Frustrated with how things were going in the 2017 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup, coach Lawrence Chongson desperately looked for answers as he waged his new-look Tanduay team against a field dominated by school-based squads midway in the eliminations.
Then, with three games left in their schedule, he stumbled upon the 36-year-old Jerwin Gaco and shockingly, things turned out for the better for the Rhum Masters.
Fast forward to the present and with Gaco and fellow ex-pro Mark Cruz leading the way, Tanduay has now won its last five games, with its latest conquest a 66-55 victory over Cignal in their semifinals duel. That win halted the Hawkeyes’ eight-game winning streak and moved the Rhum Masters a win away from returning to the Finals.
But despite the five-game winning run, Chongson reiterated that it was not the path he initially dreamed of.
“I had to find a way,” he said. “It’s not that I wanted to bank on them, but it’s the stick that I drew. And so far, it’s working.”
Whether Chongson likes it or not, the veterans are carrying the Tile Masters deep into the post season and these ex-pros have been more than willing to help this unproven Rhum Masters crew.
“Somehow, our experience have helped the players. The collegiate players are listening to us. They gain confidence from us and they bring it to the games, especially when it comes to defense,” he said in Filipino.
Cruz, meanwhile, attributes a lot of the culture change to Gaco’s entry, saying that the veteran forward’s relentlessness even in practice has helped in turning the page for Tanduay.
“Jerwin’s leadership is infectious. He goes hard every time and every one is now hustling whenever they’re on the court,” the diminutive guard said.
However, both Gaco and Cruz know that it’s still early to sing praises for the squad despite having one foot in the door in its Finals bid.
“I don’t want to make predictions,” the fan-favorite Gaco said. “We have to practice, rest, and reserve energy for Thursday.”
“We’re successful in Game 1 because of our collective effort. Hopefully we can do the same in the next game, but we need to be consistent and follow coach Lawrence’s instructions,” said Cruz.
Game 2 is on Thursday at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.