MANILA - With time winding down, Chong Son Kung Fu needed just one more stop to at least push Game 2 of their Semifinals matchup against Mono Vampire to an overtime session. The phrase “we need one stop” is used loosely in tight game situations late in the clock but in this situation, Chong Son Kung Fu really needed one stop.
Unfortunately, Caelan Tiongson — their go-to defensive stopper — was sitting on the bench unable to get on the court after suffering a concussion in Game 1.
Jason Brickman made the pass and Samuel Deguara made the shot which ended Chong Son Kung Fu’s — and Tiongson’s — first ABL season dead in it’s tracks.
No one knows if Tiongson could have stopped Deguara in that last play or if Chong Son Kung Fu would even be in that position to win or lose the game had he been on the court, but Tiongson knew one thing and that was how he felt during that moment.
“At the end of last season, the word that would best describe how I felt was frustrated,” Tiongson recalls. “Having to watch my teammates play the last game from the sidelines hurt. I have always been someone who has played through injury, but this was my first time experiencing a concussion. I’m thankful that my trainer (JP) and my teammates encouraged me not to try anything dumb and sit out. They would tell me ‘it’s your first year man, you got a lot of basketball ahead of you’ but it was hard for me to accept that as someone who loves to compete. It was even harder when the game ended and we were eliminated from the playoffs.”
“I felt like we had just proven we were the best team in the league with the recent winning streak we were on and having to think of what could have been if we were healthy is obviously a little haunting.”
Frustration pushed Tiongson to do what he does best: try to outwork everyone in order get better. He wasn’t yet sure about what was waiting for him in the future and where he would end up next, but he was determined to come into this season better than last year.
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“I dealt with those feelings during the offseason by getting in the gym as soon as I got home. I told myself that I wasn’t good enough in any area from the past season. So I committed myself to a lot more skill work and even did a lot of work on my body and athleticism with my strength coach, Frank Ramirez,” says Tiongson.
Tiongson eventually signed with the defending champions San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, which meant he would be playing in his second ABL season with a chance at achieving a better ending than his rookie year.
“I found peace in knowing that this coming year would offer a shot at redemption,” added the bruising Filipino-American forward.
However, signing with Alab Pilipinas meant that he would not be returning to play with Mikh McKinney and Anthony Tucker, both of whom re-signed with the team that are now the Macau Black Bears. The trio had built a special bond between one another and though they will become opponents in this upcoming season, they will remain as close as ever.
“[Playing with] Chong Son Kung fu was a great basketball experience and a part of me is sad to not rejoin some of my old teammates in Macau,” Tiongson discloses. “But this is what the world of professional basketball is all about. Basketball is our livelihood and it’s all about making moves that benefit you and your family. Both Mikh and Anthony were very encouraging when Alab offered me and they wanted me to do what was best for me.”
The schedule is not out yet for ABL 2018-2019, but Tiongson already has one matchup that he can’t wait to play. Though we know he badly wants his revenge against the Mono Vampire, he’s also surely looking forward to Alab Pilipinas’ game against the Macau Black Bears to face his former teammates.
“All of us still talk often. We just joke about the coming season and how it’s gonna be fun to play each other,” Tiongson says. “We both know that I’ll spend time guarding both of those guys, so of course, Mikh loves to tell me how he’s gonna score 20-plus [points] on me. It’s gonna be top notch competition when the ball is tipped and it will be exciting. The game against Macau is also when my mom and grandma want to fly out so they can see Mikh and Anthony too, so that will make it more fun!”
“I picture my first moment going up agains Mikh and Anthony being extremely fun!” Tiongson adds. “Those are my guys! No matter what jersey any of us are wearing. I’m very thankful for them because they taught me how to be a pro. Who better to learn from than 2 MVPs? They definitely helped me develop and understand the pro game at an accelerated rate.”
“There are gonna be hugs and laughs, but when the game starts there is going to be trash talk and competition. We’re all gonna try extremely hard to win with bragging rights on the line.” Tiongson adds with a laugh.
The next step for Caelan Tiongson now is playing for Alab Pilipinas, a team that flipped the script from an underperforming team to champions over the course of the season. The 26-year-old got to experience how good Alab were as the opposition with the two sides trading wins in their only two meetings last year. He will now get to be a part of that team for the next coming months.
“Last year I was most impressed by the depth and camaraderie of Alab,” Tiongson expresses how he feels about his new team. “It is very obvious that Jimmy [Alapag] is a great coach. He was once a player who played at an extremely high level, so it looks like he knows how to rally and treat his players to get the best out of them. Last year, all those guys played with toughness and tenacity which is fun to go against and hard to beat. Obviously it led to them winning it all and I’m glad to join in on it.”
More than being a part of the team, Tiongson will now get a full blast of the love from the Filipino fans now that he’s playing for their home team. Fans were not shy to shower cheers for the forward of Filipino heritage last season, even as an opposing player. Now that Tiongson is now on their side, they will be rooting wildly for him in every single game.
“I am incredibly excited to play in front of the Alab fans! Last year I had nothing but good things to say as an opposing player, but to imagine them cheering on a good play of mine is already super fun. I’m an energy player, I feed off the crowd at times. I think playing for the best basketball fans in the world is going to bring the best basketball out of me, personally. I’m very excited.” Tiongson says.
Caelan Tiongson has proven himself to be a solid contributor with averages of 12.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists last season with Chong Son Kung Fu. Don’t expect any of that to get to his head as he starts a new beginning with Alab Pilipinas. The Californian prides himself in being a hardworker that is willing to do anything for his team and he expects nothing less than that from himself next season.
“I’m just gonna bring my same work ethic and attitude to Alab this year. They won a championship and I feel honored that they respected my game and wanted to add me, but I want to go into this very humbly to just do whatever is asked of me to help repeat. God has blessed me with this amazing opportunity and I trust in His plan that the Philippines is where he wants me. I’m just thankful for the opportunity and excited to get started!”