SUNDAY Salvacion would like to remember former college coach Dong Vergeire as a cool person whom he considers a friend.
The Meralco veteran guard was as shocked as everyone upon learning of Vergeire’s death over the weekend due to heart and kidney complications.
“Mabait si coach Dong sa amin. Kaibigan siya kung magturing,” recalled Salvacion of his mentor at St. Benilde with whom he won an NCAA men’s championship in 2000.
“Saka kahit matalo, nag-ti-team building kami para mapag-usapan namin `yung mga gagawin namin.”
The 35-year-old Salvacion, a native of Tago, Surigao del Norte, and his teammates in the 2000 team are set to pay their final respect to Vergeire, and is just awaiting the call of former team captain Manuel Diloy.
A 10-year PBA veteran, Salvacion said the Blazers never imagined themselves playing in the NCAA Finals just three years after being accepted as a member school of the country’s oldest collegiate league.
Taking over a young squad that struggled in its first two seasons under Bong Go, Vergeire turned the Blazers into an instant title contender which made the 2000 Finals opposite the veteran-laden San Sebastian team of coach Bai Cristobal.
The Blazers went on to beat the Stags for their first and only NCAA championship.
“Maganda ang samahan namin eh,” recalled Salvacion of that Blazers team. “Naguusap-usap lang kami, kaya nung second round na straight namin ang panalo hanggang sa nakuha namin `yung championship."
Salvacion, the 1999 NCAA Rookie of the Year, was later adjudged as league MVP in 2002 when the Blazers again made it to the Finals, but lost via two-game sweep to the vengeful Stags.
“Memorable sa akin `yung playing days ko sa college and a big part of that was coach Dong,” he said of the esteemed coach.
Vergeire, 47, was a fixture in Philippine basketball, having served as Aric del Rosario’s deputy during University of Santo Tomas’ run of UAAP championships from 1993-1996.
Vergeire also steered the San Beda Red Lions to two runner-up finishes in the 1996 and 1997 NCAA seasons, bowing both times to San Sebastian.
He also guided the Philippine men’s basketball team to a gold medal finish in the 1997 Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.