HIS stint with Phoenix may not have ended well, but Ariel Vanguardia is definitely ecstatic with where his former team is in the current PBA Governors Cup.
Vanguardia said he is proud of what the Fuel Masters have achieved so far under good friend Louie Alas, who he disclosed was actually the original choice of Phoenix to be the head coach before hiring him instead.
“I owe half of my basketball life to coach Louie,” said Vanguardia, who was an assistant of Alas with the Manila Metrostars in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) and later on, with the TnT Katropa.
“And to be fair to Coach Louie, he was really the first choice of Phoenix before ako i-hire. Tinanggihan niya lang,” he said. “So when coach Louie declined, they got me.”
The Fuel Masters clinched a quarterfinal berth following a 103-97 win over Rain or Shine on Wednesday. It was the first time the team advanced in the playoffs since last year’s Commissioner’s Cup when Vanguardia was still at the helm.
The team lost nine of its last nine games in the Governors Cup the following conference that prompted Vanguardia to step down despite still a year left in his contract.
Vanguardia said he didn’t agree to a total buyout, and instead had an active contract with Phoenix which finally ended last September.
“They took care of me,” he said of the Fuel Masters. "I was in exile for a year. so officially puwede na akong lumipat ng ibang team."
Vanguardia is now the alternate governor of Blackwater in the PBA board, a sort of homecoming for him since he once served as assistant to coach Leo Isaac with the Eliter prior to accepting the Phoenix job.
But Vanguardia said he has no ax to grind with Phoenix, whose owner Dennis Uy, was a college classmate at La Salle.
"Baby ko 'yang Phoenix," said Vanguardia, who was the one who brought shooting guard Matthew Wright and resident import Eugene Phelps to the team.
"Happy naman ako for them. I've stayed connected, so no hard feelings," he added. "Nakuha naman nila yung coach na gusto nila so I'm glad it's working right now."