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A time to grieve, a time to heal and a time to move forward for the Alaska Aces
by rick olivares
On two sides of the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong City are two quotes from two famous basketball warriors who know a thing or two about failure and getting right back up.
There’s a larger-than-life image of Michael Jordan with the quote, “If you quit once, it becomes a habit. Never quit.”
On the opposite end is Dwyane Wade with the quote, "Whenever there is a big game and people don’t think I can do it, I always play my hardest.”
More than ever, the Alaska Aces will have to heed the calls of these basketball demigods.
The Aces have exactly one more day (Sunday) to grieve. For on Monday, they go full throttle in practice and will be asked to check their emotional baggage outside the door of the Gatorade Hoops Center, their practice facility.
After their epic fall in the recently-concluded PBA Philippine Cup where they saw a 3-0 vanish into thin air as the San Miguel Beermen overhauled the daunting deficit for a literal one-for-the-books victory, the Aces haven’t had it easy.
“We don’t talk about it anymore,” said point guard JVee Casio. “But the pain is there. It’s not something you get rid of that easily. But it will.”
The Aces returned the hardcourt for their first practice six days after Game 7. “In that first practice for the Commissioner’s Cup, we took a look at the team and decided that we had to give them a little bit of time to heal not only their bodies but our collective minds. We’re still hurting.”
“I was thinking that when we went up 3-0, ‘Ah, this is it. We’re going to win one,” recalled back-up point guard RJ Jazul. “But it never came. I think we got too caught up emotionally in the game that we didn’t play with out heads. Of course, you have to give the Beermen a lot of credit. They got the job done and we didn’t.”
The Alaska locker room was like a scene from a wake after the team left the floor during Game 7. “I have been on both sides of the court, winning a championship and losing but I have never seen a sadder one that our locker room that night,” described first assistant Louie Alas. “The tears really flowed. Not much was said. What do you say? There was nothing to say. Everything has been said.”
In their first practice last Tuesday, February 9, Compton chose his words well. “Embrace the pain,” he told his wards. “But we have to move forward. We have to do this not only for ourselves and management but also for the fans to show that we are worthy of their support. It won’t be easy but nothing is ever easy. So we have to embrace the pain and use it.”
“I for one, couldn’t wait to get back to practice and for the games to start,” added Jazul. “When you’re at home resting and not doing anything, you think about it and you feel sad all over again. Over the days, you find things to smile about which is good, but we need for our Commissioner’s Cup to begin so we focus on our games. Winning and getting back will ease that pain. At least I think so.”
When preparations for the 2015-16 PBA season got underway, Compton sat down with us and pointed out that he didn’t make any changes to the team that concluded the 40th season of the pro league where they booked two finals seats but came away first runner-up each time. “I want some continuity; to further build chemistry. I wanted to go with my guys who have worked hard to get here.”
One conference later, one more finals loss, Compton is still sticking with his team. Rob Dozier is back in harness for a third time. Like some of his Alaska teammates and coaches, he’s been there too. He won a championship during his first stint with the team (the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup). He returned the following season but his team was knocked out in the early goings. He was here to witness the finals debacle. “It’s easy to say something but I’d rather not,” Dozier would later say. “I’ll just let my game do the talking."
On the day of the Aces’ return to training, Compton reiterated, “Like I said during the post-match press conference, there’s no other team I’d like to coach or be with than these guys. We just have to get over the hump.”
During the Friday practice, Jazul, Chris Banchero, and Josh Vanlandingham arrive before 12 noon at the Gatorade Hoops Center. The latter two engage in a game of horse. There’s some laughter and friendly banter.
A few minutes later, Casio arrived, shook hands with his teammates and began stretching.
Jazul is going from end to end, dribbling the basketball. The laughter echoes. “Now there’s something we haven’t heard in a while,” noted Jazul. “That’s a good start."