SAN JUAN, Ilocos Sur — Diehard PBA fans may recognize Nuki Sabio's body of work as a photographer who used to capture their favorite players in action from courtside.
Nowadays, Sabio is part of the action as head coach of Bicol in the 2018 Palarong Pambansa.
Three years since leaving the PBA to return to his hometown of Naga City, the 34-year-old Sabio made his coaching debut at the Palaro this year by leading Bicol representative Ateneo de Naga in secondary boys basketball.
“After ng PBA, sabi ko uwi na ako ng probinsiya kasi nandun pamilya ko,” said Sabio, who worked in the PBA as graphics designer and photographer from 2006 to 2015.
When he returned to Naga, Sabio went to his alma mater’s athletics office and asked if he can become an assistant coach of the college team working pro bono, so he can still be connected to the game.
“Para lang ma-continue ko ‘yung passion ko sa basketball,” said Sabio. “Kaya linagay akong assistant ng college. Nag-training ako NBTC, ‘yung mga coaches convention, YouTube, medyo nakahiligan ko na rin.”
Not long after, he was appointed coach of the high school team.
Sabio said his coaching stint with Ateneo de Naga is purely a volunteer endeavor as he is employed as a senior high school teacher of Animation, where he has a Masters’ degree.
“In terms of coaching, passion lang talaga,” said Sabio.
After a decade of decline, Ateneo de Naga’s high school basketball program is experiencing a resurgence under Sabio beginning with the school's very first win in the all-Ateneo games a few years ago.
“Matagal na-baon ‘yung high school program namin. Almost 10 years. Nagkakumpiyansa kami sa all-Ateneo games, nanalo kami ng isang game - first time in 15 years.
"Doon ako nabuhayan na after nun, pagdating ng summer, may mga Grade 12 kami, sabi ko mag-focus ako. Bigyan ko sila ng magandang training,” said Sabio.
The wins kept coming after that as Ateneo de Naga won the Bicol meet for just the second time in 15 years and earned the right to represent Region 5 in the Palarong Pambansa this year.
Sabio said he can’t help but feel emotional during the huddle before their Palaro debut on Monday.
“Very humbling experience ‘yung nandito kami kaya tinatantsa ko pa ‘yung behavior namin. Masaya kami na nakaabot kami dito. Sa huddle, emotional ako kasi ‘yung ganitong level, pinangarap ko rin ‘to.
"Sabi ko sa kanila, wag niyo sayangin ‘yung pagkakaton. Ibigay niyo lahat. Patay kung patay kasi maraming maghahangad sa puwesto ninyo. ‘Yun ang naging motivation ko sa kanila,” said Sabio.
Sabio said he hasn't been able to watch a lot of PBA games owing to his tight schedule in school teaching from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. before proceeding to basketball practice from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
But he was able to take his players to watch a game in the recent PBA Philippine Cup Finals won by San Miguel at the expense of Magnolia.
“Almost two years ako hindi nanood ng PBA. Ngayon na lang kasi nakakasama ko na sila lagi, nanonood sila ng mga idol nila lalo na ‘yung San Miguel,” said Sabio.
Sabio said he still misses his PBA job, but nothing beats the fulfillment he gets from coaching kids.
“Etong coaching, purely passion. Makatulong ka sa mga bata, hindi nila ako makakalimutan nito after 10 years,” said Sabio.