WHEN Globalport played San Mig Coffee on Wednesday night, it marked the realization of a pact Mixers star Marc Pingris made with Vic Manuel years ago, back when Manuel was still struggling to learn the fine points of the game while playing for the Philippine School of Business Administration Jaguars.
“Pumupunta kasi si Marc Pingris sa iskwelahan namin kapag offseason. Nagtuturo siya sa akin ng mga pointers,” said Manuel of his fellow PSBA alumni, moments after San Mig’s 82-78 victory over the Batang Pier in the PBA Philippine Cup.
“Sabi nga (ni Marc) magkita na lang daw kami sa PBA. At hayun, nagkita na nga kami nung nagharap teams namin.”
Once in a while, the PBA draft unearths gems from among unheralded players who did not go through the normal big-school route. Manuel was that guy this season - an undersized forward who was never considered PBA material while toiling in nondescript leagues for a long time.
The jump to the professional ranks therefore marks a significant step both in the life and career of the 6-3 forward, who, struggling financially, admits riding on jeepneys and jostling for places in crowded LRT trains while travelling to and from practice up until he reached the pros.
“Mahirap talaga nuon, nagtutulakan sa loob ng tren,” Manuel told Spin.ph. “Pero talagang kailangan lang magsikap. Mahirap din lang naman kasi kami eh.”
Manuel also admitted it took him six years to finish his college course at PSBA, only because he had to stop going to school every now and then while trying to earn extra cash barnstorming small-time leagues in the provinces.
“Wala talaga akong pera noon,” he said. “Kaya pahinto-hinto ako ng paglaro at pag-aral sa PSBA.”
The Subic-born cager credits two men for his transformation from an awkward-moving player often ridiculed during games to a first-round pick in the pro league.
One was Pingris, who was both a mentor and inspiration to Manuel. The other was cage great Philip Cezar, his coach at PSBA who Manuel said painstakingly turned him into a player good enough to play in the college leagues.
“Si coach Philip ang nagturo sa akin ng basketball. Siya ang nag-train sa akin,” he said. “Di talaga ako marunong nung dumating ako sa school. Tinatawanan nga ako nung simula kasi di ako marunong talaga nuon.
“Kaya lahat ng pinupuntahan ko na laro, nakikinig talaga ako.”
If there was one player who paid his dues to get to the top level, it should be Manuel. Through sheer hard work, a player deemed too small to play power forward and too slow to be a guard in the big leagues started getting noticed.
First came the MVP award he won in the defunct PBL while playing for the Pharex B squad under coach Aboy Castro. Then came the Jaguars’ victory over Olivarez College which ended the school’s seven-year title drought in the Universities Colleges Athletic Association (UCAA) tournament.
But Manuel’s star turn came in the PBA D-League where he won the MVP award in the Aspirants Cup after leading Cebuana Lhuillier to a semifinal finish.
This season's rookie draft saw the player realize his dream. He was picked in the first round at No. 9 overall by league newcomer Globalport and immediately signed to a contract that guarantees him more money than he has ever laid his hands on in his lifetime.
And oh, Manuel has finally been able to buy a car - a brand-new Toyota Innova.