IN a surreal scene on Saturday night, Stanley Pringle, Allan Salangsang and Jerick Canada found themselves celebrating a championship in the middle of the floor while the rest of their fellow Filipinos inside the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City looked on in dismay, if not disbelief.
That the three played on a non-Philippine team in the Asean Basketball League was hard enough to swallow for their kababayans. That Fil-American Pringle, Canada and Salangsang stood out in the Indonesia Warriors' dream run to the title only rubbed salt to the injury.
But the three insist it's purely business. Nothing personal.
“Ganoon talaga, hindi natin maiiwasan,” Salangsang, the most veteran of the three Filipinos in the Warriors line-up at 35, said after Indonesia wrapped up their win over San Miguel with an 78-76 victory fashioned out before the Beermen's home fans on Saturday.
The three have earned the admiration and respect of the Warriors' American coach Todd Purves, who reserved his highest praise for Pringle at the end of the thrilling best-of-three finals against the Beermen.
Pringle, a 6-1 guard born from a Filipino mother who played for US NCAA side Penn State, was a joy to watch from the time he joined the Warriors as a late acquisition in April. He averaged nearly 19 points a game in a brief but shining stint he punctuated with a 28-point performance in the title-clincher.
“He is a wonderfully talented young man. I have lots of love for him. He performed when it mattered most,” said Purves.
Salangsang's decision to move from the Philippine Patriots to the Warriors bore fruit with his first championship as a professional -- an achievement denied the three-point sniping former Letran Knight and Warriors import Steve Thomas last year when the Patriots lost in last year's ABL finals.
“Last time, hindi namin nakuha ni Steve pero ngayon, ang sarap makakuha ng championship,” said Salangsang. “First time ko mag-champion sa professional [level], puro finals lang ako umaabot kaya masarap ang pakiramdam.”
Purves said of Salangsang: “He made big shots for us all year. He is a competitive defender and brought mental toughness to the team.”
Canada's first experience as a pro plying his trade overseas also proved an unforgettable one as he savored a first title just months after playing out a title-less college career with Adamson. His feat also meant heartbreak for Leo Austria, an assistant at San Miguel and Canada's longtime coach with the Falcons.
“First time ko mag-professional tapos champion agad. Nagpapasalamat ako kasi tiwala si coach sa akin,” said Canada.
Purves can attest to that.
“His learning curve has been so steep. Comparing from where he is now to where he started, he really had an immense growth. As a young man, he works really hard and the players love him as a teammate,” said Purves.
While Pringle is locked up in a contract by the team for two more seasons, Salangsang and Canada will be free agents in the offseason. But Salangsang has no intention of being elsewhere.
“Kung kukunin ako, dito pa rin ako maglalaro,” he said.