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Phoenix, Koy ready to rise

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After leading San Beda and FEU to the NCAA and UAAP crowns respectively, Koy Banal felt his chance to become a successful head coach in the PBA was just around the corner.

It was in 2008 when Banal got his first break in the pro league after he was tapped by then Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio to be his team’s chief defensive strategist.

Everything was happening as planned for Banal as his exploits as one of Gregorio’s able deputies were being noticed by jaded league observers.

“I have to admit, mayabang ako noon kasi I led my collegiate teams to championships so I felt, kaya ko din gawin yun sa PBA,” said Banal.

But an incident involving superstar James Yap changed Banal’s outlook not only as a coach but as a person as well.
In the dying minutes of Purefoods’ loss to Air21 in their knockout encounter during the 2008 PBA Fiesta Cup, Banal confronted Yap about a supposed miscue on their defensive pattern.

Yap, in a fit of frustration, instead walked towards the end of the bench and threw a plastic cup he was holding which, unfortunately ricocheted and hit Banal on his chin.

Yap and Banal had an altercation but was eventually settled after management stepped in to settle the issue.

“That was the turning point of my career. It thought me how to give importance pagdating sa pakikipag-usap sa players whether star ka or bench player,” said Banal. “It also helped me a lot na nakita ko yung treatment sa akin ng management. I learned how to become a leader since.”

Banal credits Purefoods executive Butch Alejo as the one who showed him how to be an effective leader.

“Yung interpersonal skills ang kulang sa akin, nakita ko yun sa Purefoods noon. Lalo na si Mr. Alejo kasi kung ibang manager yun, most likely sibak na ako and they will side with their stars,” said Banal.

True enough, Banal’s experience helped him throughout the rest of his gig as coaching deputy of San Miguel and Barako Bull as it led him to being named head coach of the Energy last season, six years after the Yap incident.

“It only means one thing – patience indeed is a virtue,” said Banal.

Tomorrow, Banal will have a fresh start as he leads the Phoenix Fuelmasters in its initial foray into the PBA.

Phoenix recently acquired the Barako Bull franchise and will be fielding the same line-up the Energy had during the recently-concluded Philippine Cup.

“Everything’s the same sa system namin, sa players and sa coaches. Ang maganda lang sa bago ang owner mo, may reason kayo to win your very first game kasi you will be aiming to start off on the right foot,” said Banal.

It also helped Banal that he is being given authority to shape the team which came from no less that the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dennis Uy.

“We had a meeting with our bosses and it came from them that I will run this team talaga and that I have a say sa movement ng players,” revealed Banal. “Of course it will keep everyone on their toes but at the same time, may direction yung team. Not that I’m saying walang direction yung dating management.”

Banal assures they will continue their gains during the last conference where they entered the playoffs only to be ousted by eventual semifinalists Globalport Batang Pier.

Phoenix, starring JC Intal, RR Garcia and a rejuvenated Willie Wilson will face the NLEX Road Warriors in tomorrow’s first game at the Araneta Coliseum.

“We need to be excited sa first game namin pero dapat tama lang kasi pag sobra sa excitement, hindi din maganda,” said Banal.

Despite that ugly incident with Yap, Banal is known as one of the most amiable personalities in the league and he hopes his stint with Phoenix will prove that good guys like him do not always finish last. (DENNIS PRINCIPE)