A chat with Jimmy Alapag
BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - December 16, 2018 - 12:00am

It’s not too often that we in the Cebu sports media get to chat with sports icons. So when you get the chance to sit down with a guy named Jimmy Alapag, you can’t pass up on such an opportunity. He’s “only” a former team captain/member of Gilas Pilipinas, and someone who has made a huge impact on the Pinoy basketball scene. His three point shot from way downtown against Korea in the semifinals of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship will be forever etched in Pinoy basketball history as it assured Gilas Pilipinas of a return to the FIBA World Cup in 2014, a first since 1978. Today, he is head coach of San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, the country’s team in the Asean Basketball League (ABL). He and team owner Charlie Dy flew into town to formally announce their first-ever ABL home game in Cebu which takes place on January 6, 2019, against Wolf Warriors of China at the Hoops Dome in Lapu-Lapu City.

Jimmy is one of the most down-to-earth sportsmen anyone will encounter, a rarity among superstars, and you can soak up so much just by listening to him. In a free-wheeling discussion about basketball, we talked about his career as a player, his stints with the national team and his current roller-coaster journey with Alab Pilipinas. One topic that struck a chord with us was the importance of developing character among players. He said that even the strongest teams will not win championships if it didn’t have a solid set of players with character. Jimmy said that the Gilas Pilipinas team of 2013 was a great example of a team of players whose character couldn’t be questioned. They were solid, close and united to play for the flag. Their work ethic was exemplary. When I hear or read about players talking about “playing for the flag,” I always have second thoughts about their sincerity and at times consider these as “plastic.” But with Jimmy, he assured that they had a solid set of players who were dead-serious about playing for the flag and were willing to play with and for each other just to make that historical trip to the FIBA World Cup. “We were all willing to go through a wall for each other,” he said. “That was our mindset. It was all of us unanimously working together for that common goal. If someone wasn’t on the same page, then he didn’t belong,” he added. Jimmy said this was the main reason why they made it to the World Cup in Spain. Sacrifices were made. Personal egos were wiped aside. It was all or nothing for every player. The other key trait that this team had was their being a close-knit bunch. “We were a family and were close to one another. We would do a lot of things together off the court,” Alapag said. The closeness stemmed from everyone having the same mindset and common goals for the team.

To recall, that team was composed of point guards Alapag, LA Tenorio and Jayson Castro. The bigs were Marcus Douthit, June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Marc Pingris and stretch-4 Ranidel de Ocampo. The wingmen were Gabe Norwood, Larry Fonacier, Jeff Chan and Gary David. Head coach was Chot Reyes. Looking back, this team (on paper) isn’t as strong as the current Gilas Pilipinas team, is it?

And where was this character tested? When Douthit went down with an injury in the second quarter of the Korea game, Alapag said they didn’t panic and at a time-out, they saw the common need for all to step up and do it for Douthit. “We didn’t panic. We saw in each other’s eyes that we all knew what we needed to do,” he recalled. True enough, Gilas won the game and a trip to the World Cup, playing all-Filipino in the second half. This character was also revealed when they went up against the best at the 2014 World Cup. Their only win was like a championship. And while they lost all other games, they battled and gave their favored-opponents a lot of headaches.

Looking back, I tend to ask how we have fared in terms of developing players with character and if teams are formed with all members treating each other as part of the family. Or are today’s players there since it’s “just another job to be done?” Are they there just for the paycheck? For Alapag, his goal is to have the same type of character and unity in Alab Pilipinas. The team had gone through a lot in his first season as head coach last year, including losing the team’s main sponsor. But after a rough start and the entry of a new corporate backer, the team slowly but surely regained its bearings and worked its way up the ladder in the team standings. The icing on the cake for Alapag was winning the ABL championship on his rookie year; not bad for someone fresh from the pro leagues and without any previous head coaching stint.

It’s ironic that through the years and this age of social media and gadgets, building a champion team will still need that ingredient called “character” among members of the team. I thought this was taboo at the highest level, but Jimmy proved that true to old fashioned hard work, it’s very much needed and appreciated these days.


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