RED ROBINS TAKE FLIGHT: From ‘pang-quiz bee’ to champions

RED ROBINS TAKE FLIGHT: From ‘pang-quiz bee’ to champions
IT'S THE CLIMB. Randy Alcantara and Malayan started from the bottom, and now, they're here.

Before he was the coach of Malayan High School of Science, Randy Alcantara was an acclaimed talent for Mapua Institute of Technology in the NCAA Seniors and for the San Juan Knights in the MBA.

Unfortunately, his professional career never reached great heights. Fortunately, his coaching career is just starting to take flight.

Alcantara’s Red Robins left no doubt in claiming the throne of the NCAA Juniors by dominating former seven-time champion San Beda High School last Friday.

Not only did the boys from Pandacan win their school’s first championship in 16 years, they also put an end to the Red Cubs’ seven-year dynasty.

And to think that Alcantara himself admitted that he didn’t know what he was getting into when he took the job back in 2008. As he shared, “(Coaching) na lang kasi kulang ko kasi yung nalalaman ko, gusto kong ma-share. Kaya nung in-offer sa akin yung high school, ‘di na ako nagdalawang-isip kasi alam ko, may matuturo ako sa mga bata.”

He then continued, “’Di ko alam ano magiging resulta nun, basta turo lang kami nang turo every practice.”

Indeed, there was nothing but uncertainty surrounding the team in Alcantara’s first year. Back from a three-year absence from competition, he fondly recalled his first tryouts by saying, “Naalala ko nung unang tryout namin, parang pang-quiz bee yung mga player. Kailangang tanggalin muna yung mga glasses bago maglaro.”

He then continued, “Kasi nga science school kaya talagang pumunta yung mga estudyante dun para mag-aral. So nabigla yung mga estudyante na ‘Uy, player na kami ng NCAA.’”

Once a powerhouse program in the Juniors division, Mapua’s high school in Manila closed down in 2005. It wasn’t until the opening of their new campus, called Malayan, in Pandacan three years later when they were again eligible to field a team in the tournament.

Starting from scratch, however, the Robins were in no position to reclaim their place as a powerhouse. In fact, people back then may have even thought of them to be in a level below high school basketball as Alcantara said, “Mahirap talaga nung simula. Natatawa nga sa amin yung mga tao kasi kala nila, elementary team kami.”

Their performance on the court didn’t make things any better for Malayan. “0-14 kami nung first year ko. Pinakamalaking tambak namin, 120 sa LSGH (College of St. Benilde-La Salle Greenhills), kina Mikee Reyes,” Alcantara said.

He then continued, “Lahat ng teams, tambak kami. Pinakamababa na yung 40 sa (University of) Perpetual (Help).”

Adding insult to injury, Alcantara shared that it wasn’t just the spectators who were having a good time at their expense. “Sa NCAA pala, kahit tambak ka na, ta-trapin ka pa rin. Kung ikaw yung nasa bench, maiiyak ka e kasi tinatambakan na, tinatawanan pa kami, nakaka-shoot na, dinidilaan pa kami,” he said.

Apparently, however, that disastrous debut would also be the turning point for Malayan. “Yun ang naging challenge sa amin, lalo na sa akin, na ayokong loloko-lokohin yung mga player ko. Kaya tinandaan ko silang (opponents) lahat at sabi ko sa sarili ko, ‘Babalilkan namin kayo,’” Alcantara said.

Following their winless first season, Alcantara’s wards improved their record year-by-year until they finally barged into the Final Four in 2013 and then into the Finals in 2014.They were then able to move up their first top prospect into the Seniors in the form of J-Jay Alejandro who now plays for National University.

And now they are the champions, no one would even think of laughing at the Robins’ stacked lineup – a stacked lineup that got the better of a San Beda side which has always been known for its depth and balance. “Naging malaking bagay sa amin yung pagpasok namin ng Final Four tapos Finals kasi yung mga kaibigan, dating teammate, nagre-refer na ng player,” Alcantara said.

He then continued, “Dun din namin naisip na hindi lang naman pala San Beda ang pwedeng maka-recruit nang ganun.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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