It was 2010 when Topex Robinson was given a chance to go back to the PBA.
Robinson was selected 44th overall in the 2001 PBA Rookie Draft by Tanduay but he would not play in the league until coach Yeng Guiao signed him as a back-up point guard with Red Bull in 2003. The point guard, known for his tenacious defense, stayed with Red Bull until he was waived in 2008.
He had a stint with the Purefoods franchise before being left unsigned. Robinson thought his PBA career was over, so he flew to the US to start a new life there.
However, basketball wasn't done with him yet.
"Alaska took me in right before the (2010 Fiesta Conference) quarterfinals," Robinson recalled. "Boss Dickie (Bachmann) messaged me and asked if I still wanted to play. I could not say no because it was a great opportunity. We won the championship and eventually I became an assistant coach."
For coach Tim Cone, Robinson's signing had an instant impact with the Aces.
"He was a great teammate and he made a big impact in the short time he was with us. That was really the key. Even if he was not making a big impact on the court, he made a big impact off the court in terms of his chemistry and being a tremendous locker room guy. He was so interested in the game and he had a demeanor that was so humble," Cone said.
"When his career winding down, when he felt it was his last conference, I talked to Mr. (Fred) Uytengsu and asked him we could add somebody to the coaching staff because we had a full staff at that time," he continued.
"I told him Topex is very special and I wanted to keep him around. I left after that so we didn't get to spend a lot of time together but he had great mentors beyond me in Louie Alas, Alex Compton, Luigi Trillo, and Joel Banal so he's had a really good background of seeing coaches in action."
ROBINSON's stint with Alaska as an assistant coach stretched from 2011 to 2017. During that time, he also coached San Sebastian and then Lyceum in the NCAA. He transferred to Phoenix with Alas as an associate head coach before being named the team's interim head coach prior to the resumption of the 2020 Philippine Cup.
Cone's Barangay Ginebra San Miguel is scheduled to go up against Robinson's Phoenix Super LPG, Wednesday, in a meeting of two teams doing very well inside the PBA Bubble so far. Barangay Ginebra will be coming into that match holding a 3-0 win-loss tally while Phoenix Super LPG is not far behind at 2-1.
For Cone, this matchup also means another opportunity to compete against someone he coached or coached with as Robinson adds to the list that includes Alaska's Jeff Cariaso and Terrafirma's John Cardel.
"I'm very proud that the guys I worked with are getting an opportunity. It's a legacy you want to leave behind and it's great seeing those guys get the chance to lead their teams. Hopefully, they learned a little bit from what we did," Cone reflected.
"Chot (Reyes) and I talked about this a lot. Coaching is really about finding your own niche. You learn from other people, you watch and observe. Whether it'd be a head coach you're working for or from watching video, but it's really about discovering yourself and finding what you like and what you really believe in and what values you have as a coach. It's never about copying. It's about developing your own style from the knowledge you've gathered.
"I think that's so true of John and Topex and Jeffrey, especially. Jeffrey was immersed quite a lot with what we did both as a player and as an assistant coach and yet he still runs his own system. He saw what other coaches have done and he's developed his own style, his own system, and that's the legacy I want to leave behind.
"I don't want people to copy what we did. I want them to find themselves, learn in their own way, and continue to develop and that's what's really cool about these three guys because they're doing that really well."
For Robinson, it's a chance to reflect on the coaching journey he has gone through so far and imagine what's in store for the future.
"I'm going to be forever grateful to Alaska and to coach Tim and I'm excited to go up against them because I know it's going to make me better as a young coach. He gave me that opportunity and that's how my coaching journey started," he said.
"What makes Topex special is his humility," Cone reiterated. "Players buy into that. He's going to be a really good coach and I'm scared like heck to meet him (on Wednesday)."
From being a rookie assistant coach in 2011, Robinson has proven that he deserves to be on the same battleground as Cone, patrolling the sidelines as a head coach in the PBA. Now, as the league's newest head coach, he gets the chance to learn more from the winningest coach in Philippine basketball history, this time as an adversary.