-around with in the PBA, the team fell short (disregard the amateur tag the team had played as a unit for several years then) as Magnolia. But the following year, they embarked on one of the greatest basketball runs in league annals.
“Hey, coach,” said a down but optimistic Dorian Peña. “Maybe we can switch back to ‘San Miguel’ next conference.”
Hmm. Someone’s been brushing up on history.