Home away from home
One of the few teams in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League that has a traveling support group, the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards hardly felt like the away team on Wednesday night at Olivarez College Gym in Parañaque City.
With their playoff hopes on the line, the Vanguards also made sure the nearly 500 fans who filled the seven buses that traveled from Palayan City were returning home with a victory.
“Even when we’re playing against the home team, we don’t feel uncomfortable because our supporters are also there,” said Nueva Ecija forward Zags Gonzaga after he scored 21 points to lead the Vanguards to an 85-81 victory over hosts Parañaque Patriots in the Chooks to Go MPBL Lakan Season.
“It’s great to see our fans constantly there. We feel the entire province behind us in every game.”
Palayan City Mayor Rianne Cuevas, the wife of team owner Bong Cuevas, helped arrange the transportation of the Vanguards supporters.
And even if the team is still mired near the bottom of the North division with a 6-16 record, the Vanguards know that success will eventually follow as long as the team continues building its identity under coach Charles Tiu.
“We want to build a community and work on making our team sustainable,” said guard Jai Reyes who is also head of basketball operations of the team.Against the Patriots, the Vanguards needed a strong finishing kick anchored on Gonzaga and James Martinez, who had eight points in the final quarter after hardly seeing action in the second and third periods.
Tiu was full of praise for Gonzaga, whom he said is the hardest worker in the team.
“No one can complain about his attitude and work ethic and he works so hard so it’s very nice to see him play well,” said Tiu of Gonzaga, who won five UAAP titles at Ateneo.