MANILA, Philippines – Before Renaldo Balkman played for Alab Pilipinas head coach Jimmy Alapag, they last shared the floor when representing their respective countries in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Alapag was leading Gilas Pilipinas in its return to the World Cup for the first time in 3 decades while Balkman was doing his duties as one of Puerto Rico’s elder statesmen.
In that September 3, 2014 game, Balkman, who was banned from the PBA in March of 2013 after choking Petron (now San Miguel) teammate Arwind Santos, asked Alapag a favor.
“A quick story about Renaldo: When I saw him in Spain. He said, ‘Hey, if you ever get into coaching and the door opens up for me to back to Manila, I’ll be ready.’ And it just worked out that he’s back,” said Alapag, who is in his first year as Alab tactician.
Although Gilas absorbed a 73-77 defeat to Puerto Rico that eliminated the Nationals from contention, the game would turn out to be a win for Alapag 3 years later as Balkman made his return back to the Philippines, helping Alab get its second straight victory after dropping its first 3.
The 33-year-old, who arrived yesterday morning, January 3, overcame jetlag and lack of sleep as he registered 17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals and two blocks in the wake of Alab’s 90-79 victory over the Westsports Malaysia Dragons.
“I played against him (Alapag) as a player, now he’s my coach. It’s a blessing for me to be given that chance. We talked about it a couple of years ago. He always told me that if he had a chance to coach me, he would and that’s what happened,” said Balkman.
(IN PHOTOS: Renaldo Balkman comes up big in his Alab Pilipinas debut)
For Alapag, it was a series of events that paved the way for Balkman to don an Alab Pilipinas jersey. Import Reggie Okosa was relieved by Alab two weeks ago while Ivan Johnson is currently dealing with back spasms.
Initial rumors were that it would be resident Barangay Ginebra import Justin Brownlee and Blackwater Elite reinforcement Henry Walker stepping into the import roles. But on New Year’s Day, Alab team owner Charlie Dy announced that Balkman, instead of Walker, will be seeing action for the squad.
“When we lost Ivan, we wanted somebody that would give us that same versatility. We just got lucky Renaldo was available. He gives us an opportunity to not only be flexible both offensively and defensively with what we want to do,” said Alapag.
With a win already in the books, the “Mighty Mouse” hopes people move on from Balkman’s infamous choking incident, noting that the former 6-year NBA veteran has already paid the price for what had happened.
“What happened years back was really an isolated incident. At the end of the day, no one’s perfect, we all make mistakes and he’s said numerous times that he’s regretful of what happened,” added Alapag.
“He’s been the MVP of the finals in the Puerto Rican league and he’s played numerous times for the national team. Hopefully, that issue will be dead and he’ll be able to make a much better impression here in the Philippines.”
To repay Alapag’s faith, Balkman is looking beyond just winning a single game. His main focus is to lead Alab to its first ASEAN Basketball League title since 2013.
“Right now, I’m still thanking him because he kept his promise so I’ll keep my promise to him of winning a championship,” said Balkman. – Rappler.com
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