<em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Heroes of 2015: Manny V. Pangilinan, a sportsman who makes it happen


A year like no other saw the rise of heroes and heroines who gave Philippine sports its most memorable moments of 2015, with exploits that once again showcased the Filipinos' indomitable spirit. Here are their stories.

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Heroes of 2015: Manny V. Pangilinan, a sportsman who makes it happen

Spin.ph Top 10 Heroes of 2015: Manny V. Pangilinan, a sportsman who makes it happen

Manny V. Pangilinan is Spin.ph awardee in Sportsmen Who Make It Happen category

  • by Gerry Ramos

PHILIPPINE basketball’s MVP couldn’t have picked a better encore in his role as head of the governing Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.

With his tenure as SBP about to come to an end, Manny V. Pangilinan pulled off yet another first for his basketball-crazy country when the Philippines was named one of three hosts of the Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, each one staking a place in the basketball competition of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The hosting rights couldn’t have come a better time for the country's foremost sports patron, who stood at the forefront of two major battles, both of which the Philippines lost to a by-now familiar foe.

First, Pangilinan and the SBP faced off with sports giant China, its bid backed by its great infrastructure and deep pockets and fronted by former NBA star Yao Ming, and lost in the bidding war for the hosting of the 2019 Fiba World Cup.

“I'm truly saddened and sorry in coming short of delivering the 2019 Fiba World Cup to our people. We gave it our all, and our best,” said Pangilinan on his Twitter account @iamMVP.

Then in September, Pangilinan saw Gilas exceed expectations in the 2015 Fiba Asia Championship with a team minus several players on head coach Tab Baldwin's wishlist - only to come up short against China in the battle for the title and the lone automatic berth allotted for Asia in the Rio Olympic Games.

On both counts, Pangilinan invested not just resources but emotions as he aspired to put Gilas in a position to succeed and help the country reclaim its place on the international basketball map.

No wonder he was the most devastated after the twin setbacks.

But that doesn't mean the businessman-sportsman will stop trying, even if he is set to step down as the head of the country's governing body for basketball when a new round of elections is held in mid 2016.

Just last week, Pangilinan and the SBP scored a major breakthrough when the Philippines was named one of the hosts of three Olympic wildcard qualifiers in July, putting Gilas in the most ideal position to aspire for a ticket to Rio before its rabid home fans.

The tournament won't be easy by any means, with world No. 5 France, powerhouse Canada and Turkey standing in Gilas' way during the July qualifiers. But expect the Gilas players to give it their best shot - it's the least they could do for a man whose support and belief in the Filipino player has never once wavered. 

“I personally will support the SBP in whatever means,” Pangilinan vowed. “My love for basketball doesn’t diminish at all. ”I will labor and persist until our country achieves its goal.”

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: JR Gallarza, a true student athlete

Spin.ph Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: JR Gallarza, a true student athlete

JR Gallarza is 2015 awardee in Sportsmen Who Excel Academically category

  • by Reuben Terrado

STANDING 6-foot-5 and armed with a decent shooting touch, JR Gallarza could have pursued a basketball career in the Philippines after playing out his final year with the UP Fighting Maroons in Season 78.

He didn’t.

To be fair, a guy who averaged two points and 2.9 rebounds — a huge drop from his 11.6 points and 6.7 boards last year — will have quite a difficult time finding a slot in the rotation of teams far more stacked than the Maroons.

But when Gallarza packed his bags and returned to Canada shortly after completing his degree at UP, he had accomplished something you rarely see from student athletes nowadays: graduating with honors.

The Maroons forward left his home in Canada not only because he was recruited to play for the Maroons, but to primarily take advantage of a major perk varsity players enjoy — free education.

“College is so expensive back home so I came out here to play basketball and five years later, I’m graduating,” said Gallarza.

Then Gallarza broke the mold of the student athlete. He is in the running for honors — magna cum laude to be exact — in his BEEd Teaching in Early Grades degree.

Though it’s not yet officially confirmed as of this writing as the school year isn’t done yet, Gallarza trusts in the hard work he’s put in his studies.

“For sure, I’ll get cum laude. I’ll be really upset if I don’t,” he said confidently.

In a field where a true student-athlete is a rarity, Gallarza’s excellence in academics is a breath of fresh air, more so since he’s studying in UP, a school known for its strict academic requirements.

“It’s hard. It’s the hardest school in college,” said Gallarza in a 2014 interview. “There is basketball and then you wake up every morning knowing that you have scholarship duties. I have requirements to keep my scholarship.”

Gallarza returned to Canada with his head held high, despite his unsuccessful stint in the UAAP. From the start of his journey, he knew where his priorities lie: to play hard but to study harder to make a better future for him and his son.

But even as he moves on to a new stage of his life, as a father and a teacher, Gallarza will forever cherish the memories he had in UP.

“I’ve achieved so many things that I haven’t dreamed of when I was a kid. I’m blessed to be here and be part of UP,” said Gallarza.

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: UP Maroons, sportsmen who care

Spin.ph Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: UP Maroons, sportsmen who care

UP Maroons take place among 2015 awardees in Sportsmen Who Care category

  • by Reuben Terrado

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015 in the run-up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 30 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's Awardee No. 7]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Care

AWARDEE: UP Fighting Maroons

THE University of the Philippines seniors basketball team may not have won a lot of games in UAAP Season 78 but for one evening, they did something that carries more weight than any championship trophy.

In an act on kindness that highlights the triumph of the human spirit, the Fighting Maroons took time out to attend to the Lumads who came all the way from Mindanao and away from their communities to fight for a cause in Manila.

The Lumads were housed by the school in late October as part of the Manilakbayan: Kampuhan sa Diliman, a protest caravan over the killings in their communities in Mindanao - heinous acts being pinned on military and paramilitary groups.

As the Lumads stayed in the UP campus, the Fighting Maroons, in a spontaneous act of kindness, invitec their kids to a basketball clinic and game at the College of Human Kinetics Gym last October 26.

According to the account of UP’s school organ Tinig ng Plaridel, the Maroons spent hours honing the kids' skills in ballhandling, defense, and layups. After the clinic, the Lumads also played with the UP cagers in a game officiated by JR Gallarza, one of the players who spearheaded the clinic.

Cheick Kone and Andrew Harris, according to Tinig ng Plaridel, tallied the only points scored by a player from the UP Maroons who allowed the kids to bask in the spotlight and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It was a heartwarming atmosphere inside the gym that was filled with chants and smiles from the Lumad kids who were not in the match.

Prior to event, UP Maroons guard Jett Manuel helped raise awareness about the Lumad oppression through social media. A Facebook photo posted by the UP student publication Philippine Collegian showed Manuel holding a sign with the hashtag #StopLumadKillings right after the team won their second straight game to start Season 78.

“I’m so proud of the guys. They really helped in making that night special for the Lumad kids. Very, very, very proud of the team,” said Gallarza.

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: Ernie Gawilan, sportsman who defy the odds

Spin.ph Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: Ernie Gawilan, sportsman who defy the odds

Ernie Gawilan is our 2015 awardee in Sportsmen Who Defy The Odds category

  • by Neil Bravo

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 30 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's Awardee No. 6]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Defy The Odds

AWARDEE: Ernie Gawilan

It was a life destined to be simple, underprivileged, borderline destitute for Ernie Gawilan in far-flung Marilog along the foothills of Mt. Apo. And if fate had allowed it, he wouldn’t be here now living his life at all.

Gawilan was born with abnormalities that left him with undeveloped extremities (one arm and two legs), perhaps a product of his mother’s attempted abortion after his father abandoned them in the middle of the pregnancy. He survived the abortion attempt only to be orphaned five months later, losing his mother to cholera. Despite his misfortunes, Ernie takes his fate with a hearty laugh.

“I survived the abortion because I swam well,” Ernie would quip each time he is asked about his life story.

Gawilan then found himself stationed in a retreat house of the Missionaries of Charity in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte, where he first learned to swim. And it was that first plunge that set the course for a life-changing turn.

“When I am in the waters, my disabilities are not seen,” said Gawilan, who not only found peace and a sense of normalcy in swimming but also discovered purpose as well — to be an Olympic swimmer.

Three years of swimming competitions has brought Ernie around the world from Asia to Europe, even as his swimming career started with a setback. In his first ever contest, Gawilan was forced to compete wearing jeans as he forgot to bring his swimming trunks. Still, he finished second place in a competition in Cagayan de Oro City for special athletes.

Gawilan’s journey toward an Olympic stint finally bore fruit before 2015 ended when he won two gold medals and one silver to qualify for the Rio Olympics this year.

But achieving his dream was anything but easy.

For a stretch of one year beginning November of 2014, Gawilan virtually camped himself in like a castaway, training intensely under the watchful eyes of national team coaches led by former Asian Gamer Ral Rosario and Tony Ong.

“We had enough training for one year. Because of this, my clocking really improved although I did not think about breaking the record or the Olympic qualifying time,” he shared. “It wasn’t easy but I really gave it my all.”

The rigid training and sacrifice of being away from home to chase his Olympic dream finally paid off last December, when he embarked on one final journey that would land him a place in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games — the equivalent of the regular summer quadrennial Games. Then again, he would find himself in a familiar situation, against stacked odds, soon as his stint at the 8th Asean Para Games in Singapore started.

He was placed on Lane 7 in the 100-meter freestyle while Singapore’s very own Toh Wei Soong was in the opposite side several lanes from him. Ernie said this did not suit his strategy as he could not see Toh from his side of the pool in that short race. He ended up finishing a tad short of the gold and a hairline behind Toh.

However, in the next two races against Toh, Ernie made sure the Singaporean won’t have a chance. Ernie struck for gold in the 400-meter freestyle event breaking the Asean Para Games record and in the process surpassing the Olympic standard with a time of 4:48.49. That swim sealed his Olympic dream, making him the first para swimmer from the Philippines to qualify for the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Ernie returned to the pool the next day and ripped the 200-meter individual medley record with a time of 2:47.64.

“I want to be the inspiration to people with disabilities like me. I wish that they will not lose hope in life because, like me, the hardships we pass by in life only make us stronger,” Gawilan said soon as he came home from Singapore.

Long before he drew breath, Gawilan had already faced overwhelming odds. And from even before he was born until now, he’d showed he had all the grit (and wit) needed to lead and thrive in a life of defiance. 

<em>Spin.ph</em><span> Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015: Kobe Paras, the rising star</span>

Spin.ph Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015: Kobe Paras, the rising star

Rising star Kobe Paras is our awardee in the Sportsmen Who Inspire Hope category

  • by Spin.ph staff

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 30 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's Awardee No. 5]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Inspire Hope

AWARDEE: Kobe Paras

LEAPING over four people for a jam, throwing down tomahawks over superstars including once against LeBron James, and zooming past PBA greats, his own father Benjie Paras included, on his way to more slams. Above the rim play is a given once Kobe Paras steps on the floor.

Philippine delegation member Kobe Paras is a social media slam-dunk. From Kobe Paras' Instagram

But since the lanky winger left the country to train and develop his skills in the US a few years ago, much has changed for him. Kobe Paras is no longer just the high-flyer with a limited arsenal of moves and a limitless potential to improve. In fact, he is on the way to suiting up in Division I of the US NCAA, one step closer to the grand stage that is the NBA.

It could take a while before he could find his feet in the Pac-12 with the UCLA Bruins, but the marked improvements in his game on the floor and his significant impact off the court are undeniable, especially last year when the young Paras took his place among some of the biggest names in Philippines basketball as the country made a bid for the hosting of the Fiba World Cup.

While his role was limited and the bid unsuccessful, it remains impressive that the towering lad was cast among sports luminaries headed by Manny Pacquiao in Tokyo as the Philippines challenged sports giant China, which brought in its own heavy hitters led by Yao Ming.

At 18 years old, with elite level of play still years away, Paras is making an impact early, on and off the hardcourt — serving as a huge inspiration to the youth while already emerging as challenger to the current stars.

Last year, Paras made a good impression in both competition and training in New York with the top 100 high school prospects in the US. And if that’s not impressive enough, Paras showed flashes of brilliance in exhibition games against some of the biggest local and international stars, including four-time NBA MVP James.

“He is the future,” former Gilas Pilipinas playmaker LA Tenorio said, echoing the thoughts of many Pinoy basketball fans. And the hype only grew even louder with news of a scouting report that described Paras as potentially an NBA prospect. But the young high-leaper knows how to keep things in proper perspective and have his feet firmly on the ground, thanks to the guidance of his father.

Still the only Rookie-MVP in the PBA, Benjie has managed to keep Kobe from being overwhelmed by all the fuzz and attention.

“I told him to take it one step at a time … develop his skills,” he said. “Pag nakarating siya ng college, then focus on the next step. Yung NBA, wala pa sa usapan namin.”

A thorough reading of the scouting report would show it was not all that flattering, but the wiry 6-foot-7 winger is just focused and eager to improve his game while adding to a resume that already includes stints with Batang Gilas in the Fiba Asia Under-18 and back-to-back victories in the Fiba 3x3 World Under-18 slam dunk contest.

Kobe has vowed to work on becoming a complete player as he prepares to suit up for the UCLA Bruins after a fine high school stint with LA Cathedral.

“I want to develop everything in my game,” said Paras.



Several times he has worn the tri-colors in international duty with youth teams, and Paras is even more determined to gain his first full cap, refreshing to hear at a time when the most talented players struggle to choose between club and country.

“My dream is playing for the Philippine team,” said Paras during the Fiba 3x3. “Dreams money can’t buy so I’m just gonna look up to that dream.”


<span><em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes, from janitor to world champ</span>

Spin.ph Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes, from janitor to world champ

Nietes is our awardee in the Sportsmen Who Embody Filipino Fighting Spirit category

  • by Gerry Ramos

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 30 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's Awardee No. 4]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Embody the Filipino Fighting Spirit

AWARDEE: Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes

WITH his small frame and gentle demeanor, Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes hardly impressed boxing impresario Antonio Aldeguer – he of the famed ALA stable in Cebu– the first time they met more than a decade ago, which explains why Nietes' request to box as part of his stable was initially turned down.

“Ang sabi maliit daw ako, tsaka payat,” recalled Nietes, who was barely out of his teenage years then.

Still, Nietes eventually became part of the Cebu-based gym that day, just not as a boxer. 

Instead of pounding on the punching bag, Nietes, who travelled all the way from Bacolod to the Queen City of the South just to be able to fulfill a life-long dream, found himself cleaning the gym and in-charge of installing the makeshift ring, while taking care of the five big pythons – thus the nickname ‘Ahas’ - owned by the Aldeguers.

Despite serving as the gym's full-time janitor and snake keeper for the next 18 months, Nietes kept his desire for the sport burning while observing from the sidelines. In his spare time, especially during lunch break, he would train and sweat it out with the other boxers not just to stay in fighting shape, but also to sharpen his skills.  

Aldeguer eventually relented the next time Nietes asked that he be allowed to box, and in due time, became part of ALA’s stable of boxers. And that decision, something which can be considered a small gamble given Nietes' build, has paid off huge for Philippine boxing.

Fast forward to the present, Nietes is now considered among the world’s best in the light flyweight division and the hottest property of ALA boxing, now being run by Aldeguer's son Michael.

Even more, he’s now on record as the longest-reigning Filipino world champion, surpassing the long-standing mark of seven years and three months held by the late great Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde.

The 33-year-old pride of Murcia, Negros Occidental officially surpassed Elorde’s record as a junior lightweight champion (1960-1967) when he retained his World Boxing Organization (WBO) 108-lbs title belt with a ninth-round stoppage of Gilberto Parra at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last March.

Nietes first became world champion in 2007 when he won the vacant WBO minimumweight title by beating Pornsawan Porpramook of Thailand in a 12-round unanimous decision at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

He hasn’t lost in 13 world championship bouts since then, including eight straight defense of his light flyweight crown, the latest of which came in his US debut - a unanimous decision over Mexican Juan Alejo at the Stubhub Center in Carson, California.

The father of two kids admitted not once did it ever occur to him that one day he’ll be able to exceed what the great Flash Elorde had accomplished.

“Hindi ko naman akalain na malalampasan ko ‘yun,” he said.

Still, Nietes has kept his utmost respect for Elorde, the proud son of Bogo City, Cebu, whose simple and humble beginnings was a big inspiration to him.

“Elorde is Elorde. Walang katulad, walang kapantay,” said the nephew of former Philippine flyweight champion Dan Nietes.

A certified bike lover who also plays basketball, Nietes plans to fight a few more years in the hope of winning another world title in a higher weight division.

Soon after, he knows retirement beckons and being a multi-division world champion with the longest ever reign is the biggest legacy he’ll leave behind.

But more than that, Nietes simply wants people to remember him as the janitor who did good enough to become a boxing champ.

“Yun ang mas gusto ko. That I’m able to inspire aspiring boxers,” he said.

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015: Letran Knights, the Cinderella team

Spin.ph Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015: Letran Knights, the Cinderella team

Letran Knights are our awardee in Sportsmen Who Succeed As One category

  • by Karlo Sacamos

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 21 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's Awardee No. 3]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Succeed As One

AWARDEE: Letran Knights

To accomplish the unbelievable, all you have to do is believe. Unfortunately, that was not the case early on in the incredible journey of the team that made the most unlikely Cinderella story in Philippine sports last year. 

Before the country’s oldest collegiate league even began its 91st season, a lot of people already counted the Letran Knights out as contenders for the men’s basketball crown. The long list of doubters included the Knights themselves.

It’s uncharacteristic for any competitor, but those with the team were just being realistic.

After all, the Intramuros-based dribblers had missed the playoffs the previous season and were supposedly a team in transition with basically the same all-Filipino squad under unheralded rookie coach Aldin Ayo, whose optimism some of the players initially found hard to believe.

“Nung sinabi ko na naniniwala akong kayang mag-champion, many of them laughed,” Ayo admitted, recalling his conversation with his wards in one practice before the start of the season. But the defense-minded coach kept the faith, and after impressive early returns, the players started to believe they could end their decade-long title drought and write one unbelievable underdog story.

“Hindi pa nagsi-sink in until na lang na matalo namin ‘yung JRU sa second game namin sa eliminations, saka na lang naniwala,” said Ayo, whose system that’s predicated on a suffocating full-court pressure defense had the Knights winning their first seven games.

"After namin talunin ‘yung mga contenders, doon lang nakapagsabi na kaya pala,” Ayo continued. “We kept working hard and kept motivating them.”

Stars Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal showed the way as expected, but what’s unexpected was the scoring outbursts of defensive ace Rey Nambatac. Rookie Jomari Sollano and veteran McJour Luib also provided unlikely but significant contributions to pose a plausible threat to the long-standing dominance of defending champion San Beda.

When Manny Pacquiao, another sporting legend known for beating huge odds, signed on as the Knights’ team manager, the stars for the Knights’ one-of-a-kind season seemed to align some more as it gave the underrated squad a big financial and psychological boost.

Winning just six of their next 11 games, the Knights finished second in the elims behind the Red Lions and entered as the only team without an import in the Final Four. This only kept their belief on themselves stronger, especially after dispatching the Mapua Cardinals led by Nigerian Rookie-MVP Allwell Oraeme and thus setting up the Finals battle with the Red Lions.

The Knights, who lost to San Beda twice in the finals during the Lions’ five-year reign, proved that third time’s the charm as they put an end to the Lions’ dynasty. But Letran’s faith was once again tested in the series.

After Letran took the title series opener, San Beda bounced back strong to force a decider. And the doubts even got stronger in the final game of the season as the Knights squandered a late eight-point cushion in regulation.

But this unfortunate, usually demoralizing situation — heading into overtime with momentum not on their side — only made the Knights’ underdog tale more epic. Letran eventually finished off San Beda’s long reign in overtime of the rubber match before over 20,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena. All because they believed in themselves up to the very end.

“We didn’t stop believing and we had faith,” Cruz said. “Na-pressure kami, pero naging buo pa rin loob namin.” 

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015: Tab Baldwin, the leader

Spin.ph Top Ten Sports Heroes of 2015: Tab Baldwin, the leader

Tab Baldwin is Spin.ph awardee in Sportsmen Who Take The Lead category

  • by Karlo Sacamos

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Spin.ph bares its choices for the Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored during our Awards Night to be held on January 21 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila. Here's awardee No. 2]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Take The Lead

AWARDEE: Thomas Anthony 'Tab' Baldwin

TAKING on the highest-profile coaching position in the Philippines naturally comes with great pressure and expectations, especially if you're trying to sustain the gains of a Gilas Pilipinas side a year after the country returned to the world basketball stage.

But Thomas Anthony 'Tab' Baldwin delivered in his own right in 2015, making the transition look easy after taking over from Chot Reyes late last year.

Most knew he was the right man for the job, having been a national coach for a number of teams including New Zealand, an unheralded squad he led to an impressive semifinal finish in the 2002 Fiba World Championship.

Yet the American-New Zealander, the national team’s first foreign coach since Rajko Toroman, still needed to prove himself to everyone in this basketball-crazy country especially after a tougher-than-usual "warm-up" in coaching the Gilas cadets in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games.

In what was supposed to be a smooth and easy debut, Baldwin instead found himself coaching a team that had to claw back from a double-digit deficit against Thailand in the Final Four before surviving a tough challenge from Indonesia to clinch gold. 

Doubts were cast on Baldwin's ability to handle a more skilled, talented team with bigger egos after struggling to coach a young and impressionable squad in a tournament the country normally dominates. And the criticisms got louder after his first official stint with Gilas where they wound up winless in a three-game pocket tournament in Estonia.

It didn't help that Baldwin had to settle for a team that lacked some of the players on his wishlist.

But with this early trial, the 57-year-old Baldwin started to see his team develop better chemistry as Gilas barely missed the Jones Cup title after losing just two of their nine games last August.

Still, Baldwin and Gilas Pilipinas got caught in a major speed bump in the first game of their main tournament for the year as they wound up on the wrong end of an upset, losing to lowly Palestine in the opener of the Fiba Asia Championship.

It turned out to be the wakeup call the team needed as Baldwin finally brought the best out of his wards from thereon. The Baldwin-coached Gilas team overcame every obstacle in their way, including a stunner over Iran, before losing to host China in a controversy-filled finale.

Still, Baldwin stressed he failed to live up to expectations he made for himself in his first year.

“I don’t think I’ve exceeded expectations, certainly not my own expectations,” he said in a chat with Spin.ph. “I don’t put expectations in terms of results. I put it in terms of being able to create the processes that give us the results.

“And we still have work to do,” he added. “We still have attitudes to work on in terms of how the game is played. I think the work ethic of our players can be greater. There’s a culture within basketball that I think needs some work and that’s really where my focus and my energies are.”

By accepting the Ateneo coaching job, Baldwin also hopes to expand his knowledge of the Philippine game while bringing the principles he instilled in Gilas to a wider base. 

“I hope with the Ateneo position, there’s another level of the game that I can bring some of those qualities to,” he said. “And at the same time learn, learn more about the Philippine basketball landscape and more about the game because there are so many experienced players and coaches here in the country that you can’t ever get complacent about on what your own knowledge is. That’s my goal for 2016.”

“I just hope my work ethic and the results that I’m able to produce with the players and with the coaches is something that makes the Filipino people happy that I’m here,” Baldwin concluded.

<em>Spin.ph</em> Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: Alyssa Valdez, the Game Changer

Spin.ph Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2015: Alyssa Valdez, the Game Changer

Alyssa Valdez is Spin.ph awardee in Sportsmen Who Change The Game category

  • by Mei-Lin Lozada

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Beginning with this piece, Spin.ph bares its choices for the Ten Sports Heroes of 2015 leading up to the announcement of our Sportsman of the Year. All 10 awardees will be honored in our Awards Night to be held on January 21 at the Ceremonial Hall of Marriott Hotel Manila]

CATEGORY: Sportsmen Who Change The Game

AWARDEE: Alyssa Valdez

Alyssa Valdez has had quite a year. But her year was truly defined by one moment not on the court but off it, when she served as the flag-bearer of the Philippine contingent during the opening ceremony of the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore last June.

Valdez became just the second non-medalist after the great boxing hero Manny Pacquiao to be accorded that honor. And right there, the timid spiker out of Ateneo made the big leap that made her more than just the face of Philippine volleyball's stunning renaissance.

She has changed her game.

Almost naturally, the shy girl from San Juan, Batangas hesitated to take on the important role. But Valdez eventually relented, calling it both an honor and responsibility.

“Magbibitbit ka ng bansa literally and figuratively,” said Valdez.

There was no doubt that Valdez, who in 2014 led a rookie-laden Ateneo team to its first UAAP title since joining the league in 1978 and to this day can fill an entire arena with her fans alone, played a huge part in this volleyball resurgence.

But she was quick to deflect the credit to the volleyball stars who came before her, saying they were the ones who paved the way.

“I’m really blessed and I’m really grateful na ako ‘yung (game changer), pero siguro timing lang na nasakto sa amin ‘yung [panahon] ng social media,” she said, recognizing how online platforms have greatly enhanced the popularity of the game and its players.

“But it’s not for me, it’s for all the volleyball players na mga veterans na ini-idolo namin (ng current generation) kasi syempre sila naman talaga ang nag-pave ng way eh, kami lang ‘yung na-timingan,” she added.

Valdez’s modesty is admirable, but her achievements in the past year alone make her undeniably deserving of the accolade.

Last March, Valdez led the flight of the Lady Eagles on their way to a second UAAP championship via a rare season sweep, while earning her second consecutive MVP award.

Then two months later, she’d wear the tricolors for the Asian Under-23 Women’s Volleyball Championship where they finished seventh before competing in the SEA Games in Singapore in June.

She also won two titles in the 12th Season of the Shakey’s V-League, both with PLDT Home Ultera, the first in the Open Conference and the second in the Reinforced Conference. Despite playing for only two matches in the Finals, still she was named Finals MVP.

In the Collegiate Conference, however, she and the Lady Eagles settled for the first runner-up as National U prevailed. Still, volleyball never stopped for Valdez as she also played in the UAAP beach volleyball tournament with Bea Tan and settled for a third place finish in October.

Valdez’s on-court success has spread outside the sport as her phenomenal popularity also earned her some endorsements, both print and television commercials, and she became the muse for PBA team Talk ‘N Text during the opening ceremony.

But no matter how busy she is, Valdez has never once lost focus on the task as hand.

The student-athlete-celebrity just came from Thailand for training with the Ateneo Lady Eagles in preparation for the coming UAAP season, continuously putting her head down to work without ever complaining.

“We had twice-a-day training, we just did the things we usually do in Thailand, we played with the national team and the club teams but it was really fun,” she said.

That's truly a game changer.

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