LOOKING at its current composition, it’s safe to say NLEX benefited the most from the renaissance of the Ateneo basketball program from the 2000s onwards.
Six players from the Road Warriors’ roster in Larry Fonacier, Rabeh Al-Husseini, Emman Monfort, Juami Tiongson, Kiefer Ravena and Fonzo Gotladera all represented the Blue Eagles in college. All but one, Gotladera, won a championship with Ateneo in the UAAP.
But while all eyes are on the players who saw action in three different Ateneo batches, there’s one common denominator on the NLEX bench that holds everyone together.
Assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
All six players went through the soft-spoken Arespacochaga in their collegiate careers, with some even being handled by the Ateneo lifer way back in their high school days.
Arespacochaga is about to enter his 20th year as a member of the Ateneo coaching staff, winning seven titles with the Blue Eagles as he served as deputies to the likes of Joel Banal, the five-peat winning Norman Black and now Tab Baldwin.
Arespacochaga may not be getting the credit that he deserves, but for him, there is great satisfaction in working again with the players that he used to teach in the collegiate level.
“Of course there’s a sense of familiarity, knowing their game and knowing their personalities. It’s fun,” said Arespacochaga.
“I am very happy because you saw them, college days, some high school pa lang like Larry, coaching him since second year high school, it’s a lot of fun, being around them and seeing them continue to develop,” he added.
For him, it’s always a privilege to be part of the lives of these players.
“Of course, ang dreams nila before is making it to the PBA and now they’re here in the PBA, I had a chance to help out with their development before and now, it’s another chance for me to continue helping them develop. Cause even if you reach the PBA, you need to continue to improve and develop,” he said.
“On a personal level, it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy spending time with them. Kumbaga, matagal na 'yung pinagsamahan namin,” he added.
Arespacochaga, however, was quick to shoot down any talks of exclusivity among their players at NLEX.
While it’s nice to work with familiar faces, Arespacochaga says the school colors are now being put aside as they work as a different unit now.
Having that special bond as former Ateneans is a nice thing to have, but for Arespacochaga said what makes this group special is how they’re making new memories together – not as Blue Eagles, but as Road Warriors alongside players from rival schools and different programs.
"It’s interesting to see the dynamics of these guys alongside other NLEX players, it’s also very interesting as they get along with other players well. They don’t really have a group na sila lang ang Ateneo at yung iba hindi,” Arespacochaga continued.
“They interact well with others, in NLEX, we’re one team, we’re one family. Doesn’t matter where you came from. They’re no clear lines na ‘Ateneo to, UST, Letran,’ walang ganung division. I guess that’s the way we work with NLEX and it’s a lot of fun.”