Alfrancis Chua said he never imagined getting involved in coaching once more. “Leo and I were like phone pals, talking to each other every day, discussing strategy, matchups, how to defend Jones, how to maximize Chris, JuneMar (Fajardo) and Christian (Standhardinger) and how to bring out the best in Terrence (Romeo),” he said.
Alfrancis Chua a boyfriend and phone pal, too
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — There’s no doubt that the San Miguel Corp. sports program wouldn’t be as dominant as it is today if not for Alfrancis Chua. It’s not just because of his expertise in managing sports but also because of his openness to go the extra mile with keen attention to detail in measuring up to San Miguel Corp. president Ramon S. Ang’s expectations.

When San Miguel Beer clinched the PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown in Game 6 of the finals against TNT at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Friday, Chua said it wasn’t easy reaching the top. “We were up against TNT, a first-class organization with NBA player Terrence Jones,” said the San Miguel Corp. sports director who also sits on the PBA Board of Governors as Ginebra representative. “They lost only once in the eliminations while we were No. 7 entering the playoffs. But I told our guys forget about our losses or TNT’s wins. Let’s believe in ourselves and get the job done.”

Chua related how he was in a similar situation as Ginebra coach in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup. “We were No. 7 in the eliminations and had a twice-to-win disadvantage against No. 2 Rain or Shine with coach Yeng (Guiao) in the quarters but we won two in a row,” recalled Chua. “Then, in the best-of-5 semis, we faced TNT with coach Norman (Black). They went up 2-1 but we came back to clinch, 3-2. We ended up losing to Alaska in the finals because our import (Vernon Macklin) played hurt. We tried to get a replacement import from our ABL team whose coach at the time was Leo Austria. But ABL told us if we take out an import from the league, he wouldn’t be allowed to return. This conference, I told the guys our import (Chris McCullough) wasn’t injured like Macklin was so there was no reason to lose. I didn’t want what happened to me in 2013 to happen to us now.”

Chua said he never imagined getting involved in coaching once more. “Leo and I were like phone pals, talking to each other every day, discussing strategy, matchups, how to defend Jones, how to maximize Chris, JuneMar (Fajardo) and Christian (Standhardinger) and how to bring out the best in Terrence (Romeo),” he said. “We made adjustments. We spoke with JuneMar and explained how he should attack his defenders and how we would use Christian to defend Jones. If Leo was my phone pal, Terrence and Christian were like my boyfriends. I talked to them one-on-one, motivating them. I embraced them on the bench, encouraged them, knowing this was a high-intensity series. I told Christian he had nothing to lose defending an NBA player so go out there and show he can do it. I challenged Terrence to play without hesitation. What I like about Terrence is he isn’t afraid to take the big shot and absorb the blame if it doesn’t go in. He plays with a lot of heart. So when Terrence was named finals MVP, it was vindication.”

Chua said when he brought in Romeo from TNT, skeptics said the decision was wrong. “But how can you ignore a talent like Terrence?” he said. “We had several heart-to-heart talks like father and son. He’s a good guy, very respectful and a great player. When Marcio (Lassiter) went down, we were so lucky that Terrence was with us because he gave a new dimension to our offense with a three-guard lineup.”

Deciding to replace original import Charles Rhodes was a turning point. “We were 2-5 and even if Rhodes scored 30, we would still lose,” said Chua. “The team was losing confidence. So I consulted Boss RSA and he decided to get McCullough. I spoke with Leo and the coaching staff and we knew if we wanted to win the championship, we had to go with a new import. McCullough’s only 24 and he never played in this big role ever. He still has a lot to learn compared to Jones. Like he dribbles too high so defenders can easily poke the ball away. But he works hard and hates to lose. I think this experience will go a long way in bringing him back to the NBA.”

McCullough, who played for Brooklyn and Washington in three NBA seasons, will leave Manila for the US today to visit family then fly to Korea for another basketball contract by Aug. 27. Chua said McCullough’s rebounding was critical in the finals. Rebounding was the only statistical barometer that decided every game in the series. McCullough was particularly effective off the boards when he grabbed 22 in Games 2, 4 and 5 all of which San Miguel won.

“At the start of the finals, a lot of fans gave TNT a 90 percent chance of winning,” said Chua. “But because of their short rotation, I knew they would tire out in a long series. They tried to deepen their rotation but there was lack of chemistry because players weren’t used to each other on the floor. So I told our guys to take advantage. As the series went on, their players gassed out, walking up the court instead of running. That was when we stepped it up, played with more energy and attacked aggressively.”

Chua said the victory will bring back Austria’s confidence in himself. “I assured Leo of management’s support,” he said. “Now, we’re just one title away from a Grand Slam. But in the Governors Cup, we’re starting from scratch. At San Miguel, we want to maintain our level of excellence. We want to keep our win streak alive. People will forget what we did this conference when the new conference begins. We’ll have to prove ourselves all over again.”

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