The Globalport Batang Pier entered the SMART-Araneta Coliseum with heavy hearts Wednesday afternoon. They had just lost a close family member earlier in the day when coach Senen Dueñas, an assistant coach for Globalport, past away earlier due to complications from a chest surgery.
“Very emotional on our team kasi they really worked hard for this. Two days ago, we saw in their eyes talagang they are pushing each other. They didn’t want to lose this game,” lead assistant coach Eric Gonzales shared. “Tapos may mga nangyari, nawala si coach Senen Duenas. Very close siya sa mga players. Dinedicate nila ito para sa kanya.”
Dueñas’ loss hit close to home for Dylan Ababou. During his stint with the UST Growling Tigers, the man known as the “Drillmaster” was a vital member of the UST staff — especially during their golden run back in the 69th season of the UAAP.
When Ababou was traded to the Globalport Batang Pier last March 29, he immediately looked for Dueñas during his first practice with his new home. However, days had past but his mentor was nowhere to be found.
“Actually di pa nga kami nagkita sa practice.
“Nagtataka ako bakit wala pa rin si coach Senen. Tapos one time nakausap ko nga siya, ooperahan nga daw. Ooperahan pa lang siya nun,” the six-year league veteran shared.
Once he knew about it, Ababou took the initiative to be the one to visit Dueñas at the Delos Santos Medical Center in Araneta Avenua, Quezon City.
“Actually, kahapon ng mga 1:00 pm, dinalaw ko pa siya pero medyo nahihilo-hilo na siya.
“Tinanong ko siya kung kilala niya ako, sinabi naman pangalan ko pero parang gusto niya matulog tapos kumbaga bubukas yung mata tapos pipikit ulit kasi nahihilo-hilo nga siya dahil dun sa surgery,” Ababou recalled as he tried to fight off tears.
“Pero okay pa siya eh, di nga namin akalain. Pag-gising ko this morning ang dami na nagte-text sakin akala ko di totoo.”
Back in 2009, Ababou was hailed as the UAAP’s Most Valuable Player. The Growling Tigers though dreaded their workouts, a system perfected by Dueñas throughout the years.
And a day prior to their Final Four encounter with eventual-champions Ateneo, the former UST Golden Booter gathered the team. But it was not just for a normal pep talk, Dueñas wanted to apologize to his team.
“Nung papunta na kaming Final Four, pinulong niya kaming lahat tapos kinausap niya lahat kami. Maya-maya umiiyak na siya so nagulat kami bakit umiiyak si coach Senen,” the now 30-year-old vividly recalled.
“Tapos sinabi niya kaya ko lang naman kayo pinapahirapan kasi mahal na mahal ko kayo, para pagdating niyo sa ibang coaches, pagdating niyo sa PBL, sa national team, sa PBA, sanay na kayo sa mga mahihirap na training tsaka mababagsik na coaches. Kumbaga hinahanda ko kayo sa future, yung character niyo yung ine-enhance ko.”
Up until this day, the effects of rigorous practices the Drillmaster is known for is still being felt. Cagers like Ababou, Jervy Cruz, Allein Maliksi, Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, and many other former Tigers are flourishing with their PBA careers, surviving hard-nosed mentors like Tim Cone, Yeng Guiao, and Norman Black.
As they continue to go up the ranks, so does the memory and the legacy of coach Senen Duenas.