NEVER in his long involvement in top-level basketball, especially as a coach, has Ronnie Magsanoc ever seen a team go into a game handicapped with only six personnel available to play.
He will not only witness one come Sunday, but he will be right in the middle of it. The former PBA star will make his debut as San Beda coach in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with a badly depleted Lions lineup against the Arellano University Chiefs.
A day after the opening ceremonies, the Lions will suit up only six players with the rest of the team serving out suspensions meted by the league's policy board for their involvement in a brawl during a women’s volleyball game at the San Beda gym six months ago.
“Naglaro (na anim), oo kasi naubos na `yung mga players, [may nakita na ako],” said the rookie coach, who took over the San Beda job after Frankie Lim resigned in the aftermath of the San Sebastian scuffle. "Pero `yung magsimula ang game (with only six players), wala pa.
“(But) there’s always a first time.”
Taking the floor for the reigning champions on their opening game are Antonio Bonsubre, Ritchie Villaruz, John Mark Ludovice, Christian Moralde, Francis Abarcar, and Arthur Dela Cruz.
Players meted with a one-game suspension each for their role in the ugly brawl between San Beda and San Sebastian personnel were Kyle Pascual, Jake Pascual, Jaypee Mendoza, Ryusei Koga, Rome De La Rosa, Melo Lim, Baser Amer, and Antonio Caram.
It's not all bad news for Magsanoc, though.
Olaide Adeogun, the Nigerian rookie who was at the center of the controversy, was spared a season ban by the league's policy board, which reduced his suspension to just four games.
This is not exactly the most ideal way to make a head-coaching debut in the big leagues, but Magsanoc has nonetheless vowed to make the most of what he has.
“We just have to do it five-on-five. Mabigat lang talaga sa rotation and substitution pattern dahil wala talaga (kaming players),” said Magsanoc.
In practice, Magsanoc utilizes 10 players, and plans to do the same when they go about their final plays and drills a day before facing Arellano.
“Nakakapagod,” he said of their situation.
Even with a depleted lineup, Magsanoc said he has no plans of trying to slow the game down. “Kasi wala namang slow down sa college basketball . Takbo ng takbo ang mga yan.”
Early foul trouble and fatigue are just some of his major concerns, but Magsanoc is unfazed.
“I think all we have to do is just to have a smart approach (to the game),” he said.