FOR the first time since turning pro in 2001, two-time PBA MVP Willie Miller will be without a team when the league's 40th season opens in less than a week's time.
Instead of parading in the colorful opening ceremonies on Sunday at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, the 37-year-old combo guard will be playing in an annual barangay-level tournament, Del League, in Marikina City.
“Bad trip talaga eh. Nawalan ako ng team, nalagay ako sa alanganin,” Miller told Spin.ph on Monday, unable to hide his frustrations. “Nawalan na kasi ako ng pwesto sa ibang teams.”
“Pero wala akong magagawa eh. Kung aasarin ko sarili ko, mas lalo lang talaga akong maasar. Sayang talaga, pero wala akong magagawa. Sabi nga: ‘Face it like a man,'” added the usually jolly star.
Miller was left out in the cold when he was not given a contract renewal by the Barako Bull Energy, which has decided to go with young guards Carlo Lastimosa, RR Garcia, Jeric Fortuna along with seasoned players Denok Miranda and Chico Lanete.
If no call from PBA teams comes, the top pick of the 2001 draft will most likely play for the Siargao Legends with fellow former PBA cagers Chester Tolomia, Allan Salangsang, Mac Andaya and Gerard Franciso as well as former amateur standouts Eugene Tan, Harold Sta. Cruz, and Floyd Dedicatoria.
Siargao coach Ronjay Enrile said he quickly moved to acquire Miller the moment he heard about his availability.
“Nabasa ko kasi na wala pa rin siyang team. Eh madalas din kami magkasama ni Willie, kaya tinanong ko: ‘Pre, pwede ka ba muna sa ligang labas?' Sabi nya oo, kaya ni-line-up ko agad,” said Enrile, who, like Miller, was a former Letran Knights star guard.
“Sa October 19 din ang opening nun, kasabay ng PBA, kaya kahit papaano, paparada pa rin si Willie, sa ibang court nga lang,” said Enrile.
Miller, for his part, remained defiant as far as retirement is concerned.
“May basketball naman parati, hindi nawawala 'yan. Kung ayaw na nila sa akin, wala tayong magagawa,” he said, his words obviously directed at the management of Barako Bull, his last team in the PBA.
“Kailangan may pinagkaka-abalahan na basketball pa rin. Hindi porket hindi ka na kinuha sa PBA, magmumukmok ka na lang,” he added.
Asked if he is still positive about a return to the PBA, his home for the past 13 years, Miller said he remains optimistic.
“Sana, kaya nga nilalaruan ko lahat ng pwedeng laruan. Mainam yung ready ka pa rin, baka sakali. Baka sakali na may magparamdam. Atleast ready ka pa rin,” he said.
And since his stint with the Siargao legends of longtime basketball patron Nestor Luego will only give him a fraction of what he used to earn in the PBA as a maximum salaried player, Miller was asked about his ability to support his three children Alessandra Nicole (12), Dre (10) and Williene Alexa (4).
“Nakapag-ipon naman tayo ng kaunti. May ilang unit tayo ng taxi na nabili ko kay Kerby (Raymundo), tapos yung cake hobby ng misis ko, baka gawin na naming business talaga,” said Miller of wife Cate’s home-based cake business.
“Surviving pa naman ako, saka hindi rin ako maluho,” said the many-time national cager.
Showing the famous Miller humor is not gone despite his current predicament, Miller added laughing: "Pinagta-trabaho ko na nga yung mga anak ko kahit bata pa. Child labor."
Miller also bared that his savings isn't as big as what others might expect it as he also used a big chunk of his salary in aiding his parents and three other siblings back in Olongapo City.
“Syempre, hindi naman tayo nagdamot. Tinulungan ko rin ang mga kapatid at magulang ko habang naglalaro pa ako,” he said.
“Pero yun nga ang lesson sa buhay. Hindi talaga forever ang basketball. May pangyayari na ganito, biglaan siyang nawala. Buti na lang kahit papano, handa ako,” Miller said.
“Dapat talaga ready tayo anytime. Mag-impok hanggat may pagkakataon.”
In the meantime, Miller said he hopes to keep himself busy playing in different towns and barangay level leagues, where he hopes to touch base with fans who have supported his colorful career.
“Time na muna rin ito para makapag-ikot ikot para sa mga fans. Makapag hi and hello naman sa iba na bibihira natin nakikita,” he said.
Miller also intends to continue playing with a group of friends like Nic Belasco, Alex Crisano, Von Canta and Don Dulay who help young players prepare for stints in the D-League and, eventually, the PBA.
“Yun na rin muna siguro isang agawin ko, tulungan yung mga batang players na mas mag-improve pa ang laro,” he said.