|The TNT Tropang Texters listening to assistant coach Jamike Jarin before the start of drills.|
This appears in pba.inquirer.net
The Immortal Quest
story by rick olivares pics by brosi gonzales
The Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters are running a drill where a player tries to dribble the length of the floor and score a basket while another tries to stop him. Ten-year PBA veteran John Ferriols is testing the full court defense of four-veteran Nonoy Baclao.
Baclao, the Bacolod native is able to stay with Ferriols, the Davao native, until just past halfcourt when the latter ditches the former number one overall pick with a nasty crossover. Baclao falls on his behind as Ferriols scoots in unchallenged for a layup.
The rest of the Tropang Texters cheer with some yelling, “Immortal!” at Ferriols. Assistant coach Nash Racela helps up Baclao who looks sheepish and grins as if to say, “You got me.” Ferriols gives him a low five while everyone continues to cheer.
“Immortal,” says assistant coach Bong Ravena one more time.
In two days, the Tropang Texters will begin their own quest for immortality when they defend the prestigious All-Filipino crown for a third successive year. They are going for a four-peat in the crème de la crème of PBA championships – the Philippine Cup. The only other team to accomplish that feat is the fabled Crispa team from 1981 and 1983-84 (there was no All-Filipino championship in 1982).
With Tim Cone tying former Crispa head coach Baby Dalupan with 15 PBA championships, the American mentor is in a terrific position to claim the record as his own. TNT’s would like to break another Crispa record (that Dalupan is a part of as Tommy Manotoc and Narciso Bernardo won two more All-Filipino championships with the Redmanizers) and claim another slice of PBA history for themselves.
TNT finished ninth in the season ending Governor’s Cup. It was a price to pay as the team lost several of its mainstays to the FIBA Asia tournament and were forced to compete with a depleted lineup.
Team manager Paolo Trillo, newly promoted to Philippine basketball’s senior circuit after nine years of managing the Ateneo Blue Eagles, says the team’s woes in the past third conference is not an excuse. “We’re not a team that likes to make excuses,” said Trillo who admits that he is still feeling his way around the pro hoops loop. “Talk ‘N Text has built a culture of winning. It’s a habit and we don’t need to finish ninth for us to get hungry. When you win you just want to keep on winning. We want to go for this.”
When the 39th season of the PBA tips off this weekend, there will be one less familiar face who was a mainstay during TNT’s incredible run of five titles in five years.
That is forward Jared Dillinger who has moved to sister team Meralco. In spite of Dillinger’s loss, TNT is clearly buoyed by the return of Kelly Williams who looks not only spry and healthy but is also well rested. Williams supposedly retired early this year after his blood disorder weakened him.
But the forward-center is back and his teammates are all to glad to have another proven weapon to go with them into the trenches. The team knows that with their core of Aaron Aban, Jimmy Alapag, Harvey Carey, Jason Castro, Ranidel De Ocampo, Larry Fonacier, Ali Peek, Ryan Reyes, and Williams, they have a couple of more runs in them before some of them hang up their high tops for good.
For the Manuel V. Pangilinan franchise to realize their championship dreams, they will need the new guys to step up. “We got a bunch of new guys and we’re in the process of trying to get them into the flow of our offense,” disclosed Ryan Reyes. “We’re in the process of getting there.”
The ‘newbies’ include forward Sean Anthony who joined them from Barako Bull in the last conference, Jimbo Aquino who after a good start with Ginebra was unloaded to Barako Bull Energy Cola for the 2011-12 season, Baclao who is with his fourth team in four years, Jai Reyes who joined the team in the previous Governors’ Cup after a sterling stint in the Asean Basketball League with the Saigon Heat, Rob Reyes who returns to the team that originally drafted him (fourth overall) in 2008, John Paul Erram, who was the team’s 15th pick overall from Ateneo, Robby Celiz second round draft pick (17th overall) out of Black Water Sports and National University, and Eliud Poligares who was TNT’s 27th pick and played for Café France and Southwestern University.
Gone are Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Rich Alvarez, Bam Gamalinda, Gilbert Lao, Pamboy Raymundo, and Eric Salamat. And there are some expectations on the part of the newbies.
Aside from the ‘hunger’ for another PBA crown, the team also has this feel of “second chances.”
First off, there’s Williams who is on his second PBA career after his brief fling with retirement. “I’ve got unfinished business to take care of,” he declares. “It’s good to be back.”
Then there are the others like Aquino who is grateful to be given a chance again. He showed his wares with Ginebra but the minutes soon dwindled to the point where his confidence was shot. But the fact that he is still in this gives him hope. “Sana may chance tayo,” Aquino says shyly.
Baclao feels the same way. After a strong rookie showing with Air21, everything quickly unraveled when he was traded mid-season to Petron. “I think here, he knows that he will have a role,” reveals Trillo who debunks that the team is a refuge for former Blue Eagles. “It is by accident and not by design. Norman knows what he is getting from his former players and especially from Noy.”
“I think that our new additions have something to prove and that’s good,” added Ryan Reyes. “You know there won’t be any room for complacency. It’s good to have that extra motivation. We’re sure going to need it.”
Anthony loves the atmosphere in TNT. “I think I’ve found a home,” he says. “I’m a team player and I work well with a team that doesn’t care for individual stats and just wants to win. They’re very professional with the leadership of Jimmy a crucial part of the chemistry. It’s a nice family atmosphere here.”
Family is right. “Sometimes I think Tropang Reyes kami,” jokes Ravena. “Nandyan si Ryan, Rob, Jai, at si Josh (assistant coach).”
In a couple of days’ time, it will turn into a “family feud” when they play Meralco (with former Tropang Texters Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Jared Dillinger) on Sunday at the Cebu Coliseum as part of the PBA’s triple play date opening.
“It’s not going to be an easy season for sure,” notes Trillo. “Every team out there improved themselves. That’s going to make the road a much harder one to take. But this team is used to that. And we won’t have it any other way. We don’t take shortcuts.”
And thus, will begin the Immortal Quest.