FROM a wide-eyed rookie who took some heat for his overeager celebration inside the B-Meg dugout after his first career PBA championship to an unflappable hero of Game Six, Mark Barroca has truly come a long way.
The third-year guard out of Far Eastern University's major transformation was none more evident than on Wednesday night, when he scored 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter of San Mig's title-clinching 93-87 win over Rain or Shine in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
The peppery guard was the most composed player on the floor before more than 20,000 cheering fans with the title on the line - a far cry from the excitable rookie who became the butt of jokes for his 'wet scene' interview with TV reporter Erika Padilla inside the dugout back in 2012.
Now, the maturity is evident not only in his play on the court but in his subdued celebration after winning his first career Finals MVP award.
He was the last to enter the joyous San Mig dugout, making his entrance after the lights were already out of the Big Dome floor, then gave his wife Russell a warm hug while lifting her off her feet.
"Binuhat niya pa nga ako eh. Priceless moment yun," Mrs. Barroca told Spin.ph later. "Pero hindi na kami nakapag usap kasi andaming tao ang lumapit sa kanya ... Nagpa-picture at autograph."
So happy was the former Ms. Alinea that she chose not to dwell on the trials that had buffeted the Zamboanga-born cager early in his career, from the 'game-fixing' allegations at FEU to the Padilla controversy to the constant ridicule Barroca gets over their marriage.
"Ayoko na pag-usapan 'yun. Patay na yung issue na 'yun. Ayaw ko na ng negative story," she said. "Mas gusto na lang namin mag-celebrate. Masyado na kaming madaming pinagdaanan. Since college siya, iba't ibang negative na ang binabato sa kanya."
Instead Mrs. Barroca savoured what she called vindication for her husband.
"Sa totoo lang, mas masakit na di hamak 'yung paratang sa kanya nung nasa FEU pa siya... pinagbintangan siyang nagbebenta," Barroca recalled. "Atleast, vindicated talaga kami. I am happy with how Mark is proving himself now."
"I am really happy for him. Sana people see Mark and appreciate him for his game and contributions. Sana makita nila na magaling na player siya at hindi siya ginagawang katatawanan," said Russell.