TILL the end, Marc Pingris felt coach Chito Victolero’s concern for him.
Despite the uncertainty of his situation, Pingris was made known by the last coach to handle him in the PBA that he’s reserving a slot for him at Magnolia in case he considers returning for a 16th season in the pro league.
The move naturally melted the heart away of the 39-year-old forward, who announced his retirement from the game on Tuesday.
“Na-appreciate ko yung pagmamahal niya sa akin,” said Pingris of Victolero. “Talagang pinaglaban niya ako.”
A calf injury kept the 6-foot-4 Pingris from suiting up for Magnolia in the Philippine Cup bubble last season, raising questions on whether he’ll still be coming back for another tour of duty or finally retire from the game.
With Pingris’ health still in question as the new season beckons, the pride of Pozzorubio, Pangasinan was yet offered a new contract by Magnolia management, although Victolero was gracious enough to leave at least one slot out of its 15-man roster reserved for ‘Pinoy Sakuragi.’
“We reserved one slot for Ping kung maka-desisyon siyang maglalaro,” said the Magnolia coach in a previous interview.
The gracious offer wasn’t lost on Pingris.
“Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Coach, na-appreciate ko yun. Hinintay mo talaga ako,” he said.
Reason why Pingris made sure it was Victolero who was the one he first called at Magnolia and told about his retirement plan.
“Siya talaga yung unang tinawagan ko,” he said. “Sinabi ko, ‘coach, siguro kunin mo na yung mas makakatulong sa iyo.’”
Victolero and Pingris got to work together for three seasons.
In his first-ever finals stint, the Magnolia coach didn’t have the benefit of having the big man around after going down with an ACL injury during the Hotshots’ semifinals series against NLEX. The team lost to the San Miguel Beermen in the 2018 Philippine Cup title series, 4-1.
He was still out of commission when Victolero won his first league championship in the latter part of the year by beating the Alaska Aces for the Governors' Cup crown.
Pingris returned to the lineup midway through the 2019 season but couldn’t help the Hotshots get past the first round of both the Commissioner’s Cup and Governors Cup, respectively.
He played his final game with the franchise on Nov. 25 when Magnolia was booted out by TnT in the quarterfinals, 98-97. Pingris played for 18 minutes and finished with four points, two rebounds, and four assists.
Despite failing to help Victolero’s cause upon his return, Pingris still felt how the coach gave him importance by reserving a slot for him in the team lineup for the new season.
“Doon ko talaga siya na-appreciate,” he said. “Na-appreciate ko yung paghihintay niya talaga, Mahirap para sa isang coach yun.”