KUALA LUMPUR — The Westports Malaysia Dragons' campaign in the 2015-2016 Asean Basketball League ended with coach Ariel Vanguardia hoisting the trophy after a very long wait. But they'd be first to admit it was all worth it.
Through the team's ups and downs, Vanguardia was the Dragons' first and only coach since the league's inception in 2009 after his stint as mentor of Jose Rizal University in the NCAA.
So it was quite gratifying and fulfilling for Vanguardia that the Dragons finally won the crown under his watch.
"Malaysia has been good to me. They took a chance at some college coach in the Philippines. It's my first professional coaching job," Vanguardia said.
The Filipino coach's road to the title was not easy as the Dragons even suffered a heartbreaking loss to Hi-Tech Bangkok City in last year's finals.
But Vanguardia and the Dragons were able to stay the course, topping the eliminations with a 16-4 win-loss card and defeated the Saigon Heat in the semifinals.
The Dragons had a tough road in the finals series, losing Game One at home, and was forced to a rubber match by the Slingers with a buzzer-beating basket by Wong Wei Long.
Malaysia, however, was not going to be denied as the Dragons dominated Game Five, 77-65, behind the 22-point effort of Jason Brickman.
Vanguardia is grateful management and the players trusted him in leading the Dragons to the coveted crown.
"The team kept the faith. I thank the Dragons for trusting and believing in me. From fourth, third, second, to first. I thank everyone for the sacrifice because we were a young team," Vanguardia said.