“If there’s anyone who’s to blame, then it’s me, not the players.”
With those words, Alaska coach Luigi Trillo took the responsibility for the Aces’ miserable campaign in the Governors’ Cup that saw the once-proud squad finish 2-7. Depending on the result of Air 21′s last game, Alaska will finish either last or second to the last in the 10-team field.
Trillo took over before the start of the tournament from Joel Banal, and had barely two weeks with the team. His appointment itself was a curious decision from Alaska’s top management, who signed Banal to a three-year deal prior to the start of the season to replace the departing Tim Cone, who left the organization after 22 years.
Alaska stumbled to its worst finish in the Philippine Cup, the team’s first post-Cone tournament. The squad rebounded in the Commissioner’s Cup, making the quarterfinals and finishing with a .500 record. The team showed marked improvement after replacing Cone’s complicated triangle offense, as Banal tried to open up the game for his cadre of shooters.
Surprisingly, despite the improvement, Banal and the team decided to part ways, and Trillo was picked to call the shots for the team. One of his first decisions was to reinstall the triangle offense for the team.
Looking for an identity
For team captain Tony dela Cruz, Alaska’s struggles can still be traced back to Cone’s departure.
“Obviously, when you’re used to a system that is being ran for 22 years, then your leader left, then the entire team will be left scrambling what do next,” Dela Cruz told InterAKTV in an exclusive interview.
“We really have to find our own identity. The company is identified for its integrity and character, but as a team, we really have to find our true identity.”
The change in coaches in midstream couldn’t have helped in that search. Under Cone, the team played deliberate basketball. Banal made some progress toward a more attack-oriented squad. On Trillo’s watch, the team has not seemed to figure out the way it wanted to play just yet.
“Kulang talaga kami sa oras, ang hirap,” said LA Tenorio, the team’s floor general. “Umalis si Coach Tim, then umalis din si Coach Joel, tapos two weeks before the tournament, may bago kaming coach. Coach Luigi did his job and naawa rin ako sa kanya. I know that he’s learning and willing to learn. Yung mga detalye na lang siguro ang medyo kulang, pero may tiwala ako sa kanya.”
‘Not his fault’
Players say that despite Trillo’s pronouncement, the coach isn’t really to blame for the squad’s troubles.
“Everybody’s accountable. Maybe it’s his way of protecting his players,” said center Sonny Thoss, the longest-tenured member on the team.
“That’s the mark of a true leader, you hold yourself responsible being the leader of the team,” added Dela Cruz.
Tenorio gave the coach a vote of confidence.
“Kelangan bigyan siya ulit ng tyansa. Mas mahabang panahon, mas maganda para sa team,” said Tenorio.
But even the star guard doesn’t know if he has any vote of confidence to give. Given the team’s performance over the season, management could just as easily decide to clean house.
“I don’t know what would happen. I don’t know if I’m still going to be here because baka gusto nilang mag-rebuild or trade me,” said Tenorio.
“We still don’t know kung ano rin ang plano nila sa coaching staff because alam naman natin yung situation ni Coach Luigi is interim.”
Trillo admitted that even he does not know what the future holds for the Aces.
“We still don’t know what will happen during the long break,” he said. “I don’t know what’s on Fred Uytengsu’s mind. We will see what’s best for the team.”
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