Dylan Ababou fondly remembers late ex-UST assistant Senen Dueñas

MANILA, Philippines – GlobalPort Batang Pier escaped with a much-needed first victory on Wednesday, April 12, but that was understandably eclipsed by the sadness they felt losing assistant coach Senen Dueñas.

Dueñas died Wednesday morning at age 52 due to complications following chest surgery.

It was especially heavy news for Batang Pier swingman Dylan Ababou, whose growth as a basketball player and a person was witnessed by Dueñas in their days with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.

Ababou spent all his 4 years at UST with Dueñas serving as assistant to then-head coach Pido Jarencio, specifically as a drills coach. Dueñas, who played football for UST in the 1980s, was also among the coaching staff that won UST's last UAAP title in 2006.

"Vital member talaga siya nung coaching staff tsaka nung team (He was really a vital member of the coaching staff and the team)," Ababou recalled.

The 30-year-old former UAAP MVP fondly remembered the days when Dueñas would push the Tigers in practice. But it was a rare showing of vulnerability from the "Drillmaster" that truly left a mark on Ababou.

"'Yung best memory ko sa kanya, nung pa-graduate na ako sa UST, 2009, last year ko na 'yun. Kasi siya 'yung tipo ng coach na sobrang hirap magpa-practice talaga. Tapos nung papunta na kaming Final Four, pinulong niya kaming lahat tapos kinausap niya lahat kami," Ababou shared.

(My best memory of him happened when I was about to graduate in 2009, that was my last year. He was the type of coach that really makes life difficult for you in practice. Then when we were headed to the Final Four, he met with us and spoke to all of us.)

"Maya-maya umiiyak na siya so nagulat kami bakit umiiyak si coach Senen. Tapos sinabi niya: 'Kaya ko lang naman kayo pinapahirapan kasi mahal na mahal ko kayo. Para pagdating niyo sa ibang coaches, pagdating niyo sa PBL, sa national team, sa PBA, sanay na kayo sa mga mahihirap na training tsaka mababagsik na coaches. Kumbaga hinahanda ko kayo sa future, 'yung character niyo 'yung ine-enhance ko.'"

(Soon he was crying so we were surprised. Then he told us: 'The only reason I'm so hard on you is because I love you very much. And so when you go to other coaches, when you get to the PBL, the national team, the PBA, you'd already be used to hard training and tough coaches. I'm preparing you for your futures, I'm enhancing your characters.)

"So na-touch kami doon, 'yun 'yung unforgettable talaga na experience kay coach Senen," added Ababou, who was also teammates then with current PBA players such as Star's Allein Maliksi and Barangay Ginebra's Jervy Cruz.

(We were touched by that, and that's my unforgettable experience under coach Senen.)

Other younger players who benefitted from Dueñas' tough love include Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, and Aljon Mariano – all of whom are thriving under tough, champion coaches in Tim Cone and Norman Black, as well as Chot Reyes in the national team.

Ababou last saw his coach on Tuesday at around 1 pm when he visited him at De Los Santos Medical Center in Quezon City.

Ababou described how Dueñas was dizzy and weak coming from surgery.

"Tinanong ko siya kung kilala niya ako, sinabi naman pangalan ko (I asked him if he knew me and he said my name)," he said.

The news of Dueñas' death came as a shock to Ababou, who thought the coach was getting better.

"Okay pa siya e, 'di nga namin akalain. Pag gising ko (yesterday) morning ang dami na nagte-text sa akin, akala ko 'di totoo (He was okay, we couldn't believe it. When I woke up yesterday morning I got a lot of text messages, I didn't think it was true)," he added.

After GlobalPort's game, Ababou went straight to Dueñas' wake at the Sanctuarium in Quezon City.

He said he will also help raise funds for Dueñas' hospital bills. – Rappler.com