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Pacquiao’s presence a game-changer for KIA players

MANILA, Philippines – He may not be a tactician, but KIA playing coach Manny Pacquiao’s presence alone is enough to inspire victory, according to his players. 

The 8-division boxing champion and Congressman of Sarangani is mostly out of sight during KIA Carnival games, leaving the coaching cudgels to assistant coach Chito Victolero. Pacquiao normally communicates with his team via phone calls before the game and at halftime. 

But when he does find time to physically be at the venue, either standing by the sidelines or suited up alongisde his players on the court, it’s like his presence activates a booster rocket in his team.

Iba talaga 'pag nandiyan siya eh,” guard Eloy Poligrates told Rappler. “Siyempre, heart of a champion eh. Siguro dahil doon, yung mga player ganoon din ang galaw. Yung energy nandiyan.” 

(It’s really different when he’s there. He has the heart of a champion. Because of that, the players move differently. The energy is there.) 

Former Far Eastern University standout JR Cawaling likewise admitted how the atmosphere changes when Pacquiao personally speaks to the team.

Pag nandiyan siya and pag nagsalita siya, iba eh (When he’s there and when he speaks, it’s different),” he said, “Manny Pacquiao is Manny Pacquiao.”

Reil Cervantes, a vital offensive cog for KIA, couldn’t agree more.

Malaking factor kasi siya ang inspiration namin,” the athletic forward explained. “Makikita mo sa kanya yung work ethic niya eh. Hindi pa siya nagsasalita nakikita mo yung aura niya kung paano siya mag-trabaho sa kanyang career.” 

(He’s a big factor because he’s our inspiration. We see his work ethic. Before he speaks we already know his aura and how he works in his career.)

Even KIA alternate governor is certain the team’s “dream come true” run this conference is due to Pacquiao able to make time to be with his squad.

“They are so motivated. Gusto lang nila manalo (They want to win) to show Manny that they are a really good team. ‘We are worth the effort of you paying attention to us. And putting in a little time with us.’,” she said.

Malaking bagay siya kasi sports icon. Pambansang Kamao natin si Congressman Manny (It’s a huge deal because he’s a sports icon. Congressman Manny is The People's Champ) and for him to be on our team and for him to be playing means a whole lot. You can see it also in the way our players play. Ayaw nila mapahiya kasi nandiyan si coach Manny (They don’t want to be an embarrassment in front of coach Manny).”

Pacquiao made it to a total of 5 PBA games thus far since the start of the season, and KIA is 3-2 when Pacquiao is in attendance. The last two wins came consecutively against powerhouse teams Purefoods and Talk ’N Text.

Champion kasi si boss so kailangan rin namin mag-work para sa kanya, para pakita namin sa kanya na deserving kami sa team niya,” Poligrates said.

(Boss is a champion so we need to work for him and show him we’re deserving to be on his team.) 

Motivated kami pag nandiyan si boss eh,” Cawaling added. “Lagi niya kami sinasabihan na kailangan manalo. As a player ibibigay namin yung best namin para sa kanya.” 

(We’re motivated when boss is there. He always tells us that we need to win. As a player we’ll give our best for him.)

Three wins notwithstanding, veteran Leo Avenido believes Pacquiao’s presence or absence does not drastically change things, save for the assurance of crowd support when Pacquiao is around.

Para sa akin, tingin ko walang pinagkaiba. Ang naiba lang siguro kasi nakukuha namin yung crowd pagdating sa laro. Pero sa amin the same lang,” he weighed in.

(For me, I think there’s no difference. What changes is probably we get the crowd during the game. But for us it’s all the same.) 

The 36-year old journeyman shared Pacquiao’s attendance hardly affects him, knowing that he has a job to do whether or not he will get the added boost of a Philippine sports icon manning the sidelines.

Lalo sa akin, beterano na kasi ako dito, kahit nandiyan siya o wala, kailangan namin maglaro,” said Avenido, who is a boxing fan for most of his life and an avid follower of Pacquiao since his early days. 

Be professional lang. Wala man siya or nandiyan, ilaro lang namin yung best namin.”

(Especially for me, I’m a veteran, so whether he’s there or not, we need to play. Just be professional. We should play our best regardless if he’s there or not.)

Avenido makes a point, as KIA won versus Philippine Cup title-holders San Miguel Beer without Pacquiao.

And Pacquiao making an appearance last Saturday, February 28 certainly could not save KIA from a vengeful Blackwater squad. The Elite steamrolled the Carnival and avenged their opening day loss last year.

Pacquiao settled for just coaching on Saturday as he immediately departed for the US for training camp ahead of his May 2 mega-fight versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. He will be gone until well into the season-ending Governors’ Cup in May.

Therefore KIA will have to make do by themselves, and find a way to consistently play at a winning level without their head coach.

How will they do that?

Iaalay na lang siguro namin yung game namin sa kanya,” Poligrates said. “Mag-trabaho na lang rin kami para sa kanya, para sa laban niya.”

(We’ll dedicate our games to him. We’ll work for him, for his fight.)

For now, KIA will settle for long distance phone calls and the echoes of Pacquiao’s reminders about playing with urgency and staying confident.

Huwag matakot sa kalaban kasi pare-parehas naman kami ng kinakain eh,” Cervantes shared one of Pacquiao’s instructions that stuck with him. (Don’t be afraid of opponents because we all eat the same food.) 

Yung will mo lang na manalo. Every game ibibigay mo yung best mo tapos the result will follow,” Cawaling added. “Ang nakikita ko kasi sa kanya ganoon eh, binibigay niya yung best niya tapos nanalo naman siya.” 

(The will to win. Every game you give your best and the result will follow. I see that in him, he gives his best and he wins.) –