MANILA, Philippines – When discussing time put in for preparation of the ultimate job, few can top Yuri Escueta’s hard-earned resume.
In a basketball journey that’s come full circle, the former San Beda high school standout (2000-2003) has been appointed the next head coach of the Red Lions in the NCAA’s seniors’ division, nearly two decades after his graduation and move to Ateneo.
This coaching change was expected for a while now. Escueta was already handling San Beda’s practices, but this was only formalized following the return of team manager Jude Roque from a scouting trip in the United States this week.
Escueta, 37, has spent years learning under some of the most successful coaches in Philippine basketball. That started with his high school mentor, the legendary Ato Badolato, and continued with the likes of Norman Black, Tab Baldwin, Bo Perasol, Mark Dickel, Jamike Jarin, Sandy Arrespacochaga, Chot Reyes, Josh Reyes, and Nenad Vučinić.
Escueta now gets the chance to run his own team, and one that comes with immense pressure to win championships.
“I’m thankful for the trust boss Manny V. Pangilinan and San Beda have given me, and I’m also happy to be back with my alma mater,” Escueta told Rappler in an interview on Wednesday, July 27.
Escueta gained experience and witnessed success as an assistant coach with Ateneo, TNT, and Gilas. He also handled the Blue Eagles’ Team Glory B and steered them to championships.
Now back in Mendiola, he takes over for a program which saw its streak of 14 straight NCAA Finals appearances snapped last season. His predecessor, Boyet Fernandez, will stay on as a consultant to guide Escueta’s transition as head coach with the next NCAA campaign not far away.
“A lot of offensive principles from coach Tab in terms of ball screens and shooting threes,” said Escueta, sharing what he plans to implement with the Red Lions. “Also, from coach Chot, in terms of the pace of the game he preaches and in-game adjustments.”
On defense, he said his San Beda team will be “aggressive but systematic.”
Vučinić, who had a recent stint coaching Gilas, was also considered as an advisor to help Escueta, but according to Roque, his focus will remain helping the national team and Meralco in the PBA.
San Beda alumni Jenkins Mesina, Alex Angeles, Francis Cruz, and Manu Ynigo will be Escueta’s assistants, along with former Ateneo Team B player Andre Santos.
Escueta is excited to work with his new players and develop them into championship-caliber standouts.
With the likes of Yukien Andrada, Jacob Cortez, Justin Sanchez, Tony Ynot, James Payosing, and Cliff Jopia at bay, there’s potential for the Red Lions to get back in the NCAA championship picture quickly.
Early returns have been promising. With Escueta calling the shots, San Beda was recently victorious in a tune-up against the Gilas Under-18 pool.
His next test will come over the weekend when the Red Lions face the La Salle Green Archers, a UAAP contender, in the FilOil tournament.
Escueta is aware there will be growing pains in his rookie season as a head coach, but if there’s one benefit to the years of service he’s put in as an assistant coach, it’s that he’s made some friends along the way who are top-tier basketball minds.
“They’re always a phone call away,” he said.
Maybe down the line, his assistants today will ask him for advise if they become head coaches. Until then, there’s work to be done. – Rappler.com