MANILA, NOVEMBER 22, 2003  (STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - Red Bull Barako shocked basketball fans twice this week, and not for welcome reasons. In Wednesdays final game of the PBA Reinforced Conference quarterfinals, the Barako succumbed to the Talk N Text Phone Pals, but not before a scandalous foul by Jimwell Torion, who hacked Phone Pals point guard Jimmy Alapag across the face with 48 seconds to go and Red Bull already out of it.

"Torion hit Jimmy across the face with something like a punch," recalled Talk N Text team manager Frankie Lim. "And it hit the bridge of his nose. It was dislocated."

Torion was thrown out of the game to the boos and chants of "Addict! Addict!" in reference to his being caught using illegal drugs after a game in Cebu earlier this year. Alapag was rushed to Medical City, where it was discovered that the bridge of his nose had, in fact, been shattered. A plaster mask was fitted over his face temporarily, but it could not disguise the blackening and swelling of his nose and eyes. He had trouble talking, not just from the pain, but from the constriction of the mask.

"Im so sad that this happened," Lim told The Star at the emergency room of Medical City Wednesday night. "We lost our best point guard. The doctors are doing everything so he can play, but well be lucky if we have him back for the semifinals."

Alapag was operated on Thursday at 1 p.m. in a painful procedure to lift the bridge of his nose back to its original position. But the impact of the incident left a deep scar on his team.

"We call our league Ito ang game ko and we say the people are behind us, then we let something like this happen," said a grave and visibly angry Joel Banal, head coach of the Phone Pals. "Im afraid for Jimwell, because Im a believer in what you sow is what you reap. What goes around, comes around. Im really afraid that this will come back at him."

"I think the PBA should look at this seriously," Lim cautions. "Its so sad for something like this to happen in an important game, or even in a regular game. We will do everything we can to straighten this out," he promised.

In the aftermath of a conference wherein Red Bull won ten straight games and was eliminated, the entire coaching staff resigned en masse, and were scheduled to turn in their courtesy resignations in to team owner George Chua yesterday afternoon. Head coach Yeng Guiao and team manager Tony Chua said they would abide by whatever their boss would say.

"After the game, we were disappointed," said Guiao, who piloted Red Bull to back to back titles in this conference in 2001 and 2002. "Somebody has to take responsibility, and it will be best for us to accept whatever consequences there are for us."

"There was no plan for this," reveals Chua. "Thursday, we both decided. I feel it is my responsibility. There was no problem at all. I just feel command responsibility."

After rising to its first title in a then-record two seasons, it looked like Red Bull was on a roll. In this years draft, they picked up UAAP MVP Enrico Villanueva, and later in the year added point guard Topex Robinson for stability in the backcourt. Starting guard Willie Miller was the PBAs Most Valuable Player. Their frontline was solid, the backcourt spectacular.

Along the way, some seemingly minor hiccups surfaced. First was the row with import Tony Lang, who was dismissed in the finals during Red Bulls title retention bid. Then came the Fil-Am investigation and allegations of harassment against starter Davonn Harp. The tightening drug investigations netted Torion. Still and all, the big Red Bull machine was chugging along, notching strings of victories each conference. All along were minor irritants, like the inconsistency of some players in attending their morning plyometric sessions. The one thing missing, it seemed, was a strong finish, particularly in big games.

Guiao, Chua and company feel that a change is imminent. What exactly is needed, nobody can yet say. But they have a couple of months to sort everything out, throw out whats stale and come up with a new approach to winning. They could end up trading today for tomorrow.

Its all in their hands.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved