WHAT do Gabe Norwood, LA Tenorio, and Jayson Castro have in common?
Aside from being teammates with Gilas Pilipinas, the three PBA stars were at one point members of the Hapee Toothpaste franchise in the defunct Philippine Basketball League (PBL).
As the team seeks a first ever championship in the PBA D-League after making the finals of the Aspirants Cup opposite Cagayan Valley, club owner Dr. Cecilio Pedro couldn’t help but reminisce the glory years of the Lamoiyan franchise in the past.
With Pedro giving all-out support, Hapee won four championships in the PBL beginning in 1996 when it ruled the Reinforced Conference behind highly-touted Chinese import Ma Jian.
The Cavity Fighters would not win another championship until 2002, before claiming back-to-back titles in the 2003 Unity Cup and Platinum Cup under old mentor Junel Baculi.
On the side, Hapee also ruled the 1996 Asian Basketball Confederation Champions Cup (now Fiba Asia Champions Cup) behind legendary imports Tony Harris and the late Bobby Parks.
“It was a memorable run,” recalled Pedro to Spin.ph as he turned nostalgic remembering the franchise’s championship success in the past.
“We saw ourselves battling against giants during those years. But somehow, we were able to win championships because we were able to get some good players along the way.”
Norwood, Tenorio, and Castro were some of those former players who have made good in the pro ranks.
Besides the three, other notables who played for Hapee during their amateur years were Gilas Pilipinas stalwarts Larry Fonacier, Beau Belga, Chris Tiu, and Jvee Casio.
Also once part of the Hapee family were Peter June Simon, Cyrus Baguio, Rich Alvarez, Jervy Cruz, Gabby Espinas, and Enrico Villanueva.
Following a long hiatus, Hapee made a comeback and assembled a powerhouse cast for its maiden season in the D-League, boasting of such players like Bobby Ray Parks, Ola Adeogun, Troy Rosario, Baser Amer, Garvo Lanete, Chris Newsome, Arnold Van Opstal, among others.
Team manager Bernard Yang admitted seeing similarities between today’s team and the one that won the 2003 Platinum Cup that had the likes of Simon, Alvarez, and Fonacier.
Then carrying the banner Fash Liquid, the squad overcame a 1-2 series deficit to upset Welcoat Paints in the do-or-die game held before an overflow crowd at the Philsports Arena.
“Kahit star sila (Simon, Alvarez, Fonacier) in their own rights, hindi nila nilagay sa ulo nila ‘yung pagka-star nila. ‘Yun siguro ang pinaka-rewarding as a team manager na nagkakasundo-sundo ‘yung mga players. Sinet-aside nila ‘yung personal glory,” said Yang, who’s also known as Palos.
Pedro bared some of former Hapee players are already planning to make the D-League finals a sort of a reunion as they intend to watch and support the Fresh Fighters.
“Some of them are already asking when and where is the game. I’m happy that I’m also going to see some old faces again,” said Pedro, whose franchise last reached the PBL finals in the 2007-2008 First Conference when it lost to Harbour Centre.
Asked about his thoughts on the title series, the Hapee team owner acknowledged Cagayan Valley is a tough opponent as he was on the bench when the Fresh Fighters lost to the Rising Suns, 80-77, in the eliminations, which had been the team’s only loss so far in the tournament.
“Cagayan has proven that they are a strong team so winning the title won’t be easy,” said Pedro.