MANILA, Philippines – Chito Victolero can now proudly call himself a champion PBA head coach.
Two years at Magnolia's helm, Victolero notched his first PBA title as the Hotshots dispatched the Alaska Aces in 6 games for the 2018 Governors' Cup championship on Wednesday, December 19.
"Iba eh, iba as a coach eh," he said when asked how he felt. "Nag-champion ako as a player before, sa MBA (Metropolitan Basketball Association), sa Mapua, but you know, iba ang feeling ng coach."
(This feels different. I've won a championship before in the MBA, with Mapua, but you know, it's a different feeling when you're a coach.)
From 2014 to 2016, the idea of Victolero serving as the architect of a PBA championship seemed far-fetched as he joined Columbian, a young team that reached the playoffs only once, as an assistant coach.
But everything changed when he was brought in as head coach for the Hotshots for the 2016-2017 season.
After failing to enter the semifinals the year before, Magnolia transformed into a contender under the 43-year-old's tutelage by making the Final 4 in all 3 conferences.
It indicated better things yet to come for the storied franchise, and in his second year as head coach, Victolero steered the Hotshots to the 2018 Philippine Cup finals before they fell prey to San Miguel in 5 games.
Victolero and Magnolia, though, were sent crashing back to earth as a disappointing quarterfinals exit in the Commissioner's Cup followed. But that only groomed the team for its title run in the season-ending conference.
"Noong pumupunta kami sa semifinals, kinukulang kami, but 'yun 'yung start eh. 'Yun 'yung natututo kami sa lahat," he said.
(When we were making the semifinals, we always fell short, but that was the start of everything. We learned a lot.)
"Natalo din kami ng first conference sa finals, but everything na natutunan namin, 'yung mga mistakes, everything, nangyari ngayon. So alam namin kung paano mag-finish ng laro."
(We also lost in the finals of the first conference, but everything that we learned, the mistakes we commited, we figured out now. We now know how to finish games.)
Regaining their old glory, the Hotshots clinched their 14th championship in franchise history and their first since the 2014 Governors' Cup, which was the last of their historic Grand Slam under then-mentor Tim Cone.
Although finally getting Magnolia over the hump, Victolero refused to take credit.
"Hindi lang naman ako ang credit diyan eh. Binibigyan ko ng credit lahat ng coaching staff namin, talagang grabe 'yung suporta ng coaching staff ko."
(I'm not the only one who deserves credit. I give credit to our entire coaching staff, their support has been tremendous.)
Victolero and the Hotshots enter the 2019 PBA season in hopes of completing their unfinished business in the All-Filipino conference. – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.