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N.S.W.F. 11 Aldeguer 99 – Part 4 of 4

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Part Four: A Test of Wills

To understand how it all went wrong the following season, I’ll have to summarise my credentials at that point. We had just won the UAAP championship after so long, I was part of the Mythical Five with Don and Ren-Ren. I went to the PBL, we won the championship with Welcoat again, I was in the Mythical Five; I mean, in the second team was Jimwell Torion(!) I had good teammates and I’m the sort who becomes a better player with good teammates. Game 1 of the PBL Finals, I was named best player after I scored 25 points. Game 2, I only scored five points but my three pointer was the winning shot; we were down two points against Red Bull and we won the championship in five games.

Then there was the Battle of the Champions tournament against Chris Calaguio and Kerby Raymundo of Letran, the NCAA champions. But along the way we played UV (University of the Visayas), and all the other schools. I remember in the final game I scored 21, had double-digit assists, five steals and we won the championship. I was judged MVP of the tournament. It suggested I was probably the best amateur player at that time since all the amateur leagues in the whole country were represented there.

Then before anyone realised, the 1999 UAAP season had arrived. Everyone was still scared of the “Big Three.” But I remember our first game against UE; UE was a so-so team that year but we nearly lost; we just worked hard, caught up, and we won but my game, Don’s and Ren-Ren’s were all sub-par. Same with the second game. Then the third game we lost against UST.

It really was true that we were playing sub-par for much of that season. But that was because we had not had any rest since the day we won the (previous year’s) championship. It would have been easier if those of us in the PBL were playing for (weaker) teams like Zesto. But we made it to the PBL Finals with Welcoat, playing all the games with major minutes. It was pretty difficult. Ren-Ren wasn’t doing any better. I remember he even bumped his head in practice and we lost him practically the whole of the first round. The only one who was playing well was Don, and even then he wasn’t the Don of ‘98.

So Franz decided to bench me, which at the time really puzzled me. I had the credentials coming in, I was the main point guard of a champion team. Maybe he had his reasons and I can’t really argue. Maybe he was just disappointed because he was expecting so much from me and I wasn’t delivering for the reason na na burn-out na rin siguro ako.

What does it feel like to be burned out during the season? Put it this way: if I scored it was nothing to me, if the opponent scored it was nothing either. It’s like eating a full meal and then going to the best buffet place in the whole country. Even if you see the best Angus rib-eye there, you still taste it but you won’t eat the way you eat when you’re hungry. I found myself just wanting to finish the game, hoping we’d win so that at least hindi magagalit si Franz, but it wasn’t like ‘98 when we said gawin niyo lahat ng gusto niyong gawin, di kayo mananalo.

It was so difficult. During practice, I wasn’t even in the rotation. When people were interviewing me, they asked if I was injured and I couldn’t say yes because that would destroy my prospects. I mean, how would pro teams recruit me if I kept getting injured? I remember that there were even rumours that I was selling games and it was very painful. My family is made of sore losers. I mean, if you think my brother’s bad, wait till you see the others…

Franz started talking to me again days before the end of the second round. We had one more game against UST. If we won, we’d march into the Final Four as the number one team. If we lost, we’d be number two.

I think everyone remembers that as the game Don and I went AWOL. But there’s a story behind it. Don and I went to buy flowers in Alabang for our team’s “second mother”. Then it rained that afternoon. It rained so hard that wala na talagang gumagalaw. What was complicated for me was ayun na nga eh, kinakausap na nga ako ni Franz, maglalaro na nga ako, andun na nga ako, then ganoon pa ang mangyayari bigla…

The panelists covering the game were pouring it on too. “Is this a conspiracy against Franz?” they asked. And then as the game went on, they said “we’ve just spotted Allado and Aldeguer running on Katipunan!” Actually, we just went home, useless na eh. But Franz knew Don and I were best of friends so it’s possible he may have thought it was a conspiracy against him. In the Philippine Star the next day, there was a story reporting that “Allado and Aldeguer upset Franz.” The first line that Franz said in reply was: “I don’t need credentials, I need performance.”

But La Salle won that game without us. Ren-Ren scored 35 points in that game and believe me, all of us thanked him. We didn’t know how it would be. We thought we’d be in the doghouse but in the end Franz understood because the even the Juniors defaulted their game. So Franz must have realised our reason was valid.

So yes, Franz started talking to me again days before the Final Four, nawala na yata yung tampo niya. Then in the first half of the Final Four game against FEU, for whatever reason, after five minutes or seven minutes of the game, he called my name. I didn’t understand at first; he’d usually call me the last three minutes or so of a game. Even my teammates were surprised but I think they knew how depressed I had been. I made some mistakes after entering because I hadn’t played for so long. But he called me aside at one point and said, “you’re playing a great game. Just concentrate.” And I think I ended up scoring about 14 points that game.

So there we were, in the Finals against UST. Game 1, gamit ako. I was looking forward to being on court, but in the end I committed a crucial turnover that cost us the game. We lost, and I thought that was it. But Franz said to the papers “we’re still going to win.” We won Game 2 convincingly. Then as Game 3 approached, Franz came into practice and announced, “we’re not going to play in Cuneta.”

He didn’t want to play the game in Cuneta; the coaching staff were still looking for ways to change the venue because of the jinx (the same way we never had number 13 in our team). We’d never won in Cuneta, what made us think we could win then? Problema nun, UST didn’t agree.

On the morning of that game, I was in church in Alabang. I’m a born again Christian and was going to Alabang New Life. I had the church pray for me and my prayer was, “Lord, you have to show up. I’ve held on for so long when in fact I wanted to give up. I’ve been tried as a person. If you don’t show up now, I’ll never have the chance.”

I played that game with a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) band on my wrist. Strangely, I felt confident about the game coming into the dugout that day. But you could see people were crying, the players were really nervous. When I got there, I was laughing saying “Pare hi, kamusta?” and cracking jokes. Don went up to me and said, “You’re not supposed to do this.” But I told him, “Trust me, we’re going to win this game.” Because I believed that God owed me one (chuckles). After putting me in the doghouse, I thought God wouldn’t put you through the desert without bringing you to the promised land.

True enough, if you watch the footage, ten minutes pa lang, Joaqui Trillo says, “they’re putting the veterans back in early.” Even at the point when I was in foul trouble, Franz kept me in the game. There was a play in which we got the rebound and I came out and shot a three with still so much time. The feeling was that I couldn’t do anything wrong, they couldn’t do anything to me. On one foot, I made a running shot by the elbow. My teammates were hugging me and I just said, “don’t worry, we’re going to win this game.”

Then the second half came and all of a sudden, we couldn’t score. UST led by 12 points, we couldn’t do anything right. The most difficult part was dealing with their crowd; they were wild.

But then UST celebrated too early, they started hurrying their offence. Don Allado made a turn-around shot, foul counted, Willy Wilson picked up. I scored on a jumper; all of a sudden we were back. We were still down two points, UST didn’t score but Mon Jose put up an airball; he had a bad game that day, umakyat yata yung daga.

When I think about that last play in regulation, I can’t help feeling it really was divine intervention. Don had taken a shot in the previous play and missed; the jumpball went to Ren-Ren and he missed. The only one of the “Big Three” who wasn’t given an attempt at it was me. Gilbert Lao got the rebound and was fouled. Actually, if Gilbert Lao had made one shot, ayun na. But he missed the first then got the second.

On the last play, Ren-Ren nearly forced the shot. The option was if Ren-Ren got the screen and he had the shot, he’d take it. If not, he’d pass to me then I’d pass to Mon. That was the play. But when the ball was passed to me, sabi ko “why not go for the shot, this is history.” And if you notice, when I took the shot, it was with full confidence.

It went in. After all that time in the desert, so lost, then to come up with that shot. My brother-in-law Binky Favis was one of UST’s consultants at the time. He said, “stop Aldeguer and you stop La Salle – not because I scored but because I wouldn’t get the ball to Ritualo. So they put Gelig on me the whole game, a taller guard, pretty athletic. He fouled me as I took the shot. Of course I’d like to think that maybe the foul actually helped the shot in.

When the shot went in, I just held up my arms. I felt like crying but that was only because I’d been in the desert so long, I couldn’t believe that something like that would come. Then UST called time. To this day, I believe that if UST didn’t call the timeout, I would have made that free throw.

You know why? I remember that during the timeout Alvin Castro came to me and said, “pare, pang-Europe na natin ‘to.” And when you start thinking about those things, it puts something in your head. So with the score tied, I took the free throw and missed; but if you notice, I got the rebound. Had that gone in, counted pa yun, that would have been something (laughs).

I remember Mon Jose and the guys mobbing me when I made the three pointer, Ren-Ren kissing me on the forehead in front of thousands of people. One thing that Mon said that stayed with me, he told us during the timeout just before Franz was about to draw up a play: “Dino got us here to overtime. Let’s make sure we win it for him. It’s our turn to do the job.”

Overtime started, I scored the first four points. In overtime, when you lead by four, ok na yan, but UST got a three pointer without even running a play, then scored to take the lead. It was touch and go after that. Then with about a minute left in the extra period, I fouled out. My adrenaline was so high, my desire, I wanted to win so badly, I was trying to defend everybody, lahat na lang ng puede kong bantayan. Ang finoul ko nga si Ortiguerra yung sentro, he was holding the ball. When I fouled him, I knew it was my last year, my last game. I went weak when I realised it.

And then all of a sudden, I heard the whole La Salle side cheering “Dino, Dino.” Everyone stood up to give me an ovation and the game wasn’t over! In fact, there was a slight delay because all of a sudden the referees couldn’t inbound the ball. I waved my hand just to say goodbye.

What a great feeling from being on the bench to people applauding you because of what you had done. In the footage, you see the crowd, everybody was standing up as I was coming to the bench, and each of the players gave me a hug. The first guy I went to was Don. He was the guy I was looking for, the one who always told me “Hang in there, bro, hang in there.” It was funny, Fritz Ynfante all of a sudden bowing to me. They don’t normally do that. Then I went to my family, my dad, mom, brother, sister, my girlfriend, because during the time I was lonely and depressed, they were the ones I could count on. They were the only ones who stuck it out.

After the game, I remember walking through the Ampitheatre, walking to the College Canteen. People were all there, I was with my girlfriend, now my wife, and we heard the host announce, “the hero is coming!” It meant so much because of where I came from, I was devastated, I was lost, wala ako noon.

It was a bit funny and awkward when Franz made his speech, though. Everyone knew what it had been like between us the whole year. So Franz thanked everybody, he began thanking each player individually. Then everyone was already piling on the kantiyaw because they knew. Then he went, “and lastly…alam niyo naman ito, paborito kong player…” Everyone just cracked up after that.

But what a great way to end a final year. I wonder sometimes, why can’t every Lasallite go out that way?