Alejo "Ponky" Alolor was one of the first few left-handed players during the PBA's first 10 years of existence.
Known as a rugged defender with a deadly outside touch, Alolor never imagined playing for 14 seasons in the pro league considering the challenges he had to go through to achieve his dream.
At an early age, Alolor dreamt of playing in the PBA, but he realized that such a dream could never come to fruition if he stayed in Bantayan Island, an island situated at the northern end of Cebu.
Armed with nothing but a dream to play basketball, Alolor tried his luck at the University of Cebu (then known as Cebu Central Colleges Executives) as a high school player. His skills earned him a spot on the junior team of UC, but he rarely saw minutes on the floor.
"Nakuha agad ako sa high school as a player, pero di ako masyado ginagamit dahil mga superstar namin dun sina Dodie Ramas," Alolor recounted in a conversation with An Eternity of Basketball on Saturday. "Ginagamit ako minsan minsan."
When UC annexed the high school championships, the junior Webmasters earned the right to play in the inter-secondary tournament in Iloilo. Unfortunately, Alolor said he wasn't part of the team bound for Iloilo and interestingly, the player who took his spot was Melchor "Biboy" Ravanes who would later on play in the PBA and establish himself as a defensive player.
Left broken-hearted, the young Alolor was forced to give up his basketball dream. He moved to Toledo City where he landed a job at Atlas Mining.
During his spare time, Alolor joined in different leagues and participated in basketball tournaments held during their local town fiesta.
His fortunes changed, though, when his boss decided to put up a basketball team that would participate in a big commercial league in Cebu City known as the Cebu Amateur Basketball Association. Being the only experienced player in the company, Alolor earned a spot on the team.
"Kumuha sila ng lahat ng varsity players mula sa Recoletos, San Carlos so nag-selection na din pero sa team namin di lang ako ginagamit kasi di ako naglaro sa school," he said. "One time napilay yung isang kasamahan ko so walang choice si coach kaya pinalaro ako."
Playing against a star-studded commercial squad led by future PBA star Arnie Tuadles and Marlowe Jacutin, Alolor showed nerves of steel with his rare chance to shine. Alolor said he remembered finishing the game with 20 points and helping his team overcome an eight-point deficit to beat Tuadles' squad by just one point.
That single-game explosion caught the eye of some basketball officials from the University of Visayas, who approached him later on and asked if he'd be interested to become a Green Lancer.
"Sabi ko nun, 'Oo sir, pangarap ko yan makalaro.' So 1975 ako nag-high school, tapos 1976 nag-trabaho ako sa Atlas. Then 1977 naglaro ako commercial saka kinuha ako UV," he shared.
Alolor said he first tasted real success with UV after winning collegiate championships with the Green Lancers, earning them the right to play against the top Metro Manila universities via the National Collegiate tournament.
It was at the National Collegiate tournaments where he would first come face-to-face with future PBA players like Arturo "Bai" Cristobal, Rey Lazaro and Rod Pasco of Far Eastern University, Angelito "Itoy" Esguera of Letran, along with La Salle players Jong Uichico, Teddy Alfarero, and Alfie Almario, among others.
Road to prominence
His experience playing in the national collegiate championships was just the tip of the iceberg.
"After that, naglaro kami sa commercial league sa Cebu pagbalik namin, tapos nag-MVP ako sa Mayor's Cup. Eh malaking liga yun kasi may (local) import yun, so sina Joel Banal, (Ricky) Relosa naglaro sila dun," he said.
The MVP award he won became his ticket to the PBA as Mariwasa gave him a two-year deal, which he readily accepted. Unfortunately his team, Mariwasa, then known as the Finance Funders, failed to make the playoffs. Alolor, though, had an excellent showing and averaged 18 points per game as a rookie. He felt he could have won Rookie of the Year honors after leading in statistical points in the 1981 season.
"Ang team namin di lang masyado malakas ang lineup. Kulang kami sa materyales," Alolor said. "Ang style kasi may voting sa media pero dun ako natalo. Sa stats malayo eh All Star nga ako. Si Cho hindi pero yung team din namin di pumapasok (in the playoffs), eh ang Great Taste (where Sison played) kasi pumapasok."
When his contract with Mariwasa expired, then Great Taste coach Virgilio "Baby" Dalupan approached him and asked if he would be interested to play for the Coffee Makers. Wanting a change of scenery in his young pro career, Alolor agreed to join Great Taste at the start of the 1983 season.
The Coffee Makers reached the finals of the Reinforced and Open Conferences in 1983, but in both tournaments, they lost to the Crispa Redmanizers, who went on to win a record second Grand Slam in the PBA.
Alolor admitted his game changed dramatically from a scorer to defender under Dalupan.
"Si coach kasi magaling siya, style niya matchup. Eh nakita niya ako na defensive player, so sinasabi niya, 'Kung merong mga shooter, sa iyo 'yun Ponky,'" shared Alolor.
Alolor added that his job was to limit the scoring production of the local player or import.
"Sa akin, sisikapin ko talaga na di makatanggap ng bola yan kasi sa opensa kasi di ako mag-worry since may mga offensive players kami gaya nina Ricardo Brown saka Bogs Adornado," he said.
Alolor went on to win four consecutive championships bridging the 1984 and 1985 seasons after Great Taste won back-to-back All-Filipino titles and two championships in the import-spiced conferences.
When Alaska joined as an expansion squad in the 1986 season, Alolor was one of two players Great Taste had to drop based on the PBA rules back then.
"At that time papasok pa lang as expansion team ang Alaska. So kukuha sila sa bawat team ng dalawang players. Ako yung binitawan ng Great Taste so kinuha ako ng Alaska," he recalled.
Alaska, then coached by Tony Vasquez, placed fourth in the Reinforced Conference after being led by former Toyota import Donnie Ray Koonce and Jerry Lee Eaves. The young franchise eventually lost Vasquez, who passed away that season. Cesar Jota and later, Turo Valenzona served as the next two coaches within one year, before paving the way for Nat Canson's ascension as the new head coach.
"Dun gumanda ang team namin sa Hills Bros.," Alolor said, noting that under Canson's watch the Coffee Kings played well together despite having no superstar.
Alolor and Naning Valenciano served as outside gunners for Hills Bros., while Marte Saldana handled the point guard duties. Yoyoy Villamin and Ricky Relosa, known as the "Bruise Bros", provided the solid interior defense and rebounding that helped the Coffee Kings reach the finals in the All-Filipino and Reinforced Conferences of the 1987 season.
Alolor was a rugged player and played with a lot of passion. One time, he got into a fistfight with Rudy Distrito during their brief time together at Alaska.
"Part of the team yang mag-away-away sa Alaska pero kumpare ko naman si Rudy," he said with a smile. "Nagkasuntukan kami so medyo na agrabyado siya (Distrito) dahil di siya nakaganti, pero bale wala naman sa akin yun."
Alolor's pro career was a roller-coaster ride from there as he was left without a team at the start of the 1989 season, forcing him to play in the PBL with Crispa 400 under Valenzona. But after one conference in the PBL, Dalupan, who was already handling Purefoods, recalled Alolor by signing him to add some veteran presence to a young Hotdogs side.
His stint at Purefoods was shortlived, though, as the Hotdogs eventually dropped Alolor to the expansion pool. He was taken by Pepsi, one of two new ballclubs at the start of the 1990 PBA season.
Alolor provided veteran presence for a young Pepsi/7-Up side, which reached the 1992 Third Conference finals with sweet-shooting import Delano Demps leading the way. But Swift, led by "Hurricane" Tony Harrism swept 7-Up, 4-0 in the best-of-seven title series.
Alolor, who spent his final years playing for Ginebra in the 1993 and 1994 seasons mostly on the bench, looks back on his 14-year PBA career with fondness. He knows he gave his best and fulfilled his childhood dream of playing in the pro league.
"Satisfied ako as a basketball player dahil ang career ko mataas din sa PBA. Nagsawa din ako sa basketball eh kasi mostly, bihira lang ang makarami sa years of play sa PBA," he said. "Saka dun ko nakuha yung 5,000 points ko (sa Ginebra)."
Alolor said he was glad to cap his PBA career playing for Jaworski, whom he engaged in physical skirmishes during his early years in the pro league.
"Magaling naman si coach so minsan pabayaan ka niya, 'Mag-one-on-one kayo basta kaya mo.' Eh yun ang ginawa ni Noli (Locsin)," said Alolor. "Magaling din magbigay si coach ng mga plays, pero di lang ako type ni coach. Di ako masyado nagamit so naisip ko na last (stretch na ng) career ko ito. Ganun talaga, may katapusan din."
Alolor ended his 14-year career with a scoring average of 8.4 points in 601 games.