Never say die: A ‘second life’ for Mac Baracael – Smart Gilas boys Pt. 8

Levi Verora
Basketball player Mac Baracael survived a near-death experience as a college standout that could've ended his career. He survived, only to achieve success greater than he previous could've dreamed

NEVER SAY DIE. Ginebra's Mac Baracael drives past San Mig's Justin Melton. It was a drive in a pedicab that saved his life. Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

MANILA, Philippines – Tension filled the area outside a Philtrust Bank at the corner of Morayta and R. Papa streets on the afternoon of Thursday, July 24, 2008 when then Far Eastern University Tamaraws forward Marnel Baracael was shot by a lone gunman using a 45-caliber pistol.

Baracael, one of FEU’s rising stars oozing with potential, fell down, dizzied after the gunshot that passed through his chest. He was with two other teammates when the incident happened but asked them to leave right away for safety.

Fear enveloped the scene; No one dared to approach Baracael, who was already fighting for his dear life. Had it not been for the pedicab driver passing by who rose to the occasion, Baracael may not be here today. The driver pedaled to rush the Morayta player to the nearby Mary Chiles Hospital before being transferred to Capitol Medical Center.

If the 6-foot-3 wing man can recall correctly, the pedicab driver uttered, “Sakay ka na kung gusto mo pa mabuhay.” (Get in the pedicab if you want to stay alive.)

Baracael, who at that time was already weakened, thought he needed to stand up using the remainder of his strength to stay alive. 

“Hindi ako makatayo pero pumasok sa isip ko, siguro kailangan ko tumayo para makapaglaro pa ng basketball.” (I can’t even stand during that time but I thought, I have to so I can keep playing basketball.)

Remaining alive was a moment-to-moment matter but life took a backseat to his primary concern. Instead of worrying about what fate would await him should he pass, the first thing he asked the nurse is if he could suit up for their next game. He was supremely motivated to return to action, disregarding the near-death experience he had just survived.

“Hindi sumagi sa isip ko na kukunin na ako. Ang iniisip ko ay kung makakabalik ako,” said Baracael. (It never crossed in my mind that it’s already my time. In fact I even thought when I’ll be returning to play.) 

Baracael braved the obstacles, realizing it isn’t over yet; he fought for his life and college career. His undying desire to play basketball eventually landed him an elusive spot on the Smart Gilas Pilipinas program of coach Rajko Toroman – the biggest blessing he received right after surviving death.

His wheel of fortune took a mega spin from an almost downfall to a glorious new beginning. With Smart Gilas, Baracael is the starting small forward as his shooting, agility, and defense helped him to withstand international competition.

“Sobrang laking blessing sakin nito dahil hindi ako malalagay sa No. 6 pick kung hindi ako kinuha ni Rajko sa Gilas,” (It is a big blessing; I won’t be able to get picked 6th overall if it wasn’t for my stint with coach Rajko for Gilas.)

As part of the original batch of Smart Gilas players, Baracael improved constantly, carrying his talents to Dubai, Australia, Belgrade and the USA in various training camps. In the Jones Cup, he even played the four position despite being severely undersized, while Ranidel De Ocampo and Kelly Williams were sidelined with injuries.

Gi-ne-bra, Never Say Die

Baracael’s success here and abroad earned him a spot in the PBA as the 6th overall pick in the Gilas-studded 2011 batch. Alaska Aces selected him before being dealt after spending two seasons. He plays quality minutes, averaging 8.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in three PBA seasons, while firing 34.7% from downtown.

Baracael pulls down a rebound during a game against San Mig Coffee. Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

If there’s one battlecry he’ll be carrying for the rest of his life, it is Ginebra’s famous “Never Say Die” slogan which has earned them a plethora of support nationwide. This is the same spirit he embodied as he made a big splash in the big league.

“Very thankful ako kay God; siguro dahil sa sobrang gusto ko maglaro ng basketball, binigay niya sa akin tong buhay na to para mag basketball.” (I’m very thankful. Maybe my endless desire to play basketball is the reason why he kept me alive.) 

Baracael defied the odds and continued to reach for the stars. He knew there was more to life, and he kept breathing. Never say die, literally, but that is how he managed to make a name in Philippine hoops that will be remembered well until the next generations. Basketball is his life, and no one can take it away from him.

Rappler: How does it feel to be part of a long developmental program?

Baracael: Accomplishment for us. Our efforts during Gilas I brought back the nation in the basketball map, so it continued to Gilas 2.

R: What’s your favorite moment while with Smart Gilas?

B: My favorite moment is the Jones Cup 2012 championship. I will never forget being part of that team.

R: How did the program help you?

B: I got my confidence from Smart Gilas. 

R: What’s the best thing Coach Rajko Toroman taught you?

B: Coach Rajko taught me a lot of lessons although I think what’s most important is how he helped me with my decision-making on the court. He taught me how to be fearless as well.

Established 5 years ago, the Smart Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team went all over the globe with the quest of making it to the 2012 London Olympics.

The team fell just two games short but left so many fond memories which still resonate in basketball fans’ minds until now.

It has been 5 years since their remarkable journey. Rappler Sports’ Levi Verora gives you an 11-part special every week as we look back at one of the best Philippine national basketball teams ever assembled.

Bookmark this page and tune in every week as we throw you back to Smart Gilas’ inspiring road towards basketball supremacy.

Primer: The Smart Gilas boys: 5 years after

Part 1: Lutz and Lassiter: Petron’s two of a kind

Part 2: Ginebra’s Twin Towers

Part 3: A tale of two Tamaraws

Part 4: The Reinforcements I

Part 5: The Reinforcements II

Part 6: The original big boys

Part 7: The three musketeers

Part 8: A ‘second life’ for Mac Baracael

Part 9: The search for the naturalized center (coming out next week)

Part 10: The Dominicans

Part 11: The Pioneers

Check back again next week for the latest story here on The Smart Gilas boys: 5 years after–

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