No more a bridesmaid

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2018 - 12:00am

A new coach will join the PBA championship ranks after the Governors Cup finals between Alaska and Magnolia. Neither the Aces’ Alex Compton nor Magnolia’s Chito Victolero has won a title so whoever emerges on top will ascend the throne for the first time. Both have been in the finals before, Compton more than Victolero.

There’s a saying about a person who falls short of his or her potential – always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The reference is regardless of gender. Compton, 44, would therefore be a four-time bridesmaid. He reached the altar in the 2015 Philippine Cup, 2015 Governors Cup, 2016 Philippine Cup and 2016 Commissioner’s Cup but never got to seal the deal. Twice, Compton came a win shy of going all the way. 

In the 2015 Philippine Cup, Compton staked Alaska to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 over San Miguel Beer. Then, the Beermen seized the advantage, 3-2. The Aces tied it, 3-3, before San Miguel clinched in a close Game 7, 80-78. In the next Philippine Cup, Alaska figured in a finals rematch with San Miguel. This time, the Aces raced to a 3-0 lead and needed just one more win to deliver a 15th crown to the franchise, its first since the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup under coach Luigi Trillo. But San Miguel wouldn’t roll over and die. In Game 4, the Beermen escaped with a 110-104 decision in overtime. Game 5 also went to an extension and San Miguel prevailed once more, 86-73. The Beermen took Game 6, 100-89, and wrapped it up in Game 7, 96-89, becoming the first team to win a championship from 0-3. 

Since the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup, Alaska suffered a five-conference semifinal drought. Team owner Fred Uytengsu kept his faith in Compton despite the slide and finally, in the Commissioner’s Cup this season, Alaska was back in the Final Four but fell to nemesis San Miguel in four games of a best-of-five series. 

Trading Calvin Abueva to Phoenix was a tough decision to make but Compton bit the bullet to right the ship in time for the Governors Cup. He brought in Mike Harris after an eight-year courtship and the NBA veteran didn’t disappoint. In the entire conference, Alaska hasn’t lost two in a row. The Aces started 3-0, went 5-1 and closed out the eliminations with an 8-3 mark. Alaska bundled out San Miguel, 96-85, in the quarterfinals then took out Meralco in four in the semifinals. Alaska has now won five of its last six games.

Victolero, 42, was Sta. Lucia Realty’s second round draft pick in 2002 and averaged 1.5 points in 79 games over three seasons with the Realtors and FedEx. He joined Glenn Capacio’s staff with Kia in the 2014-15 season then took over as de facto head coach before being replaced by Chris Gavina. Victolero showed a lot of promise with Kia and before the 2016-17 season, his former Stag Pale Pilsen PBL coach and now San Miguel sports director Alfrancis Chua called. Victolero became the Star Hotshots new head coach.  In his first three conferences with Star, Victolero made it to the Final Four. In the Philippine Cup this season, Victolero brought the Hotshots, renamed Magnolia, to the finals against San Miguel. Magnolia lost, 4-1, but put up a heckuva fight. The Hotshots took Game 1, 105-103, then San Miguel swept the next four encounters, including an 84-80 thriller in Game 4 and a 108-99 double overtime clincher in Game 5.

Victolero faltered in the last Commissioner’s Cup as the Hotshots wound up seventh, ousted by Alaska, 89-78, in the quarterfinals. The Aces had a twice-to-beat advantage so didn’t need a second game to send Magnolia to the showers. That snapped Victolero’s Final Four streak at four conferences and served as his motivation to get back on track in the Governors Cup. How dramatic that Victolero now has a chance to get back at Compton for the unceremonious exit in the previous conference.

No doubt, Compton and Victolero are two of the youngest and brightest minds among PBA coaches today. They worked hard to get to the finals and now that they’re in the Last Dance, one of them will mark his debut as a champion coach.

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