MANILA, Philippines -- For Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero, there is no question that Peter June Simon and Marc Pingris richly deserved the honor given to them by the Purefoods franchise last Christmas.
No Magnolia player will ever wear No. 8 or No. 15 ever again, after the franchise retired those numbers in honor of Simon and Pingris, respectively.
"'Yung dalawa, deserve nila talaga 'to, kung ano man 'yung binibigay ng PBA sa kanila," said Victolero after the Hotshots triumphed over Barangay Ginebra in the Manila Clasico, 117-94, on Christmas Day.
Pingris and Simon's jersey retirement ceremony was held at the halftime break, attended by both teams and officials of the league and the Purefoods franchise at the Araneta Coliseum.
"Talagang ang laking parte ng nagawa nila sa Philippine basketball. Not only in the PBA, but in Philippine basketball," Victolero said of the two players.
Simon played his entire 17-year career with Purefoods, winning eight championships with the franchise. Pingris, meanwhile, spent the bulk of his 16 seasons with the team and helped them win nine titles. Both players were crucial parts of the Purefoods squad that won the Grand Slam in 2014.
Victolero, who took over as Magnolia coach in 2016, credited the two veterans for easing his transition into the head coaching position.
"I think nakasama ko si Ping and PJ for three, four years siguro. I'm very proud dahil naging part ako ng career nila," said Victolero, who steered the Hotshots to the championship in the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup.
"Noong nag-take over ako, sobrang thankful ako kay Ping tsaka kay PJ, because they accept the system, together [with] the leadership," he added. "Mahihirapan ako kung siguro, kung wala 'yung dalawa."
"Thankful ako, lalo na kay Ping dahil talagang noong nag-step ako dito sa Magnolia, sa Purefoods franchise, talagang isa siya sa doon sa leader noon, at nag-accept ng sistema, noong depensa namin, together with Rafi (Reavis)," he added. "So naging madali para sa akin."
For Victolero, what makes Pingris and Simon truly special is that they made sure to walk the talk when it comes to leaving their legacy in the franchise.
Pingris has often preached about the value of hard work, noting that talent was not enough to lead a player to success in the PBA. And Simon's story is one of perseverance, as he went from unsigned draftee into one of the best sixth men in the history of the league.
Asked about the lessons that Pingris and Simon left on the current Magnolia players, Victolero answered: "Sinabi nga ni Ping… 'yung puso."
"Yes, we have talent, but 'yung aming laging sinasabi eh is the heart, that we will not give up on anything. The culture of working hard every single day," he explained. "Kumbaga, they have talent, but they want their talent na ma-harness nila, talagang mag-improve pa."
"And you will see [that in] PJ and Ping," he added. "They are early in practice, at huli din silang aalis, because they want to show the leadership, they want to show the new guys kung ano 'yung culture ng Purefoods franchise."
With their veterans setting the example, it was easy for Victolero to get the buy-in from the other Purefoods players and it has led them to great success in recent seasons, including three appearances in the All-Filipino Finals over the past four years.
"Malaki ang tulong nila. Kasi 'yun nga eh, hindi lang basta basketball. Kumbaga 'yung love and trust sa isa't isa, malaking bagay 'yun. That's why madali silang ka-trabaho. Madali ang trabaho because of the two guys," said Victolero.