[Here's the latest installment in our popular and long-running Where R They Now series]
SINGAPORE — The renaissance of University of the Philippines in UAAP Season 79 has inspired recollections of the last Maroons team to come close to a Final Four appearance.
That turned out to the 2004 UP team.
And who would have thought that we'd chance upon one of the members of that UP team, Nestor David, in this bustling island nation at a time when the present-day Maroons are hoping - and praying - for the school's first Final Four appearance since 1997.
David happens to be one of thousands of Filipino overseas workers in the Lion City, settling down as a basketball coach in an international school here after starring as the Maroons' power forward in the early 2000s, including the 2004 team that came one victory short of reaching the Final Four.
David, who will turn 32 this Saturday, vividly remembered the time they started the 2004 season at 0-6, before racking up six straight victories with a team that had the likes of a rookie Jireh Ibanes, who now plays in the PBA, along with Marvin Cruz, Abby Santos, and Toti Almeda.
Also in that lineup were Ira Buyco, Victor Epres, Bruce Quebral, Gino Ferrer, Josant Cervantes, Alvin Bienvenida, Jeffrey Gomez, John David Penson, Kenneth Robin, and Jay Agbayani.
The coach of the UP squad back then was Lito Vergara, who, David remembered, challenged his wards to climb out of the 0-6 hole.
“Medyo down na kami so ang game plan na lang namin is tignan natin, let’s take it one game at a time, and ang mentality namin is talunin namin ‘yung mga tumalo sa amin,” said David.
To their surprise, the wins started to come against the top teams in the league back then including Far Eastern University, which had season MVP Arwind Santos back then, and Ateneo, which had now-Barangay Ginebra guard LA Tenorio.
“Hindi na namin namamalayan na tinatalo na namin ‘yung mga big teams like FEU, Ateneo,” said David, animated in his recollection.
But the UP dream run ended on the penultimate game of the elimination round at the hands of a streaking La Salle squad led Mark Cardona, Joseph Yeo, and JV Casio.
The Maroons ended the season with a win against National University to finish with a 7-7 record, just a game behind fourth-seed University of the East. That record still stands as the best win total State U had over the past 12 years.
“Naudlot lang kami sa La Salle. Nung time na ‘yun sunod na sunod ‘yung big games namin. We came close. Pero ganun talaga,” said David.
To this day, David believed that 2004 squad should've gone farther, if not for rival squads stacked withstar players who, to this day, are still in the PBA.
“Malakas ‘yung batch namin. ‘Yung panahon namin ‘yung naglabasan talaga ‘yung mga nasa PBA na ngayon. It’s good to know na naging kakompitensya namin sila,” he said
After wrapping uhis collegiate career with the Maroons, David moved to the amateur commercial leagues and was later left undrafted in the 2008 PBA Rookie Draft. He played on until he suffered an injury in 2009 during a Philippine Basketball League game.
With his basketball future uncertain, David decided to go to Singapore to find a stable job.
By a stroke of good luck, he was able to find one that was close to his heart the following year.
“Inunahan ko na ‘yung sarili ko na maraming players nung time na ‘yun na lumalabas (ng bansa) tapos coming off an injury ako so hanap na lang ako ng mas stable ng work," David said, explaining his decision to work in Singapore.
"Ine-expect ko na office work ang trabaho ko dito pero blessing din na naging coach pa rin ako at ‘yung ginagawa ko, gusto ko,” said David.
Through the help of his brother-in-law, David was able to land a job as a coach of United World College Southeast Asia, where he is currently the head coach of its women’s high school team and assistant coach of the school's squad for early teens and kids. David’s team is competitive, winning championships in local leagues as well as overseas.
In his free time, David said he continues to keep himself in shape by playing in leagues organized by Filipinos.
“Maraming liga dito. Parang hindi ako nalayo sa Pilipinas kasi sobrang laki ng basketball community dito. At least, every weekend, may pampalipas oras,” said David.
With a stable job, David is inclined to stay here, but is not closing his door on returning for good.
“So far, okay naman dito. Maganda ang trabaho dito kasi kapag lumipat ako, maraming kompetisyon ng coaching job sa atin kaya dito muna ako. Pero siyempre, there is no place like home. Kung puwedeng umuwi, uuwi ako,” said David.
The former Maroons forward goes home at least thrice a year and still keeps track of basketball events back home, especially news about his beloved Maroons.
Miles away, ‘UP Naming Mahal’ still rings true for David.
“Kapag naririnig namin na nananalo, proud kami. Kapag may achievement sila, natutuwa ako para sa kanila,” said David.