THIRDY Ravena and Kobe Paras were easily two of the best players the past collegiate basketball season.
Hard to believe that over a decade ago, the two were partners in crime, teammates in the youth level where, even then, the second-generation wunderkinds already showed glimpses of their great potential.
Mark Herrera certainly remembers. The coach had the luxury of handling the two prodigies for the Batang Talk 'N Text-Quezon City side in the Batang PBA summer competition in the late 2000s.
"Bata pa lang, makikita mo na sa kanila yung potential. Scorer na sila at madali silang sumusunod sa play," said Herrera, who handled the team in the 13-and-under division.
As if having Ravena and Paras in the same team wasn't enough, that 2008 Phone Pals squad also had uncut gems like now-Gilas Pilipinas pool members Matt and Mike Nieto and future Ateneo Blue Eagles Aaron Black, Jolo Mendoza, and Jay Javelosa.
Other notable members of that crew were now-Ateneo Lady Eagles assistant Migs Aytona; Jaggie and Juanito Gregorio, sons of then-UP Integrated School coach Allan Gregorio; Marty Veloso, foster brother of Blue Eagles center Ange Kouame; Baileys Acot, son of coach Beaujing Acot; and Jaime Ascalon. The last two went on to become courtside reporters for NU and UE, respectively.
Crispa original Johnny Revilla acted as the team consultant for the young Phone Pals as they were easily the favorites in the annual summer competitions.
"Lahat ng teams noon, kahit eliminations pa lang, parang championship na sa kanila. Malaking bagay na kung makadikit sila sa amin," said Herrera.
Unfortunately for their foes, they never had the chance as this Batang Talk 'N Text-QC side lived up to the lofty expectations, going unbeaten as it won five straight Batang PBA titles, with Ravena and Paras side-by-side in three of those from 2007 to 2009.
Those runs also saw Herrera enjoy coaching the likes of 2019 PBA Rookie Draft top selection Isaac Go, Ateneo's Gian Mamuyac, brothers Dave and Shaun Ildefonso, and Kobe's older brother Andre.
Herrera said that though the parents of his marquee players did attend the games, he feels lucky that they did not overstep their boundaries and allowed him to coach from the sidelines.
"Nandoon sila coach Bong (Ravena), si coach Benjie (Paras), pati si coach Norman (Black). Pero ni minsan, hindi sila nakialam kahit sa practice. Napaka-professional nila kahit na nasisigawan ko ang mga bata. Kaya very thankful din ako sa suporta nila," he said.
Fast forward to now and the mentor shared that he's the least surprised of the success his players had, especially Ravena and Paras.
"All-around players talaga silang pareho," said Herrera, who is now the sports director and head coach of AMA.
"Nakita ko noon pa lang, skills-wise, lamang na sila sa mga kasabayan nila. Magaling silang mag-drive and advantage na rin siguro kasi naturuan na sila ng parents nila. Kaya hindi na rin ako masyadong nahirapan noong nahawakan ko sila."
Ravena has since became one of the most athletic talents in the land today, capping off his collegiate career in Ateneo with three UAAP championships and three Finals MVPs to boot. He is a sought after talent who has attracted interest from teams overseas.
Paras, after a brief foray in the United States, came back to the country and immediately made impact in his first season for University of the Philippines this past UAAP Season 82, earning a Mythical Five selection in the process.