Former PBA guard Jimmy Manansala, who played in the league for 12 solid seasons, is living proof that hard work pays off.
As an aspiring basketball player from his province in Sta. Rita, Macabebe, Pampanga, Manansala learned early on that for a dream to become a reality, he had to work hard for it.
And work hard he did.
Though he didn't make the cut with the University of the East Pages, he eventually made the final roster as a Red Warrior upon reaching college.
Manansala became a knockdown shooter and was a contributor in the Red Warriors' second straight UAAP men's basketball championship during the 1975 season.
"Di ako nakuha sa juniors hanggang mag-graduate ako, pero nag-tuloy tuloy ako sa college tapos ang coach nun sa senior eh si coach Pilo Pumaren," Manansala said in a conversation Tuesday on An Eternity of Basketball.
Manansala admitted that by the time he moved up the UE seniors team, he wondered what would become of him, knowing the Red Warriors were loaded with veteran stars.
"Nuong araw ang lalakas ng mga players sa UE. So ako, kasabay ko si Mon Cruz, si Gerard (Enriquez) saka Alex Tan. Tapos naabutan ko ng isang taon sina Emer (Legaspi) and Tito (Varela). Fourth year na nila nung pumasok kami," he added.
The odds may have been stacked against him, but Manansala managed to carve a niche for himself by working his tail off in practice, focusing on his perimeter shooting.
Manansala's exploits in the UAAP eventually earned him a spot on the RP Youth team, which went on to beat China, 97-86, for the gold medal in the 1977 Asian Basketball Confederation (now FIBA-Asia) Juniors Championship held in Kuwait.
It was a game Manansala would never forget as he topscored for the Nationals with 26 points. "Medyo sinuwerte tayo ng kaunti," he said of his feat. "Iba talaga ang experience (of playing for the national team). Parang wala kang kinakatakutan."
Back in Manila, Manansala moved on to the MICAA where he was named league MVP while playing for Yco. With no worlds left to conquer in the amateur ranks, he decided to turn pro.
Proving his worth
Tanduay, Yco's counterpart in the PBA, took him in and Manansala showed what he was capable of by winning the 1978 Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately, the Don Manolo Elizalde-owned ball club just couldn't go all the way during Manansala's six-season stint.
By the 1984 season, Manansala's career took a major turn when he moved over to Great Taste Coffee, a rising powerhouse at that time.
Led by dead shot Fil-American guard Ricky Brown, three-time league MVP Bogs Adornado and talented young big man Manny Victorino, Great Taste added depth when it acquired the services of Chito Loyzaga and Arnie Tuadles from the defunct Toyota squad as well as Frankie Lim from Tanduay.
The Coffee Makers dominated the Second All-Filipino Conference by sweeping Beer Hausen, 3-0, for the franchise's first-ever PBA title.
Brown and Adornado supplied the scoring, though Manansala's experience and outside shooting also came in handy for GTC, which saw its two title chances in 1983 denied by Crispa.
Manansala said the back-to-back championships during the 1984 season were borne out of team manager Ignacio Gotao's challenge to them.
"Sabi ni manager Gotao, ang lalaki ng sweldo niyo, kailangan naman makita na mag-champion. Eh sa awa ng Diyos nanalo kami ng sunud sunod," he recalled.
Team management went as far as giving certain incentives to sweeten the pot, which motivated the team further.
"Nangangako sila na magbibigay ng ganito or ganun. Eh pang champion ang team namin, malakas talaga," said Manansala, who is turning 64 this October.
A huge part of the team's success was the presence of legendary coach Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan.
"Si Coach kasi kapag kumukuha siya ng player, binabalanse niya ang team niya," noted Manansala. But he believes what set Dalupan apart from the coaches during the 1980s was his ability to instill discipline in a star-studded GTC squad.
"Si Coach, disciplinarian talaga. At kapag ginamit ka niya, dapat tama gawin mo (inside the court) kundi makakarinig ka sa kanya sa susunod na araw sa practice," he added.
No wonder, Great Taste's dominance spilled over to the 1985 season when the Coffee Makers dominated the Open Conference behind six-nine import Joe Binion, before ruling the All-Filipino conference again.
Moving to Shell
But after a title-less 1986 campaign, Great Taste management wanted to shake up their roster.
Dalupan, ever the veteran coach, knew how to spot talent. Having seen a collegiate standout by the name of Allan Caidic dominate the UAAP basketball scene for years, the "Maestro" pulled off a huge trade prior to the 1987 season.
While Great Taste owned the sixth overall draft pick in the 1987 PBA rookie draft, Dalupan maneuvered to get the Coffee Makers the top pick from Shell. Ultimately, he agreed to ship Victorino and Manansala to the Oilers while getting his former Crispa stars Philip Cezar and Bernie Fabiosa in return, along with the no. 1 pick.
Manansala had no ill feelings towards Dalupan, knowing that what happened was part of business in pro basketball.
At Shell, Manansala first played for Ed Ocampo before national coach Joe Lipa took over before the start of the 1987 third conference.
Lipa, just a year removed from guiding the University of the Philippines to a UAAP championship, quickly established his role as a drillmaster.
"Yung almusal namin, tap board so habang siya (Lipa) palayo ng palayo, hanggang sa dulo sa kabila ng court, kami sprint naman ng sprint. Kailangan habulin mo yung bola. Pag bumagsak ang bola, start ka uli," Manansala said, smiling as he recalled the collegiate training style of Lipa. "At yung dessert namin, planting rice."
Though he was already a nine-year veteran, Manansala admitted he took the tough training employed by Lipa with all seriousness.
"Sa akin, walang problema, kasi style ni coach Joe kapag sumusunod ka sa kanya, mamatay ka na sa court gagamitin ka pa niya," shared Manansala.
His hard work was eventually rewarded handsomely when Lipa recommended to Shell management that Manansala be given a two-year extension deal.
"Malaki and utang na loob ko kay coach Joe kasi pinag-renew niya ako ng kontrata kaya naka two years pa ako," he said. "Basta lahat pinapagawa niya, ginagawa ko kaya tuwing nagkikita kami, sinasabi ko sa kanya, 'Coach, maraming salamat ha.'"
At Shell, Manansala's best achievement was helping his team reach back-to-back finals under returning PBA coach Dante Silverio, who had replaced Lipa.
On both occasions - the 1988 Reinforced Conference and the 1989 Open Conference - the team was thwarted by the league's new powerhouse, the San Miguel Beermen.
By 1990, Manansala admitted losing his passion to play in the PBA over what he felt was a growing culture of "palakasan".
"Nagka-problem din kami kasi kanya kanyang bulungan na sa management. 'Si ganito, ganito daw.' Eh ayaw ko naman ng ganun na ipagpilitan ko sa sarili ko," Manansala said with a tone of disappointment.
"Nung 1990 nagpunta ako sa America, nagbakasyon ako at sabi ko, parang okay naman sa dito so hindi na ako bumalik."
Though he believes he could have played a few more years in the PBA, Manansala was happy to start a brand-new life with his family in New Jersey.
There, he managed to befriend a Filipino-Chinese businessman, who happened to own a basketball team that participated in local tournaments in South Jersey. Since the itch to play basketball remained, Manansala starred for the team.
Unfortunately, this was also where his basketball career eventually had to stop for good after he sustained a knee injury.
"Mga Pilipino ang kalaban namin, pero dun na nasira ang tuhod ko. Eh halos ako lang mag-isa ang laban ng laban," he recalled.
Nevertheless, retirement suited him well. While working in the US, he also took the time to train his son Jino, who managed to play in a local varsity high school squad there.
In 1999, Manansala brought his son to Manila where he took him to coach Aric Del Rosario try out with the University of Santo Tomas.
"Ang alam ko malakas ang UST nun. Dapat nga nag-champion pa sila nun. Eh na buzzer-beater lang ang UST ni (Dino) Aldeguer," Manansala said, recalling Aldeguer's finals heroics that helped La Salle beat UST in the 1999 UAAP season.
His son Jino went on to play for UST from 1999 to 2003 before eventually becoming head coach for St. Clare.
Manansala, who won four PBA championships and retired with a career average of 11.2 points in 487 games, still helps out his son these days by serving as the team's consultant.