IT will be an end of an era for one of high school basketball's proud programs.
La Salle Greenhills team patron Frank Lao is stepping aside after a memorable three-year partnership with the Greenies.
"Next year wala na ko. I will give others the chance to help LSGH," said Lao, who crowned his partnership with LSGH with the NCAA Season 93 title in 2017, its first title in 59 years.
"Me and Bro. Felipe (Belleza) are good friends. When we talked about basketball, he told me one time, 'I hope we win a championship in our lifetime.' And then I said, 'Let's recruit.' It all started from there," he said.
With his sons Jacob and Jared suiting up for the Greenies, it was only a matter of time before the elder Lao, who owns a chain of restaurants, put his business acumen to good use in basketball.
"I'm not really fond of basketball. It was just about the love for my two kids," he said of his sons who are also studying at LSGH. "My love for basketball grew from there, when I saw my sons playing basketball. That's when I fell in love with the sport and thought to myself, 'Why not support not just my two sons but also the whole team?'"
Soon, the changes came.
Young mentors Marvin Bienvenida, Allen Ricardo, Paulo Rivero, Karl Santos and Anton Brodett were all brought in to start the rebuild. Talents eventually arrived, with Troy Mallillin and Unique Naboa laying down the foundation aby leading LSGH to a bronze medal finish in 2016.
It didn't take long before other stars emerged. Names like Joel Cagulangan, Inand Fornilos, Macoy Marcos, Joshua David and even Lao's eldest son Jacob came out of their shell and, to the surprise of everyone, completed the Greenies' Cinderella run as the fourth seed.
Already considered as a powerhouse in the collegiate level, LSGH earned another trip to the finals the year after but settled for a runner-up finish after falling to Mapua in three hard-fought games in NCAA Season 94.
Still, Lao and the rest of the Greenies could hold their heads up seeing the glory their program brought to the school.
"We finished three, one, and two. I'm lucky that we got two finals appearances. Not bad for a newcomer like me. I'm happy with that," said the amiable entrepreneur. "Again, I fell in love with basketball because of my two sons. Just to give a championship to the school that I promised is already enough."
More than anything, Lao was happy to make impact in the lives of the players who came through the LSGH basketball program who he has treated as family. A number of those kids have secured scholarships in college.
"I'm happy for all of them like Macoy Marcos who is with UST and Troy in Ateneo. There's JM Pedrosa in Perpetual, and (Kendrix) Belgica with CSB. And some of them will go to UE and Ateneo, too. They are in good hands and I'm happy with that. At least, I did something good for them and their families," he said.
As sad as his departure from the Greenies will be, Lao promised that he'll always be watching his "sons" from afar.
"For now, I'll enjoy watching the games and maybe someday, I might help CSB in a little way," he said, not closing the doors on possibly extending his support elsewhere while also grateful for everyone who made the program a success.
"I just want to thank the supporters, the students, the school, the teachers, the principal, Bro. Felipe, Bro. Vic Franco, the coaches, and the parents who trusted me all the way," he ended.