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My Toughest Matchup, as told by Alvin Patrimonio

If you ask any Filipino basketball fan about their PBA Mount Rushmore, chances are Alvin Patrimonio will be on that list. Even though he was undersized at the power forward position at 6-foot-3, his strength and guile enabled him to lead his team to six championships, winning four Most Valuable Player awards and 10 Mythical First Team inclusions in the process. He's one of the PBA's 40 Greatest Players.

More than the accolades, though, it was his leadership and passion for the game that truly set apart the man simply called The Captain.

ESPN5 talked to Patrimonio, who is the current team manager of the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, to ask him about his favorite matchups during his storied 16-year PBA career.

Patrimonio on offense

Patrimonio did not have to go through the PBA Draft as he was selected as a direct hire by the Purefoods squad alongside Jerry Codinera, Glenn Capacio, and Jojo Lastimosa. There was a lot of noise about them heading into the PBA as they brought with them quite a number of fans from their exploits in the amateurs.

When he got into the league, there was a certain veteran that welcomed him to the PBA.

"When I was starting out, I had a really tough time against Chito Loyzaga. The rivalry between Ginebra and Purefoods was still very young back then but people were already very interested with the matchup," Patrimonio said in Filipino. "He was a veteran and I was still very young so he had a lot of tricks defensively that I was not ready for. But you could say he fast-tracked my improvement because I had to figure things out quickly."

The tough part about being Patrimonio is that he had to face the best defenders from opposing teams and, most of the time, he had to face off against multiple defenders.

"Against San Miguel Beer, it was Yves Dignadice and Alvin Teng," Patrimonio recalled. "Against Ginebra it was Noli Locsin and Wilmer Ong. Against those players, I always know it's going to be a physical battle."

Then there was Alaska's vaunted defense.

"In terms of team defense, Alaska was the best because of coach Tim Cone's schemes. They had Poch (Juinio) and Bong (Hawkins) and they'll really give me different looks to keep me guessing on what kind of defense I'll be seeing," he said. "Sometimes, they'll let me score in the first half. Then they'll tighten up in the second half so all of a sudden I can't score and my other teammates would have to heat up quickly even if they didn't take a lot of shots in the first two quarters."

However, Patrimonio's pick for the best defender on him came later in his career.

"I had a difficulty playing against Chris Jackson when he was with Sta. Lucia and then Shell after," Patrimonio said about the fourth overall pick of the 1995 PBA Draft. At that time, The Captain was already a seven-year pro and a three-time PBA MVP.

"I'd say Jackson was the best among them because he was a little taller than me, he had speed, and he was really strong. And he knew what his role was on the team. He doesn't care if he doesn't score as long as I also have a tough time scoring."

Jackson was a seven-time member of the All-Defensive Team and a three-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award, a record he holds together with Marc Pingris.

Patrimonio on Defense

A huge part of Purefoods' success as a team back then was that Patrimonio can use up most of his energy on offense and not have to worry too much about guarding the best big men on the other side because of the Robin to his Batman.

"What really made our teamwork was that Jerry was the one who defended the best big man of the opposing team," Patrimonio said. "He's known as the Defense Minister because he's so good at using his body on defense. Sometimes, when our opponents had twin towers, then I'll also have to work harder on defense."

According to Patrimonio, Benjie Paras was the toughest to cover.

"It was mostly Jerry who'd guard Benjie but if Jerry was in foul trouble or if he needed a break, I would get matched up with Benjie," the legendary power forward recalled.

"I'm not an athletic player. I only consider myself as an ordinary defender," Patrimonio admitted. "Benjie was taller than me. He was more athletic and makes it difficult to guess what he wanted to do next. He can shoot from the mid-range with his set shot and can finish in traffic."

Toughest Matchup

The MVP race in 1997 was tight. Johnny Abarrientos of Alaska and Vince Hizon and Marlou Aquino of Gordon's Gin were selected to the Mythical First Team after leading their squads to the Governors' and Commissioner's Cup titles, respectively.

However, MVP front-runners were Patrimonio, who spearheaded their reign in the All-Filipino and the league's leading scorer that season, and the player who was the toughest matchup of his entire career: Nelson Asaytono.

"We all know how good he was as a player, so I had to elevate my game when we went up against each other." Alvin Patrimonio, on Nelson Asaytono

Patrimonio averaged 20.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game that season while Asaytono normed 23.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists but the Beermen only managed two third-place finishes in the import-laden conferences, which may have swung the vote for Patrimonio.

"On defense, he relied mostly on his strength. He always tried to outmuscle me when I post up, which is my strength," Patrimonio recalled. "When I receive the ball out of the shaded area, he'd be smiling already as he knows he already did his job."

Asaytono was not really known for his defense although Patrimonio said he wasn't a bad defender either. But the real talent of Asaytono was the magic he could create on offense.

"Nelson is so strong. That's why people called him The Bull. He was athletic and his footwork was really good. Nelson also had great hands. I can try to swipe the ball away from him but he'll maintain his grip and go up for a shot," The Captain said.

"Another thing that made it so difficult was that, when I was defending Nelson, I could not get a break because the ball will always go to him. His teammates always gave him the ball so he had so many touches and he was always on attack mode so I had to be ready each and every play," Patrimonio explained.

"At that time we were always neck-and-neck when it came to individual awards so it added to our rivalry. We all know how good he was as a player, so I had to elevate my game when we went up against each other."