Magnolia fans watched the first game of the 2018 Philippine Cup semifinals in dread as team superstar Marc Pingris was stretchered off the court, having suffered an ACL tear.
On Saturday, fans in white and blue witnessed their hero return to the court for the first time since that incident 468 days ago as the Hotshots edged Phoenix, 99-96, in Commissioner's Cup action.
A visibly enthusiastic Pingris checked in early in the second period of Saturday's game.
"I was really excited. I was actually preparing the things I'll wear today as early as last night," Pingris said. "I really missed playing."
Naturally, Pingris was still trying to find his form. He finished with three rebounds in nearly eight minutes in Magnolia's win.
"I think I'm at 60 percent. I can play. But I'm trying to get in basketball shape little by little," he said.
Despite doubts about ever returning to the court, the 37-year-old Pingris persevered -- determined not to abandon the sport he has loved since he was growing up in Pangasinan.
"I asked myself that," said Pingris, asked about those doubts. "But I had to put in the work. I had to give my all. At first it was hard. But you had to fight it."
Despite the adjustments in store, the 6-foot-5 bruiser is a welcome addition to the Hotshots, who rolled to a third straight win and a 3-2 record.
"He's still not in basketball shape. But little by little, he'll ge there," Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero said. "We're not rushing him."