SANTA ROSA, Laguna—Jimmy Alapag acknowledged that San Miguel Alab Pilipinas’ ASEAN Basketball League title victory over Mono Vampire on Wednesday wouldn’t have been possible if Renaldo Balkman didn’t make good on his word to his head coach during the 2014 World Basketball Championship.
At the time, Alapag was still playing for Gilas Pilipinas and Balkman represented Puerto Rico.
He had known Balkman in the latter’s playing days in the PBA, which was cut short by an unfortunate outburst on court that led to his disgraceful exit.
“I remember the conversation that Balkman and I had towards the end of the competition,” Alapag said following Alab’s title-clinching 102-92 win over Mono Vampire here.
“He said, ‘Hey, man. If you get to that coaching thing, you have my number.’ ”
Five years later, as Alapag made his coaching debut for Alab and was having trouble at the start of the ABL campaign, he remembered Balkman’s promise.
Alab was 1-4 in the standings, and the team needed to replace its imports. The squad already had ex Barangay Ginebra import Justin Brownlee on board but Alapag and his crew still needed one more reinforcement to complete the lineup.
“So (assistant coach) Danny Seigle asked, ‘What’s Renaldo Balkman doing right now?’ ” recounted Alapag.
“That’s the best idea we thought all night. So we called him and he happened to be available.”
For Balkman, he didn’t think he was coming back to the Philippines especially after what happened with him in the PBA 5 years ago.
But when he got the call “it was a dream come true.”
“It was 5 years since I last played here . . . I got a call one day and it’s Jimmy saying ‘Come play, man,’” he said.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m on my way.”
Balkman, together with Brownlee and 2-time ABL MVP Ray Parks Jr., played a major role in leading the team to the finals and ultimately the championship.
In the finals, Balkman averaged 30 points, 13 rebounds and 5.6 assists, to go with a field-goal shooting clip of 45%.
But his most important contribution was on the defensive end, as the primary defender of Mono Vampire 7-foot-4 center Sam Deguara.
In the closeout game, Balkman scored a team-high 32 points.
“I told the guys since Day 1, we’re gonna put on a show. I was focused on winning the championship,” he said.
When asked if he plans to return to the PBA which has since lifted the lifetime ban on him, he said: “We’re gonna celebrate this win first.”
Alapag said the real Balkman was what he saw during the season, saying Balkman being at the center of the controversial choking incident with Arwind Santos years ago was not who Balkman is.
“He showed during this stint his true character. His love and passion for the sport is big just like all of us Filipinos have,” Alapag said.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)