MANILA, Philippines – In his return to the Philippine national team's coaching staff, Alex Compton gets the opportunity to coach players that he had known since they were, quite literally, children.
Compton was part of the coaching staff when Gilas Pilipinas competed in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship and the 2016 FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament, both times serving as an assistant to Tab Baldwin.
He was left out of the coaching staff when Chot Reyes took over the team again in 2017, but recently provided "fresh eyes" for Tim Cone when he called the shots for the national team in the recent Southeast Asian Games.
He returns in an official capacity as Gilas prepares for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.
"Malaking karangalan ito," the former Alaska head coach said. "Anytime I get to coach for Gilas… I would be excited."
His job description is quite easy: "To do whatever Mark (Dickel) and Tab want."
"Whatever they want," Compton stressed.
Compton returns to a team that is much younger than the one he helped coach in 2015 and 2016. Players like Jayson Castro, Asi Taulava, and Ranidel de Ocampo are all out of the line-up; present, instead, are collegiate standouts like Matt and Mike Nieto, Isaac Go, and Dave Ildefonso, and young PBA pros like CJ Perez and Javee Mocon.
The only holdover from the Gilas squad in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship is Magnolia forward Marc Pingris, who now serves as both a veteran presence and an inspiration for the team.
Several players are fresh out of college, and some are still playing in the UAAP. Compton said that he knows some of the players from the NBTC, the grassroots development program that he co-founded together with former National University coach Eric Altamirano.
"'Yung mga iba, talagang nakilala ko sa NBTC pa lang eh. I've watched a lot of them for a long time," said Compton. "A lot of these guys… we've known (each other) for so long."
Among those players? Brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, and Juan and Javi Gomez de Liaño. Compton even remembers watching former San Sebastian College star Allyn Bulanadi during the NBTC high school basketball national finals.
"He was one of our All-Stars from NBTC in Davao," Compton recalls. "Si Coach Jamike (Jarin) ata ang All-Star coach namin noon. Allyn had like two games that he played in the NBTC tournament, and then he went straight to a two-hour practice kay Coach Jamike."
"Grabe 'yung bata. Mga 17 (years old) pa lang siya noon," he added. "Pukpok talaga eh, hangga't sa talagang namumulikat siya. He got cramps, they tried to keep going, but it was the kid's sixth hour of playing that day."
Compton can only laugh when he remembers that he knew Pingris as a high school student.
"I even knew Ping in high school when I was with the Metro Stars, still playing," he said.
"So, small, small world in basketball in the Philippines," he added.
Having observed the current Gilas pool players since they were young, Compton is sure of one thing.
"(I'm) not surprised to see these guys here," he said. "They deserve to be here."
"Hopefully, we can get the job done."
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).