THE key players from Alaska's grand slam team were there, and so was the patented triangle offense.
One person was badly missed, though.
Tim Cone, architect of the Alaska dynasty in the PBA, was not around as the Aces relived its old rivalry with the San Miguel Beermen on Sunday during the ‘Return of Rivals’ at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Cone’s longtime deputy Joel Banal – who later became head coach of the team – called the shots for the franchise along with veteran Aric del Rosario, but the Aces failed to sustain their earlier momentum and lost, 96-83.
Johnny Abarrientos, the 1996 MVP and anchor of Alaska grand slam campaign that same season, finished with a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Although not taking things away from Banal, Abarrientos, now a deputy of Chito Victolero at Magnolia, said it could have been different with Cone around.
“Definitely, but for some reason, no comment,” said Abarrientos without elaborating, although it is no secret that Cone had a falling-out with Alaska owner Wilfred Uytengsu after his decision to move to Purefoods.
“Sana mas masaya, mas magiging fluid yung triangle namin. Pero hindi kami nabigyan ng chance. Hopefully next time,” Johnny A added.
But even in the absence of the 61-year-old Cone, winner of 13 of the franchise’s 14 championships in all, the Milkmen of old still played the triangle like it was second nature to them.
Abarrientos said the Milkmen didn’t practice or run the same play when they prepared for the one-day benefit game.
“Hindi namin pinag-usapan yun. Alam ng bigs, alam ng mga guards kung saan sila pupunta. Alam nila yung spots nila, even though hindi na ganun kabilis yung movements we tried pa rin na gawin,” he stressed.
“Parang napakadali pa rin, siguro nasa dugo na namin yung triangle.”
He’s not making excuses but most of them were actually not in shape, according to the ‘Flying A.’
“Hindi na normal yung ginagalaw namin. Pero we know what we ran. Parang natural na sa amin yun,” said the 48-year-old Abarrientos, a 12-time champion and six-time Mythical First Team member.
Abarrientos hopes the bond forged by the Alaska greats in the lead-up for the match can be nurtured from hereon.
“Sana ito nga yung maging start na magkaroon kami ng bonding time at least once a week na makalaro-laro kami together,” he said.