Realtors Victory was Years in Making
by Waylon Galvez, March 4, 2008

For nine years, Buddy Encarnado, like a sci-fi scientist, tinkered and assembled and broke down bits and piece of the Sta. Lucia Realty franchise, putting them back together in the hopes he had hit upon the right elements to get his green machine revved up and roaring.

In 2001, he struck gold when the Realtors, powered by a high grade engine of an import named Damien Owens, won their first Philippine Basketball Association crown — the Governors Cup — on a long-range bomb by Chris Tan at the buzzer in Game Six of the Finals against the San Miguel Beermen.

But the promise of a championship run came to a sudden and abrupt halt after that, forcing Encarnado to return to the design lab to push for more experiments.The prestigious All-Filipino title, especially, would remain elusive, and it would take the Realtors representative to the league board another seven years of tinkering, breaking down and assembling to put together – through trades and the draft – a special edition machine that bore the backbone of its lone precious past and the gears and pistons of a brand new future.

Last Sunday, however, in an unforgettable Game 7 witnessed by more than 18,000 fans that packed the Araneta Coliseum to bursting point, the latest version of the Sta, Lucia Realtors delivered a performance worthy of a standing ovation. They finally won their first all-Filipino conference title – the Smart-PBA Philippine Cup.In the climax of a highly-emotional and extremely-physical best-of-seven series, the Realtors cut down the Purefoods Giants, 100-88, to take their place among the league’s finest.

Asked why it took the Exequiel Robles franchise 16 long years to nail down an all-Filipino title, Encarnado replied: "I guess the number one reason is the difficulty in finding the right combination. It’s a question of the right players and at the same time the right coach. After so many experiments, we finally found the right formula."

It all started when Sta. Lucia elevated former player Teodorico ‘Boyet’ Fernandez from an assistant to head coach, replacing Alfrancis Chua before last season’s Fiesta Cup. Then came two important trades – the first coming at the middle of the Fiesta Cup, and the second one before this season-opening Philippine Cup. Not a few scoffed at the Realtors’ decision to give away Kenneth Duremdes, the 1998 Most Valuable Player; playmaker Alex Cabagnot and power forward Ricky Calimag to the Coca-Cola Tigers last April.

In return, Sta. Lucia got hustling playmaker Dennis Miranda, center Manny Ramos, and a second round pick in this year’s PBA Rookie Draft. During the off-season, the Realtors made another move, shipping forward Mark Isip and three-point specialist Cesar Catli to the Tigers for spitfire guard Joseph Yeo. "Some trades looked one-sided," Encarnado agreed. "But we had to do something drastic."

They also caused a lot of heads to turn during last year’s Rookie Draft when they selected as the third overall pick Fil-American guard Ryan Reyes, until that point of untested quality. "Nobody thought we’ll take Ryan Reyes. Management wanted JC Intal," Encarnado said, adding that the brothers of team owner Exequiel Robles were impressed with the former Ateneo stalwart. The gamble paid off as Reyes came out huge for the Realtors during their semifinal match against the Alaska Aces and in the Finals against the Giants.

Miranda also played solid as the team’s starting point guard, while Yeo, a fearless slasher, was instant offense coming off the bench. The three blended beautifully with electrifying sophomore forward Kelly Williams, the Best Player of the Conference; Dennis Espino, the Finals MVP; veterans Marlou Aquino and Paolo Mendoza, and rising star Nelbert Omolon.

"The enthusiasm of the new players gave the extra boost. Knowing that they have new, sensational rookies and teammates, the veterans believed they can make a big thing out of this," Encarnado said. "We adopted defensive running system. We got players who have the stamina and natural talent for running and playing go-go basketball."

A summer camp in Boston with Kevin Barbosa during the off-season worked wonders for the team, according to Fernandez, as evidenced by the Realtors finishing the elimination phase with a franchise-best eight-game winning streak for a 14-6 win-loss card that earned them a first ever outright semifinal berth.

The rest is history.

They beat the Aces in the semifinals, opened a 2-0 lead against the Giants in the Finals, saw the series tied at 2-2, inched ahead with a victory in Game 5, and settled down to a sudden-death Game 7 after losing Game 6.

"Allow us to enjoy this moment for about a week," Encarnado begged with a smile when asked during the post-game interview what the Realtors plan to do for an encore. "We’re just so happy to win this. Then maybe we can start thinking about the next conference."

Right Mix Cements Realtors Claim to Fame
by Nelson Beltran, March 4, 2008

Right blending, right formula.

After 15 long years, Sta. Lucia Realty has got all these, spelling the difference as the giant land-developing franchise ended its hunt for a first ever All-Filipino championship in the pro league.

The Realtors outfought the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants, 100-88, in a pulsating Game Seven duel Sunday to win the 2007-08 Smart PBA Philippine Cup crown before a virtual sea of humanity at the Araneta Coliseum.

A special bunch of players and a feisty young coach delivered the victory, ending the team’s long search for another championship after its lone title conquest in the 2001 Governors Cup.

Only three players in Dennis Espino, Marlou Aquino and Paolo Mendoza are part of the two championships. They agree the All-Filipino title is far sweeter than the team’s triumph in the import-reinforced tourney.

It was meaningful, too, for Espino, 34, and Aquino, 35, who are nearing the end of their playing career.

They’re the first to admit they couldn’t have achieved the feat if not for the drastic moves taken by the ball club to form the lineup it has got right now.

The management effected a massive overhaul that included a coaching change with Boyet Fernandez taking over from Alfrancis Chua before the Fiesta Cup last year. Then there’s the departure of Kenneth Duremdes, Ricky Calimag and Alex Cabagnot in exchange for Denok Miranda and Manny Ramos then Cesar Catli and Mark Isip for Joseph Yeo.

Kelly Williams, Nelbert Omolon and Ryan Reyes are the team’s prized acquisitions from the rookie draft.

“To be able to form this winning team, I can now say we may really be destined to be champions,” said Buddy Encarnado, the team’s representative to the PBA board since its entry in the league in 1993.

“It’s about timing and right combination. After tinkering with the team, we found the right formula. We got the right mix and right coach,” Encarnado added.

Encarnado and Fernandez said the team’s training in the US during the off-season and the best-of-seven semifinal series against Alaska Milk helped the team in its championship drive.

“The Boston training was a wake-up call for the boys. We realized there that we still have a lot to learn. Si Marlou at Dennis napatakbo noong training,” said Fernandez of his two veterans, among eight Realtors trained by renowned American coach Kevin Barbosa.

“A lot questioned my wisdom to include in the US trip veterans who are about to retire. It turned out my decision was right. Kevin Barbosa was able to get the best from Marlou and Dennis,” said Encarnado.

Curiously, the Realtors lost their first two games in the tourney coming from their US training. Their first loss was dealt by no other than their eventual title playoff rivals.

But the Realtors would get into the groove of things and gain automatic entry into the semis on a stirring ride highlighted by a streak of eight straight wins.

“Actually, I don’t give much importance on the eight-game streak. To me, what’s more important was for us to have survived Alaska Milk in the semis. That Alaska series was character-building that helped prepare us in the finals. I don’t think we can make it all the way without going through Alaska,” said Encarnado.

The Realtors went through a total of 32 games to win the top prize in the tourney.

4-Day Basketball Workout at GCHS with a Champion Maker
posted March 3, 2008

Coach Kevin Barbosa is the man credited by Sta. Lucia team manager Buddy Encarnado and Coach Boyet Fernandez for making them the Champion in this PBA All-Filipino Conference. Both of them have been very vocal about the off-season workout with the world renowned American coach that has done miracles for their team this conference. Coach Kevin Barbosa has now graciously extended his expertise to physically and mentally train our younger players. To help prepare and mold them not only into better players, but better people as well.

After overcoming limited funding and tight schedules, the Grace Alumni Basketball League (GABL) tried to provide the best training ground for both the High School and Alumni teams by bringing in this high caliber coach. A four day basketball workout was organized by GABL, for the Varsity and Alumni team which represents Grace Christian High School in various leagues and tournaments. Despite semi-lackluster facilities, the attendees were thoroughly trained for more than two hours each night on important areas such as dribbling, passing, shooting and running. The attendees were also taught the value of fundamentals and sticking to the basics.

As much as the GABL would like to provide this event free for our athletes as stated in the GABL objectives,–our long term goal is to be able to raise enough fund to provide athletic scholarship to deserving student-athlete of Grace Christian High School- the league is still far from that goal.

Quality teaching don’t come cheap these days, teams like Sta. Lucia, different teams from Canada and South America even fly to Boston to learn the ”Boston Basketball Training Workout” by Coach Barbosa. Two other teams from the PBA, Coke and Air21, immediately grabbed the opportunity to train under Barbosa when they found out he’s services are available in Manila. They knew that it’s a chance to get quality teaching for a cheaper value since they don’t need to bring the whole team to Boston.

GABL hope this would be a yearly event to provide better teaching for our athletes and help them build their confidence, since Coach Barbosa was the man credited for bringing a sellar-dweller to Champions. This is also an eye opener for athletes, who are used to being sellar dweller, that quality teaching and discipline can turn a team around.

This rare event would not have been possible without the help of Nelson Chua, Atty. Gabriel Dee, Benjamin So, Power Construction, Danilo Ching, Gerald Gan and Greensports, Inc.