As coach Goldwin Monteverde looked back on the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons’ successful season that was, he believes the bubble setup played a crucial role in his squad’s championship run.
“Napaganda din siguro ’yung bubble setup. Kabilang kwarto lang, pwede na sila mag-usap. ’Yun ang maganda sa team naming ngayon, kahit ’yung mga kuya, pinupuntahan ’yung mga bata (and the other way around),” Monteverde said, referring to the bond his players built because of their literal closeness to one another.
“Hindi rin ganu’n kadali. Iba iba ang pinanggalingan. Lahat may talent nu’ng high school. Ang confidence nila sa sarili nila mataas.
“It’s about making them take certain roles para sa team and make sacrifices for a common goal.”
SIMULATING THE GAME-WINNING SHOT
By this time, fans must have watched UAAP finals hero JD Cagulangan’s title-winning shot over and over again.
Tied game. 69-all. UP with the last shot. So how did it happen?
Finals MVP Malick Diouf tells it from his perspective: “I did not want the ball. I was just waiting for his decision. (Cagulangan’s) a point guard and he makes eye contact. I was just looking for the shot clock. With 5 seconds left, I said it’s time to go.
Cagulangan had the presence of mind and calmness as the game clock waned. He said he had confidence the shot would go in because he had been working on it in training.
“Pina-practice ko ’yun, dumating na ’yung moment na ’yun at pumasok.” Cagulangan shared.
“Wala na ’yung pressure kasi 69-all. As a player, kung tabla na ’yung score, it’s either mananalo ka or overtime. ’Yung shot na ’yun, nandu’n ’yung tiwala ng coaching staff and players. Sinanay kami nina coach Gold na kung may gagawin ka mang desisyon para sa team, nandito kami para sa’yo, ’yun’ yung pinanghahawakan ko at du’n ko nabuo ’yung kumpyansa ko.”
Both Diouf and Cagulangan were instrumental bringing UP back when they were down by five points with under two minutes remaining. Cagulangan had had big plays before his game-winner, and what stuck out was the sequence of plays that led to the “Shot.”
Cagulangan hit a big three to cut the deficit to two, 69-67, after an airballed 3-pointer by Diouf. UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon said attention to detail proved crucial,
“From the rebound, JD saw the shot clock from the other side of the court, that time was winding down. That’s why he had the presence of mind to take it out and hit the three,” Luanzon said.
Monteverde is no stranger to big games and championships, having won numerous titles with high-school teams such as St. Stephen Academy and Chiang Kai Shek College.
He had also won two UAAP juniors championships with the National University Bullpups in Seasons 81 and 82. Now, he has won his first UAAP championship in the collegiate ranks.
It was a challenge, he acknowledged, getting all the best players together from different schools, backgrounds, and walks of life to work together as one unit. The bubble setup actually worked to their advantage.
“A key factor is communication. A big part is being humble, one being able to take criticisms or suggestions from teammates whether one is more senior or not. That builds a culture of family. Sa pamilya, kahit sa magkakapatid, minsan meron tayong hindi pagkakaintidihan pero ang usapan naming dito is not to dwell (on the problems). ’Wag natin patagalin,” Monteverde said.
For Cagulangan and Diouf, Monteverde is like a second dad to him.
“Nagtiwala siya sa akin ng grabe and lagi n’yang sinasabi kung may problema, sabihin sa kanya. Mas gusto n’yang sabihin derecho sa kanya. ’Wag nang ipadaan sa iba. Parang tatay din talaga si coach Gold. Kung may problema, kausapin mo ko.” Cagulangan shared.
Diouf agreed: “He’s not just a coach. I don’t know what word I can give to him, for me he’s just special.”
Luanzon has a unique perspective on how Monteverde’s teams are made. Luanzon is a disciple of his. Monteverde was his former high school coach and has been part of his staff for 15 years. Luanzon said their core values remain intact, whichever team they handled.
“If you’re in a program that demands winning, we never talked about winning, but we talked about excellence. Sa Tagalog, ang tawag namin du’n is piga. ’Yung hindi bumibitaw.”
When you look back at how big moments happen, a deeper sense of meaning is usually behind it. One can count on the usual extended hours in training, working on their shots and mastering their craft. That’s all part of it.
But to actually draw the strength from within and be confident with one’s decisions, that is a next level of understanding that outsiders may not comprehend.
Only the teams, the players and the coaches themselves understand what that’s like, to go through the grind. It all depends on culture, understanding, purpose, and meaning as a team.
For Monteverde and all his past teams that won championships, the common denominator has been simple: family and being together, and those bring out the best in his players during the toughest of situations.