BEST OF 5 Part 2: O captain, my captain, Topex Robinson
I'M THE CAPTAIN NOW. Topex Robinson was given the tallest of tasks in changing the culture in LPU.
Read Part 1 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Read Part 3 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Read Part 4 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Read Part 5 of ABS-CBN Sports’ Best of 5 series on the LPU Pirates here.
Long before Lyceum of the Philippines University was dominating the NCAA, it was already a force to reckon with in other collegiate leagues.
The Pirates were the class of both the National Capital Region Athletic Association (NCRAA) and the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association (ISAA). Also, they had four Sweet 16 finishes to their name in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).
Perennial favorites in the collegiate leagues they competed in, they were, without a doubt, a battleship staking claim to a river.
Clearly, the Intramuros-based squad needed a whole damn sea to set sail in.
And so, LPU entered the first and oldest collegiate league in the country as a guest team in 2011.
However, they soon realized that they may have had good endings in their prior collegiate leagues, but the NCAA is a whole different story.
The Pirates fell far from the .500 mark in their first four years in the NCAA and compiled an overall record of 25-47. “Na-experience ko lahat simula guest team pa lang ang Lyceum. Noon, yung pag-compete namin, kapos na kapos pa,” now graduating Wilson Baltazar recalled of that time.
He then continued, “Naalala ko nung mga panahong yun, gustong-gusto naming manalo, pero laging kulang effort namin.”
Their battleship was now in the sea, but was also now alongside other battleships – other battleships which were bigger, badder, better.
Clearly, change had to come.
Long before he was the leader of a crew that is now in the championship round, Topex Robinson was already leading a generational group in the Finals.
In just his first year as head coach of San Sebastian College-Recoletos in 2011, Robinson made it all the way to the Finals, guiding the famed “Pinatubo Trio” of Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual, and Ian Sangalang into yet again challenging dynastic San Beda College.
Unfortunately, his first championship wasn’t meant to be as he and his alma mater ultimately bowed down to the Red Lions.
The former PBA player would not reach the same heights again in Recto.
With a 5-13 record in 2014, both Baste and its alumnus had fallen off the map.
Clearly, change had to come.
SEE YOU AT THE CROSSROADS
And so, LPU saw the resignation of 11-year head coach Bonnie Tan while San Sebastian witnessed Robinson’s second departure from the bench.
Not long after, LPU and Robinson then found one another. “It was something I didn’t expect to happen so early because, basically, I had just resigned from San Sebastian. I guess I was just blessed to be given an opportunity,” the always amiable mentor now narrates.
Just as the Pirates were more than willing to give the young coaching mind a fresh start, the young coaching mind was also more than willing to give the Pirates a fresh start. “It was just an opportunity for me to grow. I always loved coaching and that’s how I always envisioned myself,” he said.
He then continued, “So whatever opportunity there is for me to take my calling, I’m always open to that.”
THIS IS DIFFERENT
Still, Robinson made it clear that it never crossed his mind that he would end up inside the walls of Intramuros – a place he did not really have any ties to. “I never thought of being LPU coach,” he expressed.
In fact, he went on to say that in during those first few practices, he had a tough time getting their team name right. As he put it, “Actually, the first year, I still always said, ‘San Sebastian.’ Yung adjustment from San Sebastian then all of a sudden, I was in LPU, it took me a while bago mag-sink in.”
Fortunately for the mentor, he had the all-out support of both the school of the students. “What I appreciate about LPU is the support of the students and the management. Yun yung isang bagay na I was really excited about – knowing na I had the full support of the community,” he said.
Of course, that all-out support entailed being given the tallest of tasks. “Sa start pa lang, they told me to change the culture. I pretty much explained to them that it’s not an overnight thing, that it’s gonna take a while,” he said.
Robinson’s entry didn’t necessarily turn the tides in LPU’s favor. He won four of 18 games in his debut season and then followed that up with a 6-12 record in his sophomore effort.
However, he also wasted no time in effecting change in the habits of players. “Yung iniba ni coach Topex, yung disiplina sa team. Ngayon, willing kaming lahat gawin lahat para manalo,” Baltazar shared, noting the difference between the Pirates of old and the Pirates under Robinson.
He then continued, “Sa training talaga, dun mo makikita yung pagkakaiba. Ngayon kasi, lahat nag-sacrifice sa training, lahat nagbibigay ng effort mula sa dulo ng bench hanggang first five.”
Baltazar went on to say how their new head coach gave his all to make them understand that they are a team and not just a collection of individuals. “Lahat kami, walang entitled, pantay-pantay lang. Kung anong ginagawa ng isa, ginagawa ng lahat,” he said.
And while that understanding didn’t translate onto the standings just yet, Robinson already proved that he was up to the tallest of tasks.
That did not get lost on the LPU community which entrusted him with its fledgling program. “What I appreciate from them is LPU is really determined to change what was there and make this program one to be respected,” he then continued.
Now, the LPU Pirates had their captain.
Now, it was just all about assembling the right crew.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.