Former Ateneo Blue Eagles guard Yuri Escueta finds his true calling as coach
Former Ateneo guard and now assistant coach Yuri Escueta savors the chance to learn from the veteran Tab Baldwin. Jaime Campos

YURI Escueta had always aspired to follow in the footsteps of his idol Olsen Racela.

He just didn't imagine it this way.

Escueta not only looked up to the former Ateneo star and star guard of the multi-titled San Miguel Beer teams of the last decade, but Racela also happened to be a cousin.

Aside from sharing the same DNA as the PBA legend, Escueta was also a point guard for Ateneo and was in fact instrumental in the team's run to the UAAP championship in 2008 - the first of five straight titles for the Blue Eagles under coach Norman Black. 

"Kaya ako nag-Ateneo dahil kay Kuya Olsen," said Escueta, who was Chris Tiu's co-captain in the 2008 season. 

"Si Kuya Olsen yung nag-guide sa akin sa basketball career ko, siya nag-inspire sa akin kasi point guard kami parehas. Yung  pamilya namin sobrang hilig sa basketball," he added. 

The AB Interdisciplinary studies (tracks in Communication and Psychology) graduate brought his fine play to the now-defunct PBL for the Magnolia and Fern-C teams, respectively. 

But a promising basketball career suddenly took a detour, not entirely because of a torn ACL in his left knee, but because of another calling which he found more fulfilling - coaching. 

"Ayoko na i-push sarili ko kasi nakita ko na sarili ko na magiging coach. Gusto ko pa ring maglaro kasi masarap maglaro e, pero mas na-appreciate ko na coaches ko nun," said the 33-year-old Escueta, who is now an assitant coach of the Blue Eagles under Tab Baldwin. 

"Kapag player ka, sarili mo dine-develop mo. Pag coach ka, iba yung fulfillment kasi natutulungan mo sila (players) i-develop skills nila at understanding sa game. Masaya ako kapag nakikita kong nagi-improve sila." 

Coaching wasn't much of a consideration for Escueta until his senior year at Ateneo. Escueta recalled seeing Black and his staff dissecting the team's offense in the school's basketball office. 

He became so fascinated about the tricks of the trade that he went to practice early, just to observe his coaches do their jobs.

"Before practice, tumatambay ako sa basketball office, kasi light na schedule ko sa acads," he recalled. 

"Nakikita ko paano sila mag-prepare tapos nabibilib ka kung paano nila himayin yung plays tapos makikita mo paano nila ituturo sa court." 

It didn't take long before Escueta got his first coaching gig as deputy to Ateneo women's team head coach Epok Quimpo. He now serves as head coach of Ateneo's Team B and scout of Team A. 

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The ultimate goal is to be a head coach of a high school or college squad, or even a PBA ballclub, but Escueta admitted he still has a lot to learn.

"Eventually, gusto ko rin mag head coach sa PBA pero di naman ako nagmamadali. Kapag nakikita ko si Coach Tab, talagang sasabihin ko sa sarili mong marami ka pang kakaining bigas," he said. 

For now, Escueta said he is making the most of the rare opportunity to learn the ropes from Baldwin, a veteran internationalist and Olympian.

"Mabibilib ka talaga kay Coach Tab. Sobrang galing niya. Maganda sa kanya tuturuan ka talaga. He wants his assistant coaches to be wanting his job," he said. 

While his future at coaching looks bright, Escueta bared there is still a twinge in his heart whenever he sees contemporaries like Mark Barroca making waves in the PBA.

But he tries to just shrug it off each time. 

After all, he still has a chance to follow in the footsteps of his Kuya Olsen - now the head coach of Far Eastern University. That is, from a coaching standpoint.

"Masaya ako ngayon. Whole day kasi ako sa basketball court pero sabi nga ng isang basketball coach sa akin, 'I'd rather work one whole day in a basketball court than be in an office, sitting in front of a computer,'" Escueta said.

"Isa-savor mo talaga yung moment na gusto mo ginagawa mo," he said.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @janbballesteros