All successful sports teams have unique experiences that helped them to reach greater heights and seize glory.
For La Salle Green Hills, who won the NCAA Season 93 Juniors Championship, it was its propensity for physical altercations during practice that made them stronger as a unit.
During an interview with hosts Charles Tiu, Paolo Layug, and Anton Altamirano in Tiebreaker Vods’ Coaches Unfiltered, presented by SMART, coach Marvin Bienvenida and former players Jacob Lao, Joel Cagulangan, and Inand Fornillos shared how their internal conflicts bonded them to be the schools’ first champion team in the Grand Old League.
“Kasi si Coach (Marvin) yung nagbigay sa akin ng kumbaga ito na yung time ko na magiging leader kasi lagi niya akong sinasabihan kahit nung Pasarelle pa lang kailangan mong mag lead, kailangan mo iano yung mga kakampi mo para mas gumaling sila and then nung year na yun grabe yung kumpyansa nila coach sa akin,” said Cagulangan.
With the Butuan native established as the Greenies’ alpha male, the onus was on him to take the lead over his teammates. However, these things take time to establish and when they are being worked on, sparks can fly in the wrong way.
“Nandoon pa yung Albert Bordeos na beterano kaso mas pinili ni coach na maglaro ako ng mas mahabang minutes sa kanya kasi nakikita ni coach siguro yung talent ko na mag lead ng team,” said the UP Fighting Maroon.
“Saka sobrang laking tulong na rin ng teammates ko lalo na sila Inand Fornillos yata yun kasi sobrang laking tulong niya kasi yung offensive rebounding niya grabe talaga eh. Saka isa pa po nandoon kasi yung parang Bisaya connection eh sa practice naman talaga nanuntok din talaga si Inand.”
Confrontations between teammates are not uncommon but the timing can be very bad. For Cagulangan and Fornillos, being part of LSGH’s strongest lineup in recent memory, incidents like these could have ended any team’s title hopes but they became parts of the journey for the Greenies.
“Tungkol sa suntok suntok na yan I mean before naman yan kami kasi ni Maimai kasi bago nga ako from UST to LSGH so parang diba dapat mafeel ko na parang mahihiya ako pero nandiyan kasi si Maimai so naging komportable ako,” said the former UAAP Juniors Mythical Five awardee.
“Mabilis lang yung pag-adapt ko sa team kasi nagsuntukan kami kasi parang feel ko yun yung turning point eh semis yun or before. Tapos na pala nung Game One nung (kalaban) San Beda.”
Cagulangan and Fornillos were not the only players who were at each other during practice. Tensions rose between other members of the team because of their individual competitiveness. In hindsight, all of them can look back and laugh at their experiences but back then these were complicated scenarios for their coaches to deal with.
“Parang pisikal lang masyado yung practice tapos, aaminin ko na nga eh, tapos ako syempre natatalo na yung team namin sa scrimmage tapos ayaw kong patalo eh parang gusto ko gawin lahat para manalo lang kami tapos yun nga, kahit yung ibang teammates namin nagsisikuhan na rin si Macoy (Marcos) saka si Diego (Morales) nagsisikuhan na sila,” narrated Fornillos.
“Tapos si Maimai may isang play pero hindi naman sinadya ni Maimai na parang umilag lang yata siya sa seal ko tapos nadapa ako tapos parang nainis lang ako nagdilim yung paningin ko tapos pinapatakbo na kami ni Coach kasi talo kami eh tapos biglang sinapak ko na lang si Maimai non nagdilim yung paningin ko.”
In the heat of the moment, LSGH’s title run could have probably ended during that instant. In an alternate universe, the San Beda Red Cubs or the Mapua Red Robins would have been champions of Season 93.
“Sinuntok niya ako sabi ko, ‘Coach ayoko na uwi na ako, bahala na kayo, ayoko na’ sabi kong ganon tapos pinabalik ako ni Coach (Marvin),” said Cagulangan.
“Para sa akin kung hindi nangyari yun hindi siguro kami magchachampion eh. Para sa akin yun yung pinakamagandang practice na naranasan ko sa GH seryoso. Yun yung pinakapisikal tapos walang nagpapatalo lahat gustong manalo. Yun yung sure ako 100 percent kami lahat non,” said Fornillos.
By this time, the Greenies’ season was on the line. They needed to defeat the Red Cubs in a do-or-die fixture to reach the finals against the Red Robins. A loss at that stage would have been devastating for the LSGH program.
“One week yata (kaming hindi nagpansinan). Nagusap na kami Game Two na, doon na kami nagbati,” said Fornillos.
“Magkatabi sa kama sa dorm yan hindi nagbabatian,” said Bienvenida.
It took the intervention of booster Frank Lao for Fornillos and Cagulangan to patch things up somehow with the team’s campaign on the line. As hard as it is to do so, both players eventually humbled down, somewhat begrudgingly, to end the issue.
Fornillos, in particular, was contrite considering his role in what happened.
“As in si Daddy pa nagsabi magkamay na kayo. Gusto niya makita raw na bati na sila before pa mag Game Two,” said Lao.
“Ayaw ni Maimai pero sabi ko, ‘Okay lang kasalanan ko naman’. Una pa lang after pa lang ng pagkasapak mga huddle tapos sabi ni Coach Marv, ‘Ano sasabihin mo Inand?’ Nag-sorry ako tapos si Maimai parang ang taas ng pride eh alis na raw siya,” said Fornillos.
“Hindi lang simpleng suntok eh, sinuntok habang pagod sa diaphragm eh,” said Bienvenida.
“As in full force talaga,” added Fornillos.
“Sayang dinelete ko na yung message ni Inand, long message talaga yun eh,” said Cagulangan.
“Nag-message talaga ako sa kanya lumalapit talaga ako kasi alam ko kasalanan ko talaga eh,” said Fornillos.
Eventually, things like these come to pass and for the Greenies, it came just in time in their pivotal clash against the Red Cubs, which ended with a scoreline of 110-108 after three overtime periods. Perhaps the fact that Cagulangan and Fornillos worked together early in that match boded well for LSGH.
“Yun nga first assist niya sa akin pa. Feel ko bati na kami kasi pinasahan niya ako.
“Unang possession pa lang pinasahan niya ako frm jump ball so ah okay na yata kami. Sabi ko ishu-shoot ko lahat ng assist mo para sure ball,” said Fornillos.
Ultimately, the incident between the two prodigies is now just a mere footnote in the story of LSGH’s maiden championship.
As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and for Cagulangan, Fornillos, and the rest of the Greenies, their clashes became part of the process of them being champions.