James Yap is the Finals MVP. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA -- San Mig Coffee Mixer's 2014 PBA Governors' Cup Grand Slam title is surely one for the books. But what could be the secret behind San Mig's winning culture?
"Walang inggitan," San Mig's captain, James Yap, told host Bianca Gonzales for her column on The Philippine Star on Sunday. "We all know the role we have to play. I think that is the best thing about our team. There is no star player, walang sapawan, pantay pantay lahat."
For most of his PBA career, Yap has been playing alongside Marc Pingris and Peter Jun Simon, forming one of the league's most successful trios.
Despite Pingris and Simon being All-Star players themselves, "Big Game James" said there was never an issue of rivalry between them on and off the court.
"We are very close even off the court," Yap said. "Siguro [kasi] lahat kami galing sa probinsya, galing sa hirap. Si PJ taga-Makilala, Davao. Si Ping, taga-Pozorrubio, Pangasinan. Hindi ko alam, baka 'yun iyon."
Yap went on to score a game-high 29 points during the Finals en route to another Finals Most Valuable Player award.
Pingris and Simon both chipped in 10 points.
Before becoming a basketball superstar, Yap recalled playing in his hometown of Escalante in Negros Occidental. One of his fondest basketball memories was placing bets or ''pusta'' with local tricycle drivers.
"Kasi dati, mga Grade 2 ako, hindi ako binibigyan ng allowance ng dad ko. So after school, I would go straight to be ball boy for the tennis games. After two games, that’s around one hour, I would have two pesos.
"When I would get that money, I would go straight to the basketball court and we would place bets and go shooting. Malalaki na kalaban ko nun, mga tricycle at 'padyak' (pedicab) drivers. Sometimes I would win P10, basta huwag lang three-point shot kasi hindi ko pa abot noon," he laughingly recalled.
Yap said he was discovered during an exhibition game in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA).
"I was discovered during the MBA. We were competing in the high school finals exhibition game before the main game. Fast break ata nun, nag dunk ako. We eventually became champions. After that, madami nang tumatawag sa amin," he said.
Yap also shared he nearly played for La Salle in college before getting into the University of the East basketball team.
"When I would have breaks in high school, I would fly to Manila and practice in DLSU. Nililigawan na ako ng La Salle noon. Pero, iba 'yung galing probinsya tapos sasabak ka sa ganun. Na-culture shock ako. I was worried I might fail in my subjects and not be able to play," he said.
“My tito was convincing me to go straight and play in the MBA, but good thing my other tita insisted that I go to college. Since UE was also recruiting me, we decided that I should go to UE instead," he said.
In the UAAP, Yap never won a championship title, although he won an MVP award in 2003. That, he said, frustrated him, being a true competitor even back in his college years.
"Na-frustrate talaga kami, almost all the outside leagues we would join, we would win the championship for UE. Pero pag dating sa UAAP, wala talaga," he said.
The Captain's heir
Yap completed four years in UE and was drafted in 2004 by the Purefoods franchise (now San Mig Coffee), a team led by four-time MVP, ''The Captain'' Alvin Patrimonio.
San Mig coach Tim Cone once compared Yap to Patrimonio who was Purefood's go-to guy.
Yap admitted he was flattered, but said ''The Captain'' is still unique and incomparable.
"Siyempre nakaka-flatter. Pero hindi mo pa rin maco-compare. Alvin Patrimonio pa rin siya," he said.
The soft-spoken San Mig superstar returned the praise to Cone who led them to the Grand Slam title.
"Grabe siya. His style is he really, really speaks well. Magaling mag-motivate, it’s all him. Win or lose, he keeps us motivated," he said.
MVP advice: 'Huwag maging kampante'
Yap, a two-time MVP in 10 seasons in the pro league, also attributed his attitude on basketball to his high school coach.
"Once nakakuha ka ng championships or awards, huwag kang mag-relax. Continue to work hard. Huwag makampante because there are so many other players who want to be in the position you are in. There are so many who can replace you. 'Yun yung pinaka-tumatak sa isip ko," he recalled the advice of his mentor.
"The person who told me that was my high school coach in Iloilo, Nelson Go. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago," he shared.
Yap added that his former coach's parents have also been keys in keeping him grounded despite making it big in the country's biggest basketball league.
"Mag-pray, always pray," Yap said of the constant reminder of his late coach's parents to him.
Coach James Yap soon?
After being a part of a Grand Slam team, Yap admitted he is already mulling retirement after five or six more years.
However, life after a colorful basketball career remains to be a blank canvas for the two-time MVP.
"To be honest, I am not yet thinking about what I will do after basketball," Yap told Gonzales. "I will probably travel. I’d want to rest. I can see myself coaching high school, maybe. We'll see."
"Big Game James" also said he is already trying to venture into different business, knowing that basketball is not for life.
Yap is currently one of the partners in a Vesapa dealership in the Philippines, as well as the barbershop Razor Sports.
"I'm looking at different business ventures now. But for me, if you will get into a business, it really has to be something that you love, and you have to give time for it, yung tutok ka talaga," he said.
Despite reports that he is the highest-paid player in the PBA, Yap prides himself of being ''kuripot.''
"Ang problema kasi sa akin, kuripot ako. But at the same time, if there is something I really, really want, even if it is pricey, I will get it. Extremes talaga," he said.