SMB coach Austria’s recipe for success
Even during the height of triumph, San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria refused to take credit for the Beermen’s glory.
The mustachioed, tough-looking Austria, whose unorthodox way of making jumpers didn’t prevent him from becoming Rookie of the Year while playing for the Shell Turbo Chargers in 1985, actually thanked everbody for SMB’s latest conquest Sunday evening at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Despite limited minutes to three-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, the Beermen made sure there would be no winner-take-all in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup championship with a dominating 115-91 win last Sunday over the equally determined TNT KaTropa, who paraded Joshua Smith, who brought back memories of an equally huge Francois Wise during the exciting 80s.
He thanked the Almighty for guiding the team to victory, his family for giving him inspiration, the management headed by SMC President and Chief Executive Officer Ramon Ang, San Miguel Brewery President Roberto ‘‘Bobby’’ Huang, board of Governor Robert Non and sports chief Alfrancis Chua for their support, the players for their sacrifices, the coaching staff, the ballboys and before he got overwhelmed by emotions thanked the fans, who got hoarse encouraging their idols to play defense and go for the win.
Just like in SMB’s past five titles under his coaching tutelage, Austria isn’t in the mood to take credit. He lauded the sacrifices made by his players but rarely mentioned his own sacrifices.
‘‘Well, I also sacrificed a lot but those are small compared with what my players did. Sometimes, I have to change my work ethics and sacrifice my ego,’’ said Austria, who will be given a motorcade by his proud kababayans in Sariaya on Monday.
His laid-back style suited the Beermen, who before his arrival in 2014 after a successful stint as SMC coach a year earlier in the Asean Basketball League, boasted of big names but failed to nail major trophies.
Not new to coaching having handled various teams in the now-defunct Philippine Basketball League and the UAAP where he steered the Adamson Falcons to the Final Four in 2011, Austria’s demeanor hasn’t changed a bit.
Even during the most trying times of the game where tempers flared due to the wayward whistles of the referees, Austria’s chill as ever.
Just like a captain steering a ship while in rough seas, Austria would not lose his temper. Business as usual as he would sue for time and map plays while encouraging his stalwarts to keep their focus.
‘‘It’s not my attitude to lose my temper,’’ said Austria, who saw action for Lyceum (now Lyceum of the Philippines University) during his collegiate years and Masagana 99 in the Philippine Amateur Basketball League. After Shell, he saw action for Pepsi in the pros before retiring in 1993.
Well-loved by his fellow Quezonians, Austria created a buzz when he got out of his retirement to become playing coach of the Chowking in the PBL. He attained successes coaching Shark Energy Drink and Welcoat Paints. Welcoat (now Rain or Shine) took him as coach when the Paintmasters entered the PBA in 2006.
Alex Cabagnot, who exploded with a rare triple double ( 19 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) in Game 6 was lost for words after being voted by the elite Philippine Basketball Association Press Corps as Finals MVP. He hugged Austria so tightly like a prodigal son finally returning to his roots.
‘‘Thank you coach, thank you for believing in me. I’m 34 years old. I love you coach,’’ said Cabagnot, who narrowly lost the Best Player of the Conference to teammate Chris Ross, who bloosomed under the tutelage of Austria.
As expected, Austria talked about Cabagnot’s work ethics. ‘‘He delivered and deserved the playing minutes. There was pressure on his part but I told him just to play. I’ll help him,’’ said Austria.
The presence of Fajardo guarding the 6-foot-9 Smith was a big plus for the Beermen.
Then there were the high-octane performances of Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and of course the reliable plays of Ross, who contributed not only in offense but in making life harder for Jason ‘‘the Blur’’ Castro.
To illustrate Austria’s love for his teammates, he decided to field all his relievers during the dying seconds of the game.
‘‘I just want them to get that championship feeling. They are part of the team and I am very grateful,’’ Austria said as the happy hour commenced.
With the win, Austria lined himself for joining the ranks of PBA coaches who achieved the grand slam. Baby Dalupan, Tommy Manotoc, Norman Black and Tim Cone separated themselves from the rest by making the Grand Slams possible.
League veteran Wendell McKines will saw action for the Beermen in the season-ending Governors’ Cup which will start on July 19.
But Austria isn’t going to lose sleep thinking of the Grand Slam which San Miguel Beer last achieved in 1989 under Black.
‘‘We’ll celebrate the win and relax a little bit before plunging into action,’’ said Austria, who salivates on ‘‘sinigang na baboy and pritong galunggong.’’
No wonder, Dayong Mendoza, a member of the coaching staff and son of highly-respected journalist Al, lavished praises on his head coach and long-time friend.
‘‘A brilliant coach with all the basketball knowledge and experience that he applies methodically in every game we have. His devotion in studying the game is no match to all other opponents. His chess match approach to a series has resulted in a five for five finals victory!”
Let’s drink to that!