Davao Occidental-Cocolife’s head coach Don Dulay is just 40 years young, with several players almost as old as him.
But what really pushed him to accept the Tigers’ head coaching position three years ago?
Speaking on Tiebreaker Vodcast’s Crossover: Inside the Chooks-to-Go MPBL bubble, Dulay shared how it all went down in 2018.
Back when he was still an assistant coach of Rain or Shine in the PBA in 2017, Dulay contemplated playing in the MPBL after seeing a lot of his batchmates hustling in the semi-professional league.
“I was watching MPBL’s first season, I saw a lot of the guys I played against. I actually thought about playing.
“I was gonna play for Valenzuela under Coach Chris Gavina and that time I was an assistant coach at Rain or Shine,” said Dulay.
However, the head coaching position in Davao opened up, since they would join the second season of the MPBL.
And without hesitation, Dulay accepted the offer because he thought it would be easier than playing.
“This job, this position opened up and I said, ‘You know what? I’d rather coach. It’s easier on the knees’,” Dulay jokingly said.
But reality slapped him right away.
After two wins to start the 2018-2019 Datu Cup, the Tigers went on a three-game slide.
“What I didn’t expect, though, was the stress the job comes with. I was blessed [that] we didn’t have a good start. I think we were 2-3 to start the season, but we went on a winning streak,” said Dulay as Davao went on to win its next 13 games after that skid.
The Tigers eventually reached the best record in the South Division behind a 20-5 win-loss record. They went all the way to the finals.
Fast forward to the 2018-19 National Finals. His Davao squad fell short of the crown, dropping Game Five against eventual-champion San Juan-Go for Gold, 87-86, at their home turf Rizal Memorial College Gym.
“We were able to get the best record in the league. I was able to coach the all-star game, win that, and become South champions.
“It was actually a cinderella story if you think about it, and that’s why I wanted that championship against San Juan. That would be the perfect story,” said Dulay.
That painful defeat boosted the Tigers to be even better this Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan Cup.
As history unfolded, Davao got another chance against the Knights in the National Finals in the Subic bubble.
This time, Davao has the additional motivation with all the baggage they have from last season.
Ultimately, Finals MVP Mark Yee’s clutch triple and stop would lift the Tigers against San Juan in Game Four, 89-88, to win the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan championship.
It was the sweetest of victories.
“I know the passion was there. I know they wanted it even from the first season. And that’s what hurt me so much as a coach, because I wanted them to have that championship,” Dulay looking back at Datu Cup.
“To have that chance again (to face San Juan), when that final buzzer went, I was so emotional.”
With the championship two years in the making due to delays brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the mentor can’t get over the feeling yet.
He admitted that he keeps watching that special moment up to now on the internet.
“It was really special. Even watching the replay, I still get touched, I am still watching it. It was something special, something I’ll never forget.”
Even though it took three years, Davao’s Cinderella story finally got its storybook ending.