IT was not too long ago when both coach and player were struggling together in their respective PBA careers by losing games one after the other.
Now, it’s been a complete turnaround for coach Chito Victolero and Kyle Pascual as the two of them get a shot at winning their first ever league championship.
Their stint at KIA already a thing of the past, Victolero and Pascual have finally adopted playing under a winning culture at Magnolia, where they are reunited and currently contending against defending champion San Miguel for the Philippine Cup title.
It’s the first finals stint for both of them, which they plan to savor given that the Beermen, the three-time reigning title holder, are the overwhelming favorites to retain the championship.
“It’s surreal, first finals, first semis (for me). I’m soaking it right now, enjoying the moment. It’s just an amazing feeling,” said an ecstatic Pascual, who played as a starter in his first finals stint in the league which the Hotshots won behind a 105-103 stunner against the mighty Beermen in Game One.
The experience of course, is a whole lot different during his time with KIA, where the 27-year-old Pascual spent the first two years of his pro career and endured back-to-back losing seasons with the franchise.
“It’s like total opposites coming from KIA to an organization like Magnolia,” noted the former San Beda stalwart who was selected in the second round, 24th overall, by the Picanto in the 2014 draft.
Victolero is also coaching in the finals for the first time, but showed he’s ready for the big stage by steering the Hotshots back from as many as 20 points down and complete the biggest single game comeback in a title series since Alaska overhauled a 21-point deficit to beat San Miguel in Game Three of the 2015 Philippine Cup finals.
Same as Pascual, he also didn’t get to get past the eliminations while calling the shots for KIA for four straight conferences between 2015 and 2016. He compiled a win-loss record of 15-29 as lead deputy of playing-coach Senator Manny Pacquiao.
“Actually, wala naman,” he replied when asked if he had any frustrations during his losing stint with KIA. “It’s part of my job. Hindi naman lahat ng coach nabibigyan ng opportunity and it’s a big opportunity for me na ma-coach yung KIA.”
In a way, both Pascual and Victolero credit their stint with the Picanto for making them the coach and player that they are now.
From Anaheim, California, the 6-foot-6 Fil-Am said playing under Victolero at KIA gave the coach an idea how to utilize him with the Hotshots.
“I’m just thankful that he puts his trust in me and that he still believes in me,” said Pascual, who was acquired by Magnolia from Blackwater in a trade involving Allein Maliksi last season.
“I’m just trying to repay the trust he’s been giving me,” he added. “Whenever I’m in the game, I just try to do my best whatever I can do to help the team.”
Victolero, whose previous coaching stint involved handling his alma mater Mapua in the NCAA, stressed part of his success with the Hotshots was borne out of his previous involvement with the Picanto.
“I gained a lot of experience sa KIA cause sometimes I’m handling the team dahil Senator Manny (Pacquiao) was busy with his work.
“Marami akong na gain na experience noon battling with the big teams. Alam mo naman ang KIA, we lacked talented players but because of its heart, because of the chemistry between players and coaching staff, kahit paaano nagiging maganda yung laban at minsan nakakapanalo pa rin kami,” he recalled.
“Yung mga experience ko dun nadala ko dito (Magnolia),” Victolero added. “Kahit na ang isang team ganito lang, as long as we’re playing together we have a chance. So yun I think yung nadala ko sa Magnolia franchise.”
So who says playing for KIA is bad at all?