RON Jacobs had a brief but memorable coaching campaign with a rebuilding San Miguel side from 1997 to 1998 - the gap years from the glory years under Norman Black to a new era featuring Danny Ildefonso, Danny Seigle and Olsen Racela.
Those San Miguel teams had a disjointed mix of aging remnants of the Black team that included Allan Caidic and Yves Dignadice, new recruits like Racela, and rag-tag pick-ups like Freddie Abuda, Edward Naron, Siot Tanquingcen and Bong Alvarez.
Nelson Asaytono stood as the team's best offensive weapon.
Asaytono had great seasons with Purefoods and Swift since being drafted second overall behind Benjie Paras in the talent-laden 1989 PBA draft, but no one anticipated the bull-strong forward to outdo himself following his move to the SMB camp.
The high-flyer delivered a peformance so great under the guidance of Jacobs that he figured in the race for the MVP award.
“We tell our players that when you come into the basketball court, you set aside your egos so that you can play as a team,” said Jacobs understudy Jong Uichico during a webinar hosted by Hoop Coaches International and Blackwater team consultant Ariel Vanguardia.
Uichico, then an assistant coach of the Beermen, said Jacobs knew he had to change his ways in order to bring out the best in Asaytono, who was the kind of player that the coach knew won't blossom if he is restricted inside the court.
“Coach Ron was a disciplinarian, he was demanding, and he will really make you work hard," Uichico said. "(But) he knew that he needed Nelson to win the game because he was our only legitimate scorer.”
So what did Jacobs do?
“He set his ego aside for the good of the team. That’s why Nelson was such a great player because coach Ron set his ego aside so that Nelson Asaytono can play the best he can," Uichico said. "Kasi if you discipline Nelson, he will not be the same player that he would have played if you disciplined.”
With Asaytono leading the way, the Beermen finished at third place twice, including in the Commissioner's Cup where they missed out on the finals after a double overtime loss to Gordon’s Gin in a sudden playoff. They went on to beat Sta. Lucia, 96-95, on a late triple by Allan Caidic in the battle for third.
Jacobs was named Coach of the Year by the PBA Press Corps at the end of the season.
Even with top rookie pick Danny Ildefonso joining the team for the 1998 season, Asaytono was still the premier offensive option and helped San Miguel reach the finals twice that year, the Beermen bowing to Alaska on both occasions.
Due to opposition from the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines (BCAP), Jacobs relinquished his post after the 1998 season, leaving Uichico to handle the transition to the multi-titled team led by the two Dannys and Racela.
Uichico, however, said those Jacobs years smoothened the road for the Beermen's resurgence.
“That’s why the team of coach Ron was very successful because everybody, even coach Ron, set his ego aside for the good of the team,” Uichico said.