Grand slam worth the wait for Sy
() - December 26, 2008 - 12:00am

One of the year’s most inspiring sports stories was Ever Bilena’s victory in the Women’s Philippine Basketball League (WPBL), revived from nearly a decade-long hiatus.

Gandang Pinay team owner Dioceldo Sy waited nine years to clinch a Grand Slam after bagging titles in 1998 and 1999. Patience and hard work paid off for the former PBL chairman whose passion for the game dates back to when he played for the UNO high school varsity from 1973 to 1976.

Sy, 50, operates a successful direct-selling enterprise whose products include Ever Bilena beauty products and accessories, Noosa shoes, Obama electric bike and parts, Blu Detergent, Country Fresh and Dea soap, Private Joyce lingerie and swimwear and PBA jerseys by Accel.

Early in his professional career, Sy realized the impact of basketball as a marketing tool. He formed the Blu Detergent team that played in the PBL for seven years up to 2004, claiming a title in the process with coach Leo Isaac and mainstays Marlon Legaspi, Aris Dimaunahan, Arnold Calo and Lou Gatumbato. This season, he was back in the PBL for a conference with Noosa Shoes.

Through the years, Sy said his most memorable moment in sports was witnessing Ever Bilena’s Grand Slam in the WPBL. Coach Patrick Aquino, who played alongside the likes of Poch Juinio and Joey Guanio at UP under coach Rey Madrid from 1989 to 1993, called the shots for the team in those three seasons. One of Aquino’s assistants this year, Julie Amos, was the WPBL’s first MVP and played on the pioneer Ever Bilena squad.

“Winning the Grand Slam has to be my sweetest experience in sports,” said Sy who gave up playing to be a working night student at PSBA before building his business enterprise. “We were seeded only fourth entering the tournament because La Salle, Ateneo and FEU were the favorites. We were recruiting players from UP but at the last minute, they went with Smart. We had only two weeks to put our team together and luckily, Julie was able to get the nucleus of the UST varsity.”

Over 300 players showed up for tryouts in the 10-team WPBL where the age limit is 28. Included in the cast were the Philippine senior and youth teams.

Ever Bilena posted an 8-1 overall record, losing only to the Philippine youth after blowing a 25-point lead in the third period. The Gandang Pinay tied with Hapee and Smart with identical 3-1 records after the eliminations then survived three knockout games to play Smart-UP in the best-of-3 finals. In Game 1, Ever Bilena won, 67-57, and in Game 2, the team clinched the crown, 64-60.

Aquino, 37, credited his players’ never-say-die spirit in Game 2. Ever Bilena clawed back from a 13-point deficit early in the second half to win.

Ever Bilena’s stalwarts were MVP Marichu Bacaro, Rem Buenacosa, Auimi Ono, Nikki Leonardo, Paula Bombeo and Elaine Orellano. The youngest in the roster was Roscelle Teotico, 18, and the oldest Mat Carreon, 26. Bacaro collected 18 points, six rebounds and five assists while Buenacosa had 18 points, 10 rebounds and two steals in Game 2.

“Of course, our players use Ever Bilena products,” beamed Sy. “The WPBL is, after all, a glamor league. They like our silkening lotion and body spray, our biggest sellers.”

Sy said Ever Bilena’s victory was particularly impressive since none of the players was picked for the national team. “Two of our players are now applying to work in our company,” said Sy. “We’ll be back to defend our title in the next conference this February. If there’s an opportunity for us to play overseas, it would be an honor to represent our country as ambassadors of goodwill.”

One of Sy’s UNO teammates Johnson Martinez is now Ever Bilena’s team manager. Their “nerdy” high school classmate Dr. Henry Costa of El Paso, Texas, was recently in town for a visit and they relived their UNO days cheering for Ever Bilena in the finals.

“I love the game,” said Sy. “If I’m asked to be involved with the national women’s team, I would be privileged to serve. Maybe, someday, I can bring a team to the PBA. Who knows? That could be sooner than we think.”

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