By Alder T. Almo
COACHING in the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) is one of the most sought-after jobs of coaches dreaming to hit big time.
The UAAP, the most glamorous collegiate basketball league in the country today, has been the breeding ground of some of the biggest names in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). The Talk N Text Phone Pals and Fedex Express have former Ateneo Blue Eagles’ mentors Joel Banal and Joe Lipa respectively. Purefoods has ex-University of the Philippines coach Ryan Gregorio. Former La Salle mentor Joseph “Jong” Uichico overcame his title-less UAAP experience to become one of the winningest coaches of the San Miguel Beermen.
With Phone Pal’s assistant coach and UST’s “four-peat” architect Januario “Aric” del Rosario finally stepping down from his decade-and-a-half coaching reign in the Growling Tigers’ bench, the post easily became one of the hottest vacancies in the UAAP waiting to be filled.
The dream job went straight knocking on Reonel “Nel” Parado’s door. Without hesitation, the young mentor and San Beda alum grabbed the rare opportunity.
His sterling performance in leading the neophyte Sunkist-UST Tigers in the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) in the last conference became his ticket to the bench post originally meant for his long-time buddy Virgilio “Dong” Vergeire.
Vergeire was supposedly being groomed to inherit Aric’s position when he came back to the Tiger’s bench last season as an assistant coach. But the RP-Cebuana Lhuillier retained him as one of the coaches of the projected long-term national team after its successful title retention in the Southeast Asian Basketball (SEABA) last year.
Parado and Vergeire share a special bond since their playing days with the San Beda Red Cubs.
“Best friend ko na siya (Dong Vergeire) eversince,” Parado said.
Former Purefoods coach Eric Altamirano, PBA’s first rookie-MVP Benjie Paras, Gerry Esplana and the new University of the East mentor, Dindo Pumaren, were their Red Cub teammates.
“Hindi ko naisip na magko-coach ako,” Parado, who is known in his NCAA years for his long bombs, confessed.
The 5’7” Parado continued to play in college as a guard for the San Beda Red Lions. He hung up his Red Lion jersey in 1989 as bigger guards started dominating the local basketball scene. A couple of years after, he pursued a playing career and later joined minor leagues to keep his body in shape.
The basketball gods were about to give him the break in the commercial leagues he was waiting for when he was taken in as a reserve player by Burger Machine in the Philippine Amateur Basketball League, now the PBL, in 1994.
He was about to be included in the line-up when best buddy Vergeire advised him to consider coaching instead.
The Vergeire-Parado tandem in the NCAA bench started that year. In 1996, they were tapped to handle the men’s national team. Parado also coached the women’s national team.
Two years later, Parado caddied for Vergeire in the Pangasinan Presidents in the now defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA). He became an assistant coach and later interim coach when Cagayan de Oro Amigos fired David Zamar midway into the season. He went back to his old post when coach Arlene Rodriguez was tapped to become the Amigos’ head coach. He returned to interim capacity when Rodriguez stepped down late in the 2000 season.
After the MBA’s demise, he teamed up anew with Vergeire in guiding the College of St. Benilde Blazers to win the 2000 NCAA championship. He was also a member of the John O Senators’ coaching staff in the PBL before his biggest break as coach to the Sunkist-UST team that nearly pulled off a Cinderella run in just its maiden season.
However, in the current PBL conference, Sunkist-UST was eliminated after failing to sustain its hot start, going winless in their final four games (see article below).
After that debacle, Parado can now concentrate on his more daunting task — to lead UST back to its once lofty status.
“Ang sabi sa akin nila Fr. (Emerito) de Sagon e kahit sana makapasok man lang ang team ngayon sa semis o kaya tumaas ng isang place compared last year,” Parado said.
But the team he inherited had seen the last of seven of its core players. Center Alwyn Espiritu, shooter Derick Hubalde, guard Dondon Villamin, forward Iago Raterta, backcourt generals Jinino Manansala and Edsel del Rosario, have already served out their eligibility years while back-up slotman Mark Naningga, who missed last season’s UAAP with a slip disc injury, never came back after his Sunkist-UST stint.
With only a handful of veterans and untested sophomores left in the fold, Parado is not about to wilt under pressure in trying to fill in the big void left by the enigmatic Del Rosario.
He brought along his trusted deputies Anthony Bryan Enrado and Arnel Angeles.
Parado is leaning on the veteran trio of the sweet-shooting Jemal Vizcarra, Christian Luanzon and workhorse forward Warren de Guzman.
Vizcarra proved that he’s a star in the making as he averaged in double digits en route to winning the PBL’s Discovery of the Year award. Luanzon has been slowly maturing into a versatile wingman with his extensive exposure in the current PBL Unity Cup averaging 8.09 points while grabbing 4.27 rebounds and 2.27 assists in 22.91 minutes on the floor.
De Guzman, meanwhile, is still recuperating from a foot injury he incurred last conference in the PBL.
Parado has been monitoring the progress of Team B guards Japs Cuan and Japs Reyes, and 6’4” forward Loureck Tong, all formerly from the Tiger Cubs. Meanwhile, former UST point guard Glenn Manching is eyeing a comeback. Adidas 3-on-3 star Jojo Duncil, former Adamson Baby Falcon Daryll Bautista, 6’4” towers Chester Taylor from Colegio de San Agustin and Francis Allera are also being eyed for spots on the team.
Parado emphasizes defense and a running game combined with potent outside shooting on the offense as his game plan in offsetting the team’s lack of ceiling.
Incoming sophomore and a former UAAP Junior’s Most Valuable Player Jun Cortez is expected to have finally shed his rookie jitters last year to quarterback the Tigers’ offense. Burly sophomore forwards Jun Dizon and Allan Evangelista will have to play heads-up basketball in the shaded lane alongside De Guzman.
Parado understands that this year’s team is less talented compared to last year’s team, which finished a dismal sixth place. But Parado feels no pressure at all.
“Kung mahal mo talaga ang isang bagay, hindi ka mape-pressure,” Parado said.
“Kaya ako nandito kasi mahilig lang talaga akong magturo.”
But the one-year contract given to Parado has sent the message clear to him. And he knows what’s on the line in his job. It’s shape out or ship out.
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