Their reunion may not have lasted that long, but Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero is nevertheless proud to have shared lasting memories with Marc Pingris in the nearly five years they spent together in Magnolia.
The 2018 PBA Coach of the Year expressed his utmost admiration to his former teammate-turned-mentee, who on Tuesday evening announced that he is hanging up his sneakers for good after 16 stellar seasons in the pros.
“I’m very honored and thankful dahil kahit papano, nagkasama kami — hindi nga gaano katagal.
“Pero at least, we have memories na nakakuha kami ng championship, nakapasok kami sa Finals, madaming playoff games, madaming things, madaming masasaya. At least we built memories,” Victolero told Tiebreaker Times.
Victolero took over the Hotshots’ coaching reins back in 2016. And he was able to give them their first championship in four years when his chargers ruled the 2018 Governors’ Cup at the expense of the Alaska Aces.
Magnolia has had three Finals appearances with him at the helm, including successive trips to the Philippine Cup Finals in 2018 and 2019. The team has not missed the playoffs under the 45-year-old’s tutelage.
For Victolero, it was Pingris — whom he worked with in the MBA-backed Philippine cage team in 2001 — who made his job much easier.
“Thankful ako kasi hindi ako masyado nahirapan ng transition especially nung paglipat ko rito sa Purefoods, welcome ako ni Ping. Very accommodating siya, talagang tinulungan niya ‘ko kung papaano maka-adjust,” he said.
“Of course, medyo may pinagsamahan din kami niyan eh, especially nung bata pa siya, nung naglaro kami sa SEABA. Naging teammates kami sa national team. Very thankful ako na nakasama ko siya.”
Victolero shared that he actually spoke with Pingris a couple of weeks ago, and there he advised the 39-year-old to do what he feels is best for him.
Tuesday came and he has decided to call it quits, ending a career that saw him win nine PBA titles — including a Grand Slam in 2014 — two Finals MVPs, and three Defensive of the Player awards, to name a few.
And his coach is genuinely happy for the former Gilas Pilipinas vanguard, believing that he’s made everyone proud with what he’s done.
“Nagkausap kami niyan two weeks ago siguro, nagiisip pa siya kung itutuloy niya or it’s time to hang it up. Sabi ko lang sa kanya, kung ano yung tingin mo, kung ano yung nararapat sa’yo, wala ka naman dapat nang patunayan.
“I think lahat kami sa Purefoods, yung family mo, ‘yung fans mo, even siguro lahat ng Pilipino, very proud sa kanya kahit hindi sila Purefoods fans. Very proud sa mga na-contribute niya,” Victolero said.
Magnolia now heads into the 46th season without one of its leaders, and Victolero admitted that Pingris will leave a gaping hole in the team.
But at the same time, he believes that the former 3rd overall pick will leave the Hotshots in good hands with the presence of Calvin Abueva and Jackson Corpuz, which are both hard-nosed, tireless workhorses like Pingris.
“Sobrang mahal na mahal niya ‘yung team niya eh. So siguro, ngayon medyo [may] transition naman ‘yung team with Calvin and Jack Corpuz so naisip niya na kahit papano nasa magandang kamay naman yung Magnolia,” he said.
“Of course malaking bagay pa rin yung leadership niya, malaking bagay pa rin yung contribution niya, pero you know, we’re very happy … Basta happy si Ping, happy kami. ‘Yun lang ‘yun,” Victolero added.
Victolero very much believes that Pingris will have himself many opportunities now that he’s set to begin life after basketball, but the door is always open for him if he wants to help the Hotshots in ways he can.
“Bata pa ‘yan, madami pa siyang opportunities sa ibang bagay. And I think si Ping naman, madasaling tao yan. Mapagpaniwala siya sa ating Panginoon na may mga blessing pa na darating sa kanya,” he said.
“And you know, sabi ko nga sa kanya, ‘wag ka mag-alala dahil anytime na gusto mong sumuporta sa amin, gusto mong pumunta at magsalita, gusto mong bigyan ng konting message yung team or meron kang nakita sa team during manonood ka, you can text me or the other players. Ganun. I think he’s going to be around pa rin sa main.”