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Winning for country is fulfilling – Jong

By Jerome Lagunzad

Coaching – and winning at the same time – brings a sense of fulfillment for veteran tactician Jong Uichico.

And he savored that great feeling anew when he steered a youthful Gilas Pilipinas side to the men’s basketball gold medal – the country’s 18th overall – in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last week.

“Basta national team ang dala mo, it’s always fulfilling. It’s stressful at times, but it’s still a fulfilling job,” Uichico, 55, said during the Nationals’ homecoming party last Thursday at the Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas, Pasig City.

It was the second overall title in the biennial tournament for Uichico, who initially led another Gilas cadet squad to a familiar finish in the 2013 edition at Naypyitaw, Myanmar behind naturalized player Marcus Douthit and several amateur standouts.

This time, Uichico didn’t have the luxury of having a foreign import but still got the job done in impressive fashion, thanks mainly to the likes of Fil-German big man Christian Standhardinger, promising PBA cagers Mike Tolomia, Kevin Ferrer, Baser Amer and ABL veteran Ray Parks plus top amateur player Kiefer Ravena.

“This one is more challenging,” admitted Uichico. “I just have to rely on young players in a sense that…mga masaya, very enthusiastic and mga palabiro. The young ones are really energetic and will do whatever it takes to win and it’s fun to be with them.”

At the moment, Uichico added he’s having some of the best – and stressful-free –time of his life despite being out of the pro league spotlight, mainly serving as an assistant to Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes and a TV analyst for pro league matches.

“It’s okay. At least, I’m just trying to keep myself active,” he said. “You know, you’re brain keeps working and not getting stale. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

But that doesn’t mean Uichico, a nine-time PBA champion coach, is closing the door for a future pro league comeback since being replaced by Nash Racela at the TNT KaTropa prior to the start of the pro league’s 42 season last year.

“Who will not be open to opportunities like that to come back in the PBA? My mind is always open,” he stressed. “But actually, it never crossed my mind right now. Pero ‘pag andyan na, saka ko pag-iisipan. Sa ngayon, masaya ako sa ganito.”