One-conference leave for Chua?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Ginebra San Miguel coach Alfrancis Chua will definitely be back on the Barangay bench in the PBA but the timing of his return is not certain at the moment. Chua had announced his resignation after the team got together for its first practice since the end of the Commissioner’s Cup at the Xavier School gym Monday last week. It was rumored that Chua decided to quit in the wake of on-line reports of coaching and player changes without his knowledge.

A San Miguel Corp. press release later disclosed that the company had granted Chua’s request for a leave of absence. Apparently, Chua had a change of heart and will no longer resign from the team – a development that was welcomed enthusiastically by the Barangay players and their legion of fans.

Who will take over the Ginebra reins on an interim basis in Chua’s absence is still not known. Of course, it’s possible that Chua himself might jump back into the firing line although unlikely as he had indicated plans of visiting his mother in San Francisco. After the gruelling Commissioner’s Cup Finals, Chua took his wife Jocelyn to Boracay, Palawan and Tokyo to get away and recover from the stress of the game. They hadn’t gone on a holiday together for nearly two years since Chua joined Ginebra as a consultant.

If Chua skips the Governors Cup which begins Aug. 14, he’ll be back on the Ginebra bench for sure at the start of next season’s Philippine Cup on Nov. 17. So it’s just a question of when.

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Reigning PBA MVP Mark Caguioa was extremely vocal in appealing for Chua’s return. It isn’t often that Caguioa comes out in public to make an appeal. But he did it for Chua who is widely known as a players’ coach, someone who fights to protect his players’ rights and they in turn fight for him on the court. Despite losing to Alaska via a 3-0 sweep in the Commissioner’s Cup Finals, Ginebra was hailed for its heroic stand in the face of daunting odds. LED billboards along EDSA applauded Chua for the gallant effort.

Last Friday, Chua made a surprise visit during the Ginebra practice at the Reyes gym in Mandaluyong and was greeted warmly by the players whom he treated to a pansit merienda. The next day, he joined the Ginebra players, PBA governors Rene Pardo of San Mig Coffee and Ely Capacio of Petron and other PBA cagers, including James Yap, at the Tagaytay wedding of PBA chairman Robert Non’s daughter Sharlene Joy. Missing in the merry-making was Rudy Hatfield who flew back to the US last Wednesday. Hatfield has decided to retire from playing in the PBA to focus on a new juice business.

There was a lot of tension in the Ginebra camp when news of player movements went viral in social media over the last few weeks even as nothing was ever confirmed. The news stemmed from reports that veteran Asi Taulava may be headed to Ginebra for a final tour of duty in the PBA after leading the San Miguel Beermen to the ABL championship this past season. Meralco owns Taulava’s rights and coach Ryan Gregorio said the team was open to a trade but no deal has yet been finalized.

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Ginebra’s coaching staff was recently augmented by the arrival of Jorge Gallent and Ato Agustin to join Art de la Cruz and Freddie Abuda. UE coach Boysie Zamar has also been invited and will probably hop on board after the UAAP season. Assistant coaches Juno Sauler and Allan Caidic were previously assigned to La Salle on a full-time basis, creating vacancies in the pool. Another assistant coach Siot Tanquingcen moved to Petron as team manager.

Chua took over the Ginebra reins from Tanquingcen beginning the Commissioner’s Cup last February and the Barangay got off to a slow 0-4 start. But as the conference went on, Ginebra regained its form with import Vernon Macklin replacing Herbert Hill. A 6-0 win streak boosted Ginebra to the playoffs but as the No. 7 seed, it had a twice-to-beat disadvantage against No. 2 Rain Or Shine in the quarterfinals. Not expected to thwart the Elasto Painters whose import was the stratospheric NBA veteran Bruno Sundov, Ginebra defied the odds in winning twice in a row, 90-83 and 81-79.

Then came the Talk ‘N’ Text challenge in the best-of-five semifinals. The Texters zoomed to a 2-1 series lead and once again, Ginebra was faced with a twice-to-beat disadvantage. But like in the Rain Or Shine battle, the Barangay refused to surrender and won twice in a row, 104-101 and 111-103 to advance to the Finals. Alaska, however, wouldn’t be denied the trophy as the Aces pounced on the exhausted Barangay, 87-70, 104-90 and 104-80 to sweep the tie. The Game 3 clincher drew an all-time attendance record of 23,436 – setting a new audience mark in PBA history.

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