HE usually sits at ringside just behind the Mahindra bench, occasionally barking instructions but mostly keeping to himself as the unheralded PBA team started winning matches with surprising regularity.
But there’s no missing Joe Lipa’s presence – and no denying his influence on this team.
As team consultant, Lipa has seen - and overseen - the amazing transformation of a Mahindra team of no names into giant killers who have so far claimed the scalp of San Miguel, Star, Meralco and Alaska to take on the unfamiliar role of co-leader in the PBA Governors Cup.
Lipa, a former national coach who led University of the Philippines to its only UAAP basketball championship and an all-amateur Philippine team to a bronze medal in the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, refuses to take credit for Mahindra’s success.
Instead, he gives all the credit to an underrated coach who is proving doubters wrong and a bunch of players who are simply out to prove they belong in the pro league.
“Yan ang isang maganda pag ang players mo pantay-pantay, tapos alam nila na underdog sila sa lahat ng stature miski sa sweldo,” said the 62-year-old coach. “Pupukpok at pupukpok ang mga yan. Parang mga tigreng sugatan yan sa court. Hindi papatalo."
Except for playing-coach Manny Pacquiao who of late has rejoined the team, Mahindra is made up of league journeymen, low draft picks, undrafted free agents and erstwhile practice players who have found a home in the expansion team.
No wonder Mahindra, according to sources, has the lowest payroll in the league – a sum that is not even a third of the total salary of most PBA teams.
But the team’s motivation and heart is beyond compare, Lipa swore.
“Alam naman natin lahat na kumpara sa ibang teams, malayo ang sweldo ng mga ito, pero yung kanilang mga puso, hindi papaiwan sa kanilang mga mas sikat na karibal,” Lipa said.
“Yun ang sekreto dyan, very motivated ang aming mga players. They have this ‘nothing to lose but all to gain’ mindset and that spells the difference for us.
“Pantay-pantay lahat yan. Yun ang gusto namin, kasi team camaraderie talaga ang very essence nila.”
Even Mahindra’s chief bench tactician Chris Gavina was hardly known in league circles until he was elevated to the head coach position after Chito Victolero was sacked last April 28.
Lipa admitted he has brought Gavina under his wings and has seen him rise to the challenge.
“I like what I see in him. He’s very diligent, he loves learning new things, he listens to us and his fellow coaches, I can see this young man going places,” said Lipa.
“Adjustment wise, he is good. Motivational skills, he has it. I have nothing bad to say against Chris,” he said of Gavina, an undrafted player who started his PBA career as GlobalPort’s conditioning coach after failing to secure a spot in the lineup back in 2012.
Lipa pointed out most of their players were acquired through trade deals that were criticized by fans for being lopsided in the other team’s favor.
Now at least fans see that they know what they’re doing.
“Lahat yan galing sa trades, where many say lugi kami. Pongalala-ngala na yan,” Lipa said laughing while uttering his trademark expression.