Thursday, September 22, 2011

Uichico, Tanquingcen in sync to steer banged up-Ginebra for another run in the PBA

After breaking up practice at the Xavier School gym, the Barangay Ginebra coaching staff huddled for lunch and a short discussion on what had just transpired.

Occupying each side of the table was Siot Tanquingcen and Jong Uichico, two champion mentors caught in a vortex of questions after being named recently as “co-coaches” of Barangay Ginebra.

The phrase “two heads are better than one” immediately comes to mind. Still, there is a confusion that needs to be sorted out. How will both thrive under an equal-billing title? With the game on the line and a play needs to be diagrammed, who will call the shots?

It looks like the two have figured things out already. They will enter games with a singular strategy and when a crucial decision needs to be made, one will defer to the other.

“The main thing between coach Jong and me is that we don’t really have problems with the situation,” Tanquingcen, who is expected to take the lead in making final decisions in the team, told the Inquirer. “The title is nothing and ultimately we’re both worried about how we can make the team better.”

Uichico, who steered the Kings to a strong finish last season, including a Finals appearance in the Commissioner’s Cup, said there was hardly anything new in the way things are running in the Ginebra camp.

“The only difference now is that the roles have been reversed when it comes to final decisions,” said Uichico. “In any organization, at the end of the day, there has to be that one person who will make a final stand and right now, that job falls on Siot.”

Barangay Ginebra opens the new PBA season on Oct. 2 when it faces Rain or Shine at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and on top of everybody’s mind when it comes to the Kings is how they will work around having two head coaches.

“I will defer to Siot and I don’t see any problem with that,” said Uichico, the eight-time champion mentor who had stints with Ginebra and San Miguel Beer (now Petron).

Still, there is a delicate balance that needs to be preserved for the situation not to turn prickly and as luck would have it, the personalities of both coaches allows for such a balance to exist.

Tanquingcen is a mercurial mentor who won’t hesitate to explode into a sideline-stomping display of verbal fireworks. Uichico is the cool-as-cucumber coach who rarely gets worked up. The two have a remarkable working relationship, forged through championship successes and frustrating flops.

They had long found a working dynamic that has been in place since they first paired up at the San Miguel Beer bench, their roles reversed.

“The reason why we won’t have any problems is before every game and every practice, coach Jong and I meet with the rest of the staff and discuss every detail of the game plan already,” said Tanquingcen, a three-time champion coach. “If we have our disagreements, we discuss it already and work it out until we come up with one common plan.

“And then we live and die with that plan.”

Even the players don’t feel anything new.

“We’re running the same system we’ve been running for a long time so it doesn’t matter what the coaching situation is,” said veteran superstar Mark Caguioa. “We have one goal. We won our last championship in 2008 and for me that’s like forever.”

“We all want to win another title soon.”

Getting Caguioa comfortable in a system is a victory in itself. Last season, Caguioa went on national TV to say he was disappointed at the direction the team was taking and seemed at a loss as to how he fitted into Ginebra’s scheme of things.

This season, the 6-foot guard has seen things clear up.

“Actually, in the third conference of last season, things were pretty much stable already,” said Caguiao. “I was just frustrated in the middle of the season because we really did not know who was going to play, what roles we would play. In the third conference, we were pretty much settled already.

“Right now, things have cleared up and we know our specific roles. All we really want to do is compete.”

The Kings are headed for a tough season. They will parade basically the same roster from last year, except that Rudy Hatfield is gone and his spot in the roster will be taken up by rookie Reil Cervantes of FEU.

“He can play on both ends of the floor,” Caguioa said.

But he’s still not Hatfield. Plus, the core is aging and susceptible to injuries. Caguioa is turning 32 this year. Several big men are nursing pains and aches which Tanquingcen hopes will be chased away when the season starts. The window certainly isn’t getting any bigger for the Kings as they are now.

“It’s the same old song,” Uichico said. “But we never give up. We will always battle.”

Tanquingcen echoed the sentiment: “That’s what Ginebra has always been about. We fight the odds.”

Even in separate interviews, they are in synch. They should be. Because there is another saying that comes to mind that the co-coaches hope to avoid this season.

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