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It was done before

Of course, you remember that Meralco executive Ryan Gregorio was once coach of the Purefoods franchise in the PBA. And now that the Bolts are staring at a 0-2 deficit in the PBA Governors Cup Finals against Barangay Ginebra, Gregorio recalled how it was 15 years ago when he faced a similar predicament with the Tender Juicy Hotdogs and his adversary was Alaska coach Tim Cone.

As he’s rooting for Meralco, Gregorio said he’d like to share what happened in 2002 to inspire the Bolts with Game 3 of the Finals set at the Smart Araneta Coliseum tonight. It’s particularly relevant because Gregorio battled Cone in 2002 and the PBA’s winningest coach is now calling the shots for Ginebra against Meralco.

“When we were down 0-2, the mentality was we fight to survive and there is no tomorrow,” said Gregorio. “They needed two games to win while our purpose was to win two games to tie and stay alive. Our purpose should be bigger than their need. When our players embraced that concept, they were so focused and became self-motivated.

* * *

“I remember (Meralco assistant coach) Ronnie (Magsanoc) was our point guard and he was directing traffic so well. He was in control of Game 3 and served as my extension on the court. Alvin Patrimonio unleashed his vast experience and used it to his advantage. Rey Evangelista was so solid on defense that he was tasked to defend against the other import. Kerby Raymundo used his youthful exuberance and played like a seasoned veteran and Derrick (Flight) Brown exhibited his aerial dominance and was unstoppable in the series. Other members were ready to contribute when their number was called. Players who were not called were happy to be part of something huge. Members did things beyond the call of duty and that was the key.

“When we won Game 3, the momentum shifted to our side. When you see your players get so high and pumped up, you do less coaching and do more guiding. They will really find ways to win. You do less intervention and do more motivation. The ability of the players to shut off outside distractions can be a key asset in the pursuit to achieve their goal. Just focus on the gameplan and execute.

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“When your back is against the wall, you don’t want to think about the outcome of the game as it can give undue stress. Focus on every defensive stop, execute every offensive possession, win the 50-50 balls, dive for every opportunity to keep the ball alive, make your free throws and have a positive mental attitude knowing that you have a chance to reach the mountain top. I didn’t realize that it was 15 years ago. I was just 29. Yes, it was done before and it can be done again. Just do it.”

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Alaska won Games 1 and 2, 79-73 and 106-102 in double overtime. Then, Purefoods took Games 3, 4 and 5, 80-66, 82-76 and 84-72. The Aces evened the series in Game 6, 85-78 before the Hotdogs clinched it in Game 7, 91-76. It was the first of three championships that Gregorio captured for Purefoods. Today, Gregorio is Meralco’s alternate governor in the PBA, the company’s assistant vice president in charge of sports and youth advocacy and a popular PBA TV broadcaster. He’s moved on from coaching to enter new doors in his professional career but he’ll never forget those championship memories in the PBA.

Postscript.  My long-time friend Ver Buan, who authored a best-selling book compiling the life stories of heroes and leaders of Tarlac, past and present, is celebrating his 68th birthday tomorrow. Based in Tarlac City, Ver is well-known in the province as a photo journalist and a loyal fan of San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco since the 1970s. His Tarlac Book 2016 also features events, milestones and highlights of Tarlac history and is a collectors’ encyclopaedia. Happy birthday to the one and only indefatigable Ver Buan!

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