Former PBA coaches Jong Uichico, Bong Ramos and Chris Gavina are now going to bring their rich experience calling the shots for their respective teams in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League beginning June 12, the league’s third season.
Three years removed from coaching in the PBA, Uichico is now back in the local coaching scene to become mentor of the Bataan Risers and succeed cage legend Jojo Lastimosa. He spent the past few years working on different capacities in basketball, serving as an assistant coach of Chot Reyes at Gilas Pilipinas, then assumed the role as head of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Coaches’ Commission.
In his return to coaching, the nine-time PBA champion coach is hoping to bring his winning touch back on the court and rub it on the Risers, the team which topped the elimination round of the MPBL Datu Cup before losing to the Manila Stars in the best-of-three semifinal series of the Northern Division.
Uichico will be one of the three ex-PBA coaches strutting their wares in the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league put up by Senator Manny Pacquiao with PBA legend and former MVP Kenneth Duremdes serving as commissioner.
Ramos, a former mentor of the Air 21 Express, Barako Bull and Blackwater, will also assume his new role as coach of the Pampanga Lanterns.
Being on the sidelines wasn’t new for the former Mapua guard, who served as consultant of the Lanterns last season. He will take the reins vacated by Aldrin Morante, the same mentor who led the Muntinlupa Cagers to a finals stint in the MPBL’s inaugural staging.
Then, there’s Gavina.
For one and a half seasons, Gavina coached the Valenzuela Classic, leading the team to a semifinals stint in the MPBL’s first season, then returned last season and handled the team until midway the elimination round before joining the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the PBA as an assistant coach.
But the urge to coach in the MPBL is one thing that excites Gavina so when the Bacoor Strikers presented him the opportunity to handle the squad, the Fil-American mentor decided to accept the offer.
Uichico, Ramos and Gavina will bring a different element to a league, whose style of play is often described as free flowing yet exciting.
“It’s a challenge,” added Uichico, who is used to a systematic, deliberate half court offense. “Sometimes you need to go out of your comfort zone, but continue doing the things that you love, which is coaching. The MPBL is a good avenue to learn and this is good for me.”
For Ramos, whether it’s coaching in the PBA, the amateur or collegiate ranks, the game remains the same.
“It’s still five-on-five. The concept is still the same, putting the ball in the hoop and making stops,” added Ramos. “Whatever level it is, coaches are still driven by that purpose of teaching, learning and imparting his knowledge.”
For Gavina, getting back in the MPBL gives him an opportunity to handle a retooled squad. Bacoor has done some massive acquisitions to provide help for Gab Banal, the reigning Most Valuable Player, and the Strikers are determined to surpass the Final Four finished they had in the season just passed.
Truly, the MPBL is not just an avenue to provide players of all levels, a platform to get more livelihood and build their own careers. It is also a sanctuary for coaches who are looking to reestablish themselves and give themselves a new identity.
Rey Joble is a member of the PBA Press Corps and Philippine Sportswriters Association.