As he entered the press room of the Filoil Flying V Centre, National University Bulldogs coach Danny Ildefonso could not help but breathe a sigh of relief. Not even a storied 17-year PBA career would have prepared him for what he had experienced a few minutes earlier.
“Thank you sa mga players ko dahil may instruction kami pero sila parin ang maglalaro sa amin kaya laking pasalamat ko sa players at sa coaching staff namin,” said a raspy voiced Danny Ildefonso, “Thank you kay God kasi sabi ko nga sa kanya, totoo lang wala pa naman akong experience sa coaching. Prayer ko lang kay God, ikaw na bahala sa game. Nabigyan naman ako ng kaunting wisdom na kahit papaano nakatulong sa mga bata.
“Thank you kay coach Jamike kasi ako napili niya e.”
Ildefonso, who had been named to Jarin’s coaching staff back in January, did not expect that he would be manning the sidelines for the Bulldogs this season. However, Jarin was slapped with two technical fouls last Wednesday, resulting a one game suspension.
And the two-time former PBA Most Valuable Player was asked to step up the plate to be NU’s chief tactician against the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.
“Wala akong ambition sa coaching, wala pa to be honest,” admitted the 40-year-old, who retired from the pro ranks two years ago.
“Alam naman ni coach Jamike. Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘hindi ko pinapangarap maging head coach,’ and ang sabi niya, ‘hindi ka kasi dun napupunta.’”
Having little experience as head coach, Ildefonso admitted that he had had jitters during the opening half of the contest. And making things more tense was that the UST were able to go up by as much as seven points against them.
“Kanina nung first half, medyo natataranta ako e. Ibang iba talaga ang player sa coach. As a player, pag binigay sa akin yung bola alam ko na gagawin ko. Pero dito, madaming players na kailangan tignan at yung kalaban pa,” the eight-time PBA champion confessed.
But fortunately for him, his collegues Dennis Llames, Ricky Reyes, John Ferriols, and Cederick Labing-isa — together with team consultants Jeff Napa and Chico Manabat — were there to calm him down. In addition, Jarin gave him free reign to orchestrate whatever he wanted.
“Alam niyo mga brother, magaling ang mga assistant coach namin. Nag-usap usap lang kami,” he added, “Talagang very busy sila na nagbibigay ng input at kung anong kailangan gawin sa loob kaya naging madali sa akin yung sa second half.
“Sabi ni coach Jamike ‘Coach D, huwag mo ko isipin. Bahala ka mag-coach diyan. Kung ano yung tingin mo, kung saan ka nababagay, kung ano yung tingin mong maipapanalo yung team, ‘wag mo ko isipin.'”
From there, the Bulldogs got going, eventually picking up a much-needed 91-83 win against the Growling Tigers. More importantly for him, UST did not pick up their first win under his watch.
“Ang sinabi ko sa kanila, hinihiling ko lang na ibigay nila yung best nila para kay coach Jamike at pinaalala ko lang na kailangan talaga manalo ngayon dahil malaki ang chance namin para sa number four,” Ildefonso said.
“Sabi ko nga sa kanila na, ‘wag naman sana sa atin manalo ang UST.”
And arguably the greatest student-cager the NU program produced shared that this was a tribute to his former head coach Sonny Paguia.
“Kung nandito lang si coach Sonny, siguro nagtatalon e. Hindi lang si coach Sonny siguro, pati yung mga teachers namin noon at mga alumni.”
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