Pinoy coach survives near-death episode
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 26, 2015 - 10:00am

CHANGSHA – For Filipino coach Paul Advincula of the Malaysian national team, facing title favorite Iran at the 28th FIBA Asia Championships here last Friday was nothing like the challenge of surviving a near-death experience in 2008.

As expected, defending champion Iran crushed Malaysia, 122-42. But the positive side was it was the most points Malaysia scored against Iran since losing, 121-36, in Wuhan in 2011 and 115-25 in Manila two years ago. Advincula, 51, said he is rebuilding the Malaysian team, averaging 23 years old, with an eye to contend for the gold medal at the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games which Kuala Lumpur will host.

If Advincula is experiencing birth or rebirth pains with the Malaysian squad, it’s nothing new. He’s used to taking up the gauntlet. In 2008, he was hospitalized for two months and almost died because of congestive heart failure which was caused by a virus. And in 2013, his home in Tacloban was ravaged by typhoon Yolanda. After surviving both tragedies, Advincula shouldn’t find it difficult to overcome the nightmares of this year’s FIBA Asia Championships.

Malaysia finished the preliminaries with a 0-3 record, joining Singapore, Kuwait and Chinese-Taipei out of the second round. Advincula’s squad bowed to India, 102-73, Japan, 119-48 and Iran. It didn’t help that Malaysian power forward Ivan Yeo, who sizzled for 18 points against India, missed the Japan and Iran games with a severely sprained ankle. Today, Malaysia takes on Kuwait in the classification stage to determine the teams to finish No. 13 to No 16.

“We’re a young team,” said Advincula, one of seven foreign coaches in the ongoing FIBA Asia joust. “I keep reminding my players to learn, improve and enjoy this experience. We tend to panic when the other teams start pressing. We get tense, forget ourselves and throw away possessions. But it’s something we must address. We’re not a big team so we like to run, score on the break and hit the open three. We’re a team in transition. Our problem is a limited pool of talent because in Malaysia, basketball is a third or fourth class sport. We’re not a basketball country. Football is the No. 1 sport. I’ve been involved with the national team since 2013 and we’re slowly rebuilding. It’s quite a challenge.”

Advincula said he’s not exactly over the moon about being among seven foreign coaches here. “I’m a small fry,” he said. “I’m not a big-time coach like Rajko Toroman of Jordan or Dirk Bauermann of Iran. I have no illusions. I’m just proud to be doing what I’m doing as a Filipino. I’m happy to bring honor to the Philippines.”

Advincula, a former varsity player with the Divine Word University in Tacloban, said he never expected to get a break in coaching and it started with inviting coach Boysie Zamar to a clinic for 200 kids in 2000. “I ran a clinic in Tacloban and asked coach Boysie to come over,” he recalled. “Somehow, we hit it off and coach Boysie invited me to join his UE staff in 2000. I was with UE for three years then I went to Malaysia. I was recruited by WCT Klang, a club in Selangor, to coach in the national league and luckily, we won the title. Another Filipino, coach Boysie’s brother Toto, was with the Malacca team in the same league.”

Advincula returned to the Philippines in 2008 and didn’t realize he had picked up a virus, probably in Malaysia. “I was in Tagaytay coaching in Tito Palma’s league when I went down,” he said. “I was hospitalized for two months and I thought I would die. Somehow, I pulled through. The next year, I was invited back to Malaysia to coach and I brought along Odie Labarda as my assistant because my health wasn’t 100 percent back. I coached in Sarawak, was with the Kuala Lumpur Dragons in the ABL then coached in Perak before I joined the national team in 2013. There is a rule in Malaysia that if you’re with the national team, you can’t work in the ABL so I’m no longer involved with the Dragons. I’m full-time with the national team.”

Advincula is actually an overseas Filipino worker. He lives in Kuala Lumpur while his wife Lea and four children reside in Tacloban. Advincula has third children with his first wife who passed away last year. He has a child with his second wife. His two oldest children are nurses while the two others are still in school. “Occasionally, my wife comes to visit in Malaysia,” he said. “But I also try to come home as often as I’m allowed to be with my family in Tacloban.”

Like his hometown that was devastated by Yolanda two years ago, the Malaysian basketball team is rebuilding. This year’s roster lists only five holdovers from the 2013 squad that finished last after losing to Iran, China and Korea in the preliminaries and Thailand in the classifications. Veteran Eng Heng Soo, 31, is the oldest player. Four players are 22 and below, including Yeo and 18-year-old Liang Chuan Yek.

It won’t be easy transforming the Malaysian team into a contender. Last May, Malaysia wound up second in the SEABA Championships and earned a qualifying ticket to play here. But a month later, Malaysia fell to fifth place at the SEA Games. Known as a survivor, Advincula faces a tough task but he’s endured tougher challenges in the past.

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