BASKETBALL NOSTALGIA was the order of the day as coaches and players of the 1999 Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) National Champion Manila Metrostars participated in a webinar entitled “The Last Star” presented by HOOPS Coaches International with the support of Blackwater Elite. The guest panellists shared the secrets of how a champion team was built and sustained with veteran broadcaster Sev Sarmenta serving as moderator.
“It all starts with our practice,” declared winning coach Louie Alas. “There were no egos and everyone worked hard.”
Coach Alas was an assistant coach with Purefoods when the offer to coach in the fledgling MBA came. “I know the team was doing well under Coach Ricky Dandan so I made sure I would not be stepping on any toes when I accepted in December,” he added.
For his first major head coaching job, he went for familiarity and recruited Cesar Polhen, his former player at Las Pinas College, and Ariel Vanguardia from the PBL’s Welcoat as his assistants. The group was later joined by Boycie Zamar, who was fired as head coach the Cagayan de Oro Amigos early in the season.
The coaches made sure that the team should be three-man deep in every position and could adjust to the team system that revolved around the Triangle Offense and Pick and Roll. Returnees Romel Adducul, Alex Compton, Peter Martin, Ruben dela Rosa, Freche Ang, Nandy Garcia, Nestor Echano and Don Camaso welcomed new signees Gilbert Demape, Jonathan Serrano, June Longalong and Jojo Brines while Fil-Am AC Brown was added in the middle the year.
“Our second five can defeat our first five in practice,” shared Compton, the 1999 MBA Most Valuable Player. “The competition in practice was like in an actual, nobody wanted to lose,” added Adducul who was named as Star Player of the Finals against the Cebu Gems which ended in six games, 4-2.
A 4-2 start was followed by an amazing 22-game winning streak which ended with back to back road losses to the Iloilo Megavoltz and Negros Slashers and end the regular season at 26-4. With social media nonexistent at that time, Coach Alas regularly posted printed motivational quotes and slogans on the walls of their locker room, firing up his wards entering the playoffs with “26-4 does not mean a thing without the ring!”
As the streak was going on, the core of the Metrostars represented the Philippines in the 20th Southeast Asian Games in Brunei in August, pulverizing the opposition en route to another gold medal sweep. Adducul, Martin, dela Rosa, Ang, Camaso, Demape, Serrano and Longalong were joined by fellow MBA stars Renato Morano of the Pampanga Dragons and Wynne Arboleda of the Laguna Lakers plus amateur standouts Kerby Raymundo and Ernesto Billones.
“Our travels all over the Philippines and abroad helped build our relationships within the team,” observed Martin who also served as team captain. Sadly, Martin and Serrano would suffer season-ending knee injuries just before the National Finals thus casting doubt against the loaded Gems led by Dondon Hontiveros.
Coach Alas had to make major adjustments as they had to fill the sudden absence of the two key players. “The team’s depth showed and it was the reserves that saved the series,” he said.
Lasting for over two hours, the webinar also accorded fans to catch up with their idols especially those who are now based overseas or have shied away from major basketball competitions. Demape, Ang and Brown joined in from the United States.
Coach Vanguardia organized the reunion webinar as part of the HOOPS Coaches International series that has attracted a who’s who among both Filipino and foreign coaches to share their knowledge. “I’m not surprised that many our players went into coaching because they were already vocal leaders back then and they showed great Basketball IQ,” he said.
All the panellists were thankful to see each other again and reminisce. The lessons they learned 21 years ago has served them well as they proceeded into the next stage of their Basketball journey.