AS one of Robert Jaworski's former players back in the nineties, Sonny Cabatu said not once did he hesitate to lay it all on the line for the charismatic Ginebra leader.
To this day, his loyalty to the 'Big J' is unshakeable, Cabatu swore.
“Handa ako talagang magpakamatay sa laro 'nun. As much as possible, ayaw kong ipahiya si Big J dahil kinuha niya ako at pinagkatiwalaan,” said Cabatu, usually heckled by fans because of his awkard game until his career was given a new lease on life by Jaworski at Ginebra from 1991 to 1995.
“Malaki rin ang utang na loob ko kay Jawo. At alam ng lahat, isa ako sa mga handang magtanggol at magtaguyod ng kanyang legacy,” he added.
But if the choice is down to him, Cabatu said he doesn't want to see Jaworski take on the Gilas Pilipinas coaching job, saying his longtime mentor's legacy is already secure and he will only risk tainting that legacy if he returns to the national team.
“Ayaw ko kasing dumating sa punto na kinu-crucify na siya ng tao dahil sa kung ano ang nangyari sa kampanya ng national team. Ako unang-una na masasaktan 'nun,” he said.
Cabatu said he also fears Jaworski may no longer be able to keep up with today's game, having been away from the sport for 16 years.
“Sana hayaan na niya sa iba 'yan. Hindi na kasi katulad siya ng ibang coach na bagong sistema na. Old school 'yung sa kanya eh. Iba na ang sistema ng basketball ngayon. Masyado nang mataas ngayon,” Cabatu said.
“Pwedeng consultant siya o motivator. Yung head coach, hindi naman sa hindi ako pabor sa kanya, pero sana mag-consultant na lang siya,” added the PBA's first-ever top rookie pick.
“Sinasabi ko ito para rin lang sa ikabubuti ng Pilipinas (basketball). Hindi naman kasi nakapag-aral ng (scientific) basketball si Sonny (Jaworski) ng katulad nila Chot (Reyes) na sa Amerika (pa nag-aral). Iba na ang sistema ngayon. Scientific na,” he said.
Cabatu has only four names in mind for the Gilas job.
“Nakikita ko lang sa atin na pwede dyan, apat lang eh. Si Norman Black, si Tim Cone, si Yeng Guiao atsaka si Chot Reyes. Sila lang ang pwedeng mag coach dyan. Yung iba hindi pa pinagkakatiwalaan,” he said.
Cabatu is also against the reported plan to tap Tab Baldwin for the job.
“Sana pure Pinoy na lang. Kasi may naturalized na import na, may mga Fil-foreign players na, sana naman solid na Pilipino na ang mag coach. Kasi ang coach hindi naman athleticism (ang usapan), napapag-aralan naman na yun,” he said.
“Kasi ang coach, head of the family yan. Kaya dapat yan ang tignan na Pilipino talaga. Ganun ang pakiramdam namin. If they will represent the country, iba pakiramdam na Pinoy rin ang nasa harapan ng team,” Cabatu added.
Cabatu's stand, however, is in stark contrast to that of former Ginebra teammate Leo Isaac, who said he has seen first-hand how sharp Jaworski's 'basketball mind' works.
"Sa assessment ko, puwede si coach Sonny Jaworski," said Isaac. "Di naman natin alam kung ano iniisip ng grupo na nagpapatakbo ng Gilas, they have their own opinion, pero puwede 'yan, maski interbyuhin nila kung gusto nila subukan ang utak ni Jaworski ... iba 'yun."
Isaac, now the coach of expansion PBA side Blackwater, said he has no doubt that Jaworski can easily adjust to today's game.
"I played for seven years under coach Jaworski, iba yung basketball ni coach Jaworski," said Isaac. "I can attest to that. He might been inactive for quite some time, pero basketball mind nun ibang klase.
"To know what’s running in his mind, kailangan subukan mo, kailangan ma-under ka sa kanya para malaman mo kung paano siya magpa-andar ng team." - With reports from Richard Dy