talk n textManila, July 15, 2003 (Star) In the end, only eight Talk N Text players — with three even hurting — were left standing, surviving a treacherous journey in winning the very first championship of the ballclub in the Philippine Basketball Association. It was certainly no easy trick. Neither was it magic.

Now it can be told. Jimmy Alapag, Victor Pablo and Harvey Carey more than anybody else played hurt in the just-concluded championship.

Alapag injured a hairline fracture on his right rib, Pablo a sore leg and Carey a bruised shoulder.

Only five players finished the conference without injury as Felix Belano hurt his left knee in a collision with Johnny Abarrientos at endgame in Game Six. Talk N Text missed the services of Noli Locsin, Long David and Norman Gonzales, who were all suspended for alleged illegal drug use.

But hurdling all these barriers only made the championship sweeter for the Phone Pals.

"This is special. Imagine all the troubles and the 0-2 deficit we had to overcome in the finals," said Talk N Text coach Joel Banal.

Amidst the din and clutter during their victory celebration at the Dads restaurant in Makati Sunday night, the Phone Pals were one in saying their title conquest was a product of sheer hard work plus their philosophy of working together.

But work hard and work together team owner Manny Pangilinan, board governor Ricky Vargas, alternate board representative Al Panlilio, team manager Frankie Lim, coach Joel Banal and his staff, the players and the support crew really did all conference long. And they were aptly rewarded.

In his speech during the party, Pangilinan mentioned the Gokongwei’s group’s near takeover of the majority shares in the PLDT that threatened the Talk N Text ballclub’s existence in the PBA. Pangilinan then said no one can get rid of his team, adding "over my dead body," a comment that triggered an applause from the players and supporters.

Winning could be addicting that the players have replied with a vow of continued hard work with hopes of delivering more championships in the future.

"I know the system will work. We could win more championships if we stick together. Baka maka-grandslam pa, hindi naman masama ang mangarap," said Vargas.

Of all the teams they have had, Vargas believed the current one got the Holy Grail because of its philosophy to work together and disallow anyone from failing.

"Individual excellence is no guarantee you will win a championship. A team must work together to achieve it," said Vargas, who made special mention of the work his rookie coach — Banal — has done to the team.

"Coach Joel did a great job, motivating his players to get better. He’s almost a psychologist, also a consultant and spiritual leader. He brought the mindset and the morale of the players to championship level," added Vargas of Banal, who scored a sort of a grand slam with the victory.

The 45-year-old mentor became only the second coach after Arturo Valenzona to have won the championships in the NCAA, UAAP, PBL and the PBA. The former Mapua Cardinal also became only the fifth individual to win championships as a player then as a coach in the PBA, following the footsteps of Robert Jaworski, Rino Salazar, Ely Capacio and Norman Black.

However, Banal temporarily relinquishes the reign to assistant coaches Ariel Vanguardia and Virgil Villavicencio as he calls the shots for the Ateneo Blue Eagles in their title-retention bid in the UAAP.

The team takes only a week rest before it plunges back into action, preparing for a bid for what could become the second jewel of a possible grand slam in the Invitational tournament set to start July 27.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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