Coaching buddies now PBA title rivals
Leo Austria and Alex Compton can’t help but look back at their humble PBA beginning now that they are coaching different teams in the Philippine Cup Finals.
“We had great times back then, even if we weren’t winning too many games,” said Austria, who will call the shots for the favored San Miguel Beermen when Game 1 of the best-of-seven series fires off tomorrow.
“We had decent stints,” Austria added while looking at Compton, who will be on the other bench trying to steer the Alaska Aces to a title in just his second conference as head coach. “We lost very close games during those times.”
Speaking during the championship showdown’s formal launch yesterday at Sambukojin in Eastwood, Austria recalled the times when he and Compton were together on the bench with Welcoat (now Rain or Shine) with Austria as the chief tactician and Compton his assistant and one-time import during the franchise’s early struggles in 2006-07.
The title series opener is slated at 7 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, with Alaska as the underdog after needing six games to close out the Elasto Painters on Sunday.
The Beermen go into the best-of-seven showdown well rested after pulling off a rare four-game sweep of the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters in their semifinal series.
Still, the talk centered on the duo’s early partnership and the routes they have taken to get to where they are now.
With little success at Welcoat, Austria drifted away from the PBA and found himself coaching in the UAAP and later on the Beermen in the Asean Basketball League before taking over from Todd Purves in the off-season.
Compton, meanwhile, became an assistant coach of Bo Perasol at Coca-Cola and then as one of the assistants of Joel Banal and later on Luigi Trillo at Alaska. He assumed the reins two conferences ago and has steered the Aces to at least a Final Four appearance.
The American Compton, who speaks the native tongue well, has nothing but praises for Austria.
“Coach Leo could have been Coach of the Year in one of those seasons (with Welcoat),” Compton said. “Although we didn’t have guys who could put the ball in the basket, as an expansion team, we did quite well because of coach Leo’s ability to maximize talent.”
They will be putting their friendship aside starting tomorrow as both squads try to annex the most prestigious title staked for the year with their respective cornerstones also chasing one valuable piece of hardware.
June Mar Fajardo, the reigning MVP, led San Miguel to the best record in the eliminations and paces everyone in the Player of the Conference derby.
Calvin Abueva, who nipped Fajardo for the Rookie of the Year award as the second overall Draft choice in 2012, is running second in the BPC and could win another big individual accolade if Alaska gains control of the series early.
But Fajardo was quick to quash talk of that sidelight.
“You can have the BPC,” Fajardo said in his booming voice in Filipino, looking at the direction of Abueva, who beat the 6-foot-10 Cebuano to a first PBA title when Alaska won the Commissioner’s Cup in 2012. “I’ll take the championship (trophy).”