When 5-9 felt more than 14-0
Tricia Robredo on Dec 09, 2016 11:05 AM
"It's difficult to put into words what the Altamiranos did for their boys (the NU Bulldogs)." -- former NU courtside reporter Tricia Robredo.
It has been two years since I wrapped up my courtside duties with National University, but the news about Coach Eric Altamirano still affected me more than I thought it would.
Season 79 was quite a bad season for the Bulldogs. They started their campaign having lost Gelo Alolino and three more players from the championship squad to graduation. Transferee Matt Aquino was limited to playing just a few games in and rookie Josh Sinclair had to sit out midway due to a season-ending injury. There's no denying that the Bulldogs were plagued with obstacles. But when you have a beast of a foreign player leaving his collegiate career empty-handed and a head coach of seven years packing his bags, maybe these reasons really aren't enough to justify how things turned out for the former champs.
National University wasn't tagged to win it all pre-season. Because let's be real: they were a rebuilding team after all. Nonetheless, everyone still expected a decent performance. They opened their season with a squeaky clean record, which gave the faithfuls a glimmer of hope that maybe they could pull a miracle off the second time around. We all waited in anticipation for their first meeting against the De La Salle Green Archers because, as most of them said, "doon tayo magkakaalaman".
But La Salle handed them their first loss. The Bulldogs gave them a good run for their money and their performance was still very satisfactory. They still had their moments of brilliance, but everything pretty much went downhill, especially after that FEU vs. NU nail-biter in round one. And the rest of us were left scratching our heads, wondering what happened to these fellas.
They had internal issues and they were pretty evident with how they carried themselves out there. But as to how serious they were, we'd never know. Coach E is not one to divulge on these things anyway, and would just take the blame like any decent coach would.
I no longer have access to dugouts and huddles so I write this merely as a third party observer. I don't know what went on behind those closed doors and, even if I did, I wouldn't even attempt to identify who's to and who's not to blame. But if the coaching staff was how I remembered them to be for the two years I've known them, I could also say, hindi naman nila pinabayaan (They never let them down).
I've grown very attached to the team throughout my term and it was largely because of the coaches and their families. Long before I found brothers in the boys, I found fathers in Coach Eric, Coach Joey and Coach Vic. They patiently answered my emails and phone interviews, and would come to practice a little earlier or stay a little later for when I needed to talk to them about my reports. They would sometimes give me feedback on how I did and would make sure I performed well in my life outside of courtside, which was medical school.
They made sure to invite me to team dinners and gatherings. In fact, I learned how well danggit and champorado tasted together because they taught me the combo in a pre-viewing breakfast. Their wives bought me cake on my birthdays and their adorable little daughters once made me blue and gold loombands. At first, I thought they were extra nice to me because I was an outsider. But I eventually witnessed how they were the same, and maybe even more, to everyone else in the squad. I was like any other person who was just fortunate enough to be welcomed into their world.
It's difficult to put into words what the Altamiranos did for their boys. The trophies and the tangibles pale in comparison to how they have taken care of and how much they contributed to their players' growth. Because I think that the greatest gift they have given to each Bulldog wasn't skill nor basketball smarts; it was family. Luigi and Anton were brothers to import Jean Mbe and province-grown Troy Rosario. It was Abi who was responsible for that "Thank You, Alfred Aroga" banner that we saw in the Cameroonian's last game. And when the streets of Sampaloc were flooded back in 2013 due to a typhoon, Tita Marissa unhesitatingly welcomed the dorm boys into their household.
The Altamiranos and the rest of the coaching staff saw their players as more than just student-athletes; they were kids they treated like their own. Kids who would occassionally get homesick after temporarily leaving their families in the provinces. Kids who had big dreams they wanted to chase. Kids who would sometimes get into trouble, but were given second chances anyway.
The Altamiranos turned boys into men, tattooed guys into loving husbands and fathers, and a plain group of guys who once only cared about playing into a brotherhood that remains just as solid even after their collegiate basketball days are over.
That's the type of people they are - genuine and inspiring. I for one am amazed at how their faith in people is just as strong as their faith in the Almighty (and that's taking into account how religious they are). No matter how stormy the days were, they'd always find potential and goodness. I could only hope that they also get to experience how wonderful they've been to everyone they've taken under their wings.
I don't know what the team was like before the Altamiranos and I couldn't imagine it without them. I must admit that I wrote this with emotion taking over reason, but as a fan, this loss feels more painful than that 5-9.
But even our favorite shows and series have their finales. This one definitely hasn't been consistently superb. There were seasons where it got us hooked to our TV sets and laptops, but there were ones that made us feel that skipping a week's episode was okay. But overall, we could all look back and say that it was a classic. So to everyone who's been a part of the this particular Bulldogs era, from the management to the coaching staff, you guys left really big shoes to fill. You ended your final season with a 5-9, but to a lot of the fans, you exit with more than a 14-0.