A little over four months ago, San Miguel Alab Pilipinas looked like a team dead in the water.
The Philippine team started the season with three straight losses with no reprieve in sight. They finally won their fourth game back in December, but they were still at the bottom of the standings.
Fast-forward to the playoffs, Alab is on its first ever trip to the ASEAN Basketball League Finals.
“I’m just really proud of our guys. They’ve fought and clawed their way to the Finals considering where we were at the start of the season, at last place two months into the season,” head coach Jimmy Alapag said after his team swept the defending champions Hong Kong Eastern in the semifinals.
Alapag, a legend in Philippine basketball, was in a difficult spot when Alab hit rock bottom. It was his first coaching job and it already seemed he bit off more than he can chew.
“From our early struggles, it was tough. Of course when you’re a first-year head coach, you start 0-3, there were a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, he should have kept playing’ I’m 40 years old. There wasn’t anything left in the legs,” joked Alapag.
Alab’s rise to the ABL summit didn’t happen overnight. And fortunately for Alapag, it didn’t require him to cut his retirement short.
Justin Brownlee and Renaldo Balkman showed up on Alab’s doorstep four games into the season. They both made their ABL debut against the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the team’s first game in January. From then on, Alab went on a tear. Just as Alapag said, they fought their way all the way to the playoff as the third seed. They even owned the longest winning streak this season with eight straight victories.
“We like an old restaurant B&B. Night club B&B, restaurant B&B, some B&B. Coz what we’re doing right now is we’re on fire,” Balkman excitedly said about his relationship with fellow World Import Brownlee.
“We have two incredible imports on and off the court in Balk and Jus. It just helps to set the table collectively as a group,” beamed Alapag. “We kept moving forward, kind of got our rhythm in the eight-game winning streak and we have a confident group that deserves to be there in the Finals.”
All Alab has to do to complete their magical season is to beat the formidable Mono Vampire Basketball Club. The Thailand team recently took down the top seed Chong Son Kung Fu in stunning fashion. Like Alab, they too are hungry for the title.
“The next step for us is to win the championship. So we gotta prepare. I’m gonna tell it one more time, it’s gonna be another show,” Balkman said with a grin.
Alab was last place a couple of months ago. Through sheer hard work, determination, and huge help from their World Imports, their fortunes have changed. They started from the bottom, but here they are in the Finals and have a chance of making it all the way to the top.