MANILA, Philippines – It was with a heavy heart that Leo Austria coached the San Miguel Beermen on Tuesday for their PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinal game against the always-dangerous TNT KaTropa.
Austria revealed after the game that his wife had gone through a kidney transplant on Tuesday morning, and expressed his gratitude that everything went well.
"I know she's watching right now," said Austria.
Holding back tears, Austria further thanked his team for coming through with a superb performance against the KaTropa. Behind a dominant 35-point, 11-rebound effort from June Mar Fajardo, the Beermen downed TNT 106-93 to progress to the semifinals and stay on track for a fourth straight All-Filipino crown.
"This is the hardest game we ever had against Talk 'N Text dahil they've been in two knockout games, and then lahat tinambakan nila," said Austria. "I'm really worried this game."
"But I have to give credit to the boys, especially to June Mar Fajardo. He was so focused in this game," he added. "We followed our game plan to the letter, and that's the result. Thank you San Miguel, especially my player, for giving this win. Thank you."
For the Beermen, it was the least that they can do for their beloved coach who had shown little signs that there was anything wrong in his personal life while preparing them for the playoffs.
According to SMB veteran Chris Ross, Austria "has been with us at practice every day," even as his wife was being prepared for the surgery.
"He hasn't complained about it, hasn't brought it up, hasn't mentioned it," said Ross of their coach. "That's just a testament to the type of professional that he is. He's really a hard worker, and he really puts a lot of time into preparing us for what we have to do."
Arwind Santos, for his part, has some idea of what Austria is going through. His mother collapsed during a game against Talk 'N Text in March 2015 and had to be rushed to a hospital. A year later, she passed away.
"Ginagawa namin siyang inspirasyon. Dahil hindi lang naman siya ang nalugar sa ganyang sitwasyon, pati ako dumaan na rin sa sitwasyon na 'yan. Kailangan lang namin lakasan ang kalooban namin," said Santos, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help SMB quell TNT's comeback attempts.
"Alam namin, mahal natin sa buhay 'yung mga pinagdarasal natin kagaya ng asawa ni Coach Leo. Ayun, sinusuklian na lang namin sa game na, kahit paano, mabigyan namin siya ng saya, ma-lift up namin 'yung sarili niya na huwag ma-down masyado," he added.
For the Beermen, their coach's situation will serve as another motivation as they try to make more history in the Philippine Cup.
"Ang maganda nito, papunta kami sa goal namin, may ganyan kaming inspirasyon. Naniniwala akong mas mahirap kaming talunin kapag ganyan," said Santos.
"We really wanted to go out there and play hard and try to get that win for the Austria family," added Ross. "Going forward we'll be playing for him and his family as well."
San Miguel will play the winner of the best-of-3 quarterfinals series between Ginebra and Rain or Shine in the best-of-7 semifinals series.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)