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How the big fight was won? |

Young Star

How the big fight was won?

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
We were ready with a consuelo de bobo. Just like all those years when the UAAP championship evaded us, and we simply said: "Mas magaling naman tayo sa academics."

Just like when we were ranked lower than we had anticipated among Asia’s best universities in a regional newsmagazine: "That survey was completely bogus and baseless. Who the hell does Asiaweek think it is?"

Just like the first time an alumnus became President, only to be disgraced shortly after: "Drop-out naman siya noong high school e."

The consuelo de bobo was ready; we even have one ingrained in our alma mater hymn: "win or lose, it’s the school we choose." So if we had lost this crucial basketball championship yet again to De La Salle we would have said: "Di bale, we won naman the PBL eh."

We Ateneans console ourselves in this way because we want to keep believing. We want to keep the faith. We want to keep our sights set on a vision in the heavens: Blue Eagle, the King!

And yet, and yet. We did win. We did bag the trophy. We did sing the alma mater first.

Our apologies to Asiaweek, but on that fateful Saturday night at the Araneta Coliseum, there was only one university in the universe: the Ateneo de Manila, the white and the blue, home of St. Ignatius‚ sword and statue.

This is what it means to stand on a hill. Ha!

Before I get carried away and suggest that it was an interview with head coach Joel Banal in this column (June 7, 2002) that was actually Ateneo’s writing on the wall, let me say one thing to the Ateneo Senior Basketball team from my heart of hearts.

Congratulations, guys. Thank you very much.

My, I never knew victory could be this sweet. Today, I dedicate this column to the men of the hour, the team of teams. Just as the entire Ateneo community—from the students to the teachers to the Jesuits to the alumni—is sharing in your triumph, we do know that it all goes back to you.

We believed, because you believed. You built it, and we came. You worked your butts off, and we cheered.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ateneans and La Sallians, believers and non-believers, may I present two profiles in courage and victory. Two narratives of absolute triumph. From two men of absolute integrity.

My heroes, today and always: Joel Banal and Enrico Villanueva. I wasfortunate enough to talk to them and hear for myself what it feels like to be a winner. And also to talk De La Salle’s star player BJ Manalo
‘I believe in the heart of the Atenean’
By Enrico Villanueva

Center, Ateneo Blue Eagles
UAAP MVP and Best Defensive Player 2002
I remember the last two minutes—I saw the dream becoming a reality. I felt it, but I couldn’t believe it. I was still so nervous.

And then, I heard the buzzer. That was it. I raised my fist and gave thanks to the Lord.

At that moment I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been waiting for this for five years. Since high school, everyone was thinking I was the one, so the pressure was there all along. It finally happened.

I don’t even know what came over me. I was running around the court, looking for all my teammates, shouting. Someone was interviewing me but I wasn’t in my right senses! I was jumping up and down, not knowing what I was saying. To think, I was standing beside the La Salle team!

What happened afterwards was amazing. The homecoming. We all headed back to Ateneo, to hear Mass at the new Church of the Gesu.

It was like EDSA Dos. Everyone was there. It was like time stopped at Ateneo.

Afterwards we had dinner in Libis, and then headed back to our hotel in Ortigas Center. The pool was closed, but they opened it for us. It was great, friends and family all visited.

But you know, I was really so tired. My whole body was cramping. It was just my adrenaline that kept me going.

I went to sleep at 4 a.m., but we all got up at 8:30 a.m! I guess the adrenaline was still there. After breakfast we viewed the tape, trying to relive every single moment. To this day, each time I wake up, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. I wonder if it’s going to be like this for the rest of my life!

I remember last year, after our defeat. You know what we did? We played Counterstrike until 9 in the morning. That was so painful. We were like idiots, walking around Katipunan, crying, so depressed. And we had to keep seeing the La Salle team on TV.

Now we’re experiencing the rewards. Tomorrow there’ll be a victory bonfire at the Ateneo campus, at 6 p.m. And then the entire team is heading for Australia as a bonus. Soon, we’re planning to go out with BJ Manalo, my former high school teammate and partner. Yes, we’re still friends!

Winning is a great feeling. I can’t describe it. Especially because the victory came so slowly — so this is the culmination of all our hard work. You learn from losing, but you learn from winning too. I will always remember this feeling and the reasons behind it.

How would I finish the sentence "WE BELIEVE..."? Simple. We believe... in the heart of the Atenean. — As told to Paula Nocon
‘Somebody had to stop Franz’
By Joel Banal

Head coach, Ateneo Blue Eagles
First of all I’d like to give all the glory back to God. Second, I’d like to give the glory to the players. They’re like my sons, and I only wanted to give them the best. I wanted them to know how it feels to win.

They had been frustrated and broken-hearted for four years. Especially Enrico — I wanted him to taste victory. Look at him now, MVP, Best Defensive Player.

I remember that Saturday morning. The tension woke me up at 5 a.m. The feeling was too much — it was like I wanted to go back to my mother’s womb! And so I read the Bible and I prayed very hard.

At 9 a.m. everyone was awake, waiting for me. And then the assistant coach went up to me and said that Larry Fonacier couldn’t sleep the entire night—he had a bad stomach. When I took a look at him he was in bed, unable to move. I just put my head to the wall and sort of banged it. Larry was so sick he had to be given IV treatment.

But that was actually part of God’s grand design. I went back to my room and asked for guidance. I took Larry’s condition positively: it meant that we would use Wesley Gonzales and L.A. Tenorio for the first part, and then Chia and Quimpo for the end. Quimpo would have to show what he learned from the PBL. And Chia would have to take that big shot.

In the last five minutes of the game I saw the turning point. We were leading by a few points. We called a time out. Tadeo was going to play the end game. And Rich Alvarez was going to take on Cortez.

Our best against their best.

When our lead reached 11 points, I knew that was it. By the time the buzzer sounded I knew victory was ours.

The first thing I did was look for my wife. She was my prayer warrior, and it was the first time she ever watched the game live. She would usually stay at home and pray!

And then I looked for Manny Pangilinan, who has been so supportive. His Talk n’ Text team had just lost the PBA, so this would have lessened the pain. I gave him a hug.

Then I went back to the floor thanking everybody. And for the first time, I sang the alma mater hymn. I never sang it before, since I’m not an Atenean. But that moment, I raised my fist and sang it with the rest of them.

Then the players lifted me on their shoulders but I almost fell down! I asked them why they couldn’t carry me and one of them answered, "Coach, hindi kasi kami sanay!" Haha!

But through it all I just wanted to sit down. I was so relieved — my job was done. I recall my final interview with the coach recruitment committee the year before. They asked me, "Why do you want to coach Ateneo?" And I answered, in all confidence, "Well, somebody has to stop La Salle. Somebody has to stop Franz (Pumaren)."

After all these months of tension, it finally happened. It was amazing, the ride from Araneta Coliseum to the Ateneo. People were following our bus, there was a motorcade. At the Mass we were all there in front, at the altar! And everybody was happy. So happy.

That night, back at the hotel to swim and celebrate, I went to my room to change into my swimsuit. I remember collapsing on the bed, face-down. And then I thought, "If I fell asleep right now what would I do if woke up and discovered it was only Saturday morning! What if everything was just a dream! I would go crazy!"

So I chose not to sleep and joined the players immediately.

Anyway, the next morning, I watched the tape of the last five minutes. That was when I felt it. That was when it really sank in. I feel it as I talk to you now.

God prepared all of this. It was how it should be. It was the best moment to win a championship, after 14 years. I dedicated the championship to former coach Joe Lipa, to former players Paul Tan-chee and Rainier Sison. I feel lucky that God chose me to be the coach at this time.

If I were to complete the sentence "WE BELIEVE..." I would simply say, "We believed, through the temptations and hardships. We never stopped believing, we kept believing. In the end, WE STILL BELIEVED." — As told to Paula Nocon
‘I felt heart-broken’
By BJ Manalo

Guard, La Salle Green Archers
That night I felt frustrated, yes, but actually, I think it was more like broken-hearted. I felt that the team gave their best, but circumstances didn’t allow us the championship.

When the buzzer sounded, and I saw that Ateneo had won, the first thing I did was go to the Ateneo team. I hugged Enrico and the rest of them. They were so happy, I felt that their victory was also my victory. I knew how hard they worked for this. I had known them since we were in high school that this was their dream. We grew up together, after all.

I have no regrets though about having chosen to move to La Salle. Before I made this personal decision I prayed very, very hard. I have made new friends, I have new relationships, and I feel that I’ve hurdled all the obstacles—including all those insults, including my injury—that came my way.

All I can say now is that I’m a better person.

I don’t really feel that I was a big part of the team. I was just one of the pieces of the puzzle. But I do know that I gave my best.

That night I couldn’t sleep—I think I fell asleep at 6:30 in the morning!

But you know, I loved, I embraced the moment that I was down. God showed me that He was in control of it all. Perhaps it meant that I wasn’t ready for such a big blessing yet. So I leave it all up to Him—perhaps He will show me my purpose in life through this experience.

As a basketball player and as an individual, I don’t want to feel the pain anymore. I know I did my best.

Besides, when I got out of Araneta Coliseum, I saw so many people waiting for me. They were even asking for my autograph. I almost forgot that we lost. And then when we got to the De La Salle Taft campus afterwards more than 1,000 people were waiting for us. We’ve experienced victory, now I guess it was time for something else.

I think that at the end of the day, Ateneo was hungrier. They simply wanted the championship more than we did.

A part of me will always be Atenean. I spent 12 good years of my life there. I got my values from the Ateneo. I wouldn’t have the guts to fight for what I want if it weren’t for that foundation. In a way, I feel that I am still the most loyal Atenean, because I applied all that I learned from that school in my life today.

In all, I still feel blessed to be a student of two of the best schools in the country.

For me, there are no mistakes—only lessons to be learned. — As told to Paula Nocon

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