Surreal feeling as Danny I joins an Alaska team that dealt him first PBA heartbreak
Danny Ildefonso: “Sabi ko nga sa kanila, kayo nga ang unang nagpaiyak sa akin.”

DANNY Ildefonso said it is surreal that he is now part of the organization which caused him his first heartbreak in the PBA.

The legendary big man on Tuesday was named one of three new deputies to head coach Alex Compton at Alaska - a team he once despised during his time with the San Miguel Beermen.

“Binibiro nga ako nung ibang Alaska fans na matatagal na sa team. Kasi almost 20 years na yung rivalry ng Alaska-San Miguel,” Ildefonso related to SPIN.ph a few hours after Compton named him, along with Eric Altamirano and Tony dela Cruz as part of his coaching staff.

“Sabi ko nga sa kanila, kayo nga ang unang nagpaiyak sa akin,” he added. “Bata pa tayo nun, siyempre emotional ka pa.”

Ildefonso was referring to the time when the Beermen and Aces battled for league supremacy in the late 90s and early 2000s. The most memorable for him was the runner-up finishes the Beermen had against the Aces in the 1998 Philippine and Commissioner’s Cup, respectively, which was his rookie season in the league.

But there’s no need to cry over spilt milk so to speak.

Now, Ildefonso is ready to embrace the Alaska culture, specifically his role as skills coach to the Aces’ roster of young big men, among them Carl Bryan Cruz, Kevin Racal, Jake Pascual, Marion Magat, and Yutien Andrada.

“Yun ang task na binigay sa akin ni coach Alex. Sabi niya sa akin naghahanap talaga sila ng big man coach and ako ang naisip niya,” said the native of Urdaneta, Pangasinan, one of few PBA players to win the MVP award more than once (2000 and 2001).

Curiously, the call from Compton came after Ildefonso steered National University to a 91-83 victory over University of Santo Tomas in Season 80 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament. The 40-year-old great called the shots for the Bulldogs – of which he is part of the coaching staff – in lieu of head mentor Jamike Jarin, who served a one-game suspension.

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Ildefonso, ‘Lakay’ to his friends, admitted being surprised when he was offered the position.

“Nagulat din ako. Parang naisip ko ang bilis naman,” he said.

But he was honest enough to say he has long yearned to return to the league which he once dominated, as trainer, assistant coach or in whatever capacity. And it doesn’t matter whether it be with his original team, the SMC Group, or the MVP bloc, where he ended his illustrious career with Meralco in 2015.

“Kung saan ako kailangan,” said Ildefonso, who won eight championships (all with San Migue), five Best Player of the Conference awards, three Finals MVP trophies, a Rookie of the Year (1998) honor, two Mythical first team selections, and eight All-Star appearances.

“Perfect timing lang siguro na ginawa ng Diyos na mapunta ako sa right organization and right group na makakatulong ako.”

Coaching actually was far from his mind, adding, “to be honest, hindi ko nakita ang sarili ko na magiging coach.”

But he left everything to God.

“Minsan hindi rin natin kasi alam ano ang plano sa atin ng Diyos,” the soft-spoken big man out of NU stressed.

Ildefonso is likewise grateful to Jarin, who has been very supportive of his new career path.

“Hindi niya pinagdadamot ang mga opportunities.Hindi ako nahirapang magpaalam sa kanya, talagang pinayagan niya agad ako,” said Ildefonso. “Ang rason niya ano mang experience ang makuha ko diyan, kami rin naman sa NU ang makikinabang.”

A win-win situation not only for NU, but for Alaska and Danny I, too.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos