ABL: This all started with ‘What’s Renaldo Balkman doing right now?’

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on May 03, 2018 02:30 PM
ABL: This all started with ‘What’s Balkman doing right now?’
Filipinos can thank Danny Seigle for asking the question that would ultimately lead to their first ABL championship since 2013

STA. ROSA, LAGUNA – In the do-or-die Game 5 of the 2017-2018 Asean Basketball League Finals, it was Renaldo Balkman who took charge right from tip-off.

Scoring six points in the first four minutes, he fueled Alab Pilipinas 14-4 burst to begin the game which eventually ended as a championship-clinching 102-92 win last Wednesday at the Sta. Rosa Multi-Purpose Complex.

In the end, the Puerto Rican reinforcement had 32 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals to his name – and more importantly, the thanks of Filipinos for giving them their first regional championship since 2013.

To think that four months ago, a lot of things had to come together just to bring Balkman back to the Philippines.

In December, Alab, then with Ivan Johnson and Reggie Okosa as imports, stumbled to a 1-4 start to the season.

It took some time, but management finally decided to make a change. “To be honest, I couldn’t believe Justin [Brownlee] said he would come play, but he was the first to commit. At first, we were relay looking at Justin and Ivan Johnson,” head coach Jimmy Alapag shared.

That partnership wasn’t meant to be, however, as during the Christmas break, it was discovered that Johnson was injured and had to go back to the US.

And so, while Brownlee was already on board, the Filipinos needed another reinforcement. “As happy as we were that Justin was going to play for Alab, we were in panic mode because we only had one import. We probably stayed at Capitol Commons until about 3:00 AM, scrambling, trying to find anybody to help us,” the mentor said.

That was until a random thought entered the mind of assistant coach Danny Seigle. “Danny said, ‘What’s Renaldo Balkman doing right now,’ I then said, ‘That’s the best idea we thought of all night,’” Alapag said.

Alapag and Balkman have a history together – having played against each other in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.  It was there that latter said that he would love to play for the former if he would even become a coach.

And with the Philippines in dire need of a spark, the country’s basketball legend made the phone call that would turn out to light the fire that will never be extinguished. “I immediately called (player agent) Sheryl [Reyes] and reached out to Balk. It just so happened that he was available and he was excited to come back to the Philippines,” he said.

For the now 33-year-old import, that phone call meant a lot. “This is a dream come true for me because it’s been five years since I last played here and I didn’t think I was coming back. I got a phone call one day and it was Jimmy,” he said.

He then continued, “Out of the blue, he’s like, ‘Come play here, man.’ And I was like, ‘I’m on my way.’”

Who knew that Alapag and Balkman’s small talk during the FIBA World Cup four years ago would lead to a championship for Alab Pilipinas.

And along with that, complete Balkman’s redemption in the eyes of Filipinos. “I think he’s shown, during his entire stint, his true character. Not just his ability on the court, but also his love and passion for the game,” Alapag said.

He then continued, “Love and passion for the game just like us Filipinos have. I think that’s something we all share.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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