(MALAYA) BY NOLI CORTEZ - BASKETBALL can sometimes mirror life.

Just confer with Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio, who waxed philosophically to that effect after his teams "miraculous" championship campaign in the KFC-PBA Philippine Cup that ended last Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.

"It can be a preview of what life can be," he stated. "You start slow, you start on the wrong foot, but you have to end the right way and thats exactly what we did. We never gave up."

He was referring to his Giants recovery from a listless start, culminating in an 86-76 win that completed their four-game sweep of the Alaska Aces in their best-of-seven title duel. Before that, they also won their last three games in the semifinals to hurdle San Miguel Beer.

"We were on a rollercoaster ride, we were winning, losing. We were 4-4 in the first eight games and actually punctuating it with seven straight wins? This is really close to impossible, but we did it. So thats what makes this conference more memorable for us," said Gregorio.

The crown is Purefoods eighth overall and fifth in an import-less tournament, tying it with Crispa for the most number of All-Filipino titles.

With his third crownafter the 2002 Governors Cup and 2006 Philippine CupGregorio moved into a tie for 11th place among multi-titled coaches and became the first Purefoods coach to win two All-Filipino championships.

There were other milestones.

It was the first sweep of a best-of-seven title series since the format was institutionalized in 1989. Before this season, Great Taste was the last to wield the big broom in an All-Filipino Finals, needing just three games against Hills Bros in 1987. Swift, meanwhile, was the last to carve a four-game sweep in the finals, against Seven-Up in the 1992 Third Conference.

Topping it all, James Yap copped his first-ever Best Player of the Conference and Handyfix-PBA Press Corps Finals MVP awards, plums he gladly shared with his teammates.

"Ayoko rin namang sabihin na ako lang ang magiging happy," said Yap, also the 2005-06 season MVP. "Malaking bagay ito (championship) dahil dala-dala mo ito habang buhay, di na matatanggal sa katawan mo ito."

Gregorio just wants to savor the victory which seemed only like a distant dream when his team had to go through the wringer of a quarterfinals duel with Rain or Shine that went the full route and then had to battle power-laden SMB through six tough semis games.

And then came Alaska, which emerged from the 18-game eliminations as the top seed, followed by SMB. The two gained outright semis entries.

Throughout the playoffs, Purefoods plodded on, using a blue-collar defense to thwart the tournament favorites. Proof of that was the way it held the Aces to an average of 79 points in the finals.

"We were never really talking about a sweep," related Gregorio. "To tell you honestly, we just wanted to compete, and make sure we have a really close series against them, (the team that) used to be the No. 1 team in the league. But our will really and determination to survive were probably cannot be described in words. We were supposed to be tired, we were supposed to be the inferior team, but again thats what players can do.

"Yes, we were tired on the court, we were tired in our practice sessions, but we prayed harder. Its such a huge blessing our prayers were answered."

Alaska and coach Tim Cone were denied a 13th championship, but Gregorio refused to take all the credit in beating Cone once again in their third head-to-head series, which included coming back from 0-2 and 1-3 deficits in the 02 Governors and 05-06 Philippine Cup semis.

"If it was just a one-on-one fight I would have lost easily. But I relied on my team," said Gregorio. "I use my team as my armor and Im just happy I had the better team every time we go up against each other in a head-to-head basis.

"But coach Tim is on his own. Hes definitely up there and no one even comes close. Im m not having this grand illusion Im gonna be near him, no. Tim Cone is Tim Cone, he is still the best coach in this league. Hes still the winningest active coach right now. He has 12 (titles) I only have three, so its no comparison."

In this particular season, the pieces fell into place for Gregorio, making him fully do away with any thought of giving up the team reins when things went terribly awry for them since their last championship try in the 07-08 Philippine Cup finals against Sta. Lucia Realty. They lost that in seven games.

"Two years ago, I made a lot of Purefoods supporters and fans unhappy with the way I moved certain players. Again Im just so happy my mistakes were rectified," said Gregorio.

"I was able to bring back (Marc) Ping (Pingris), I was able to bring back Paul Artadi. We were able to get Rafi Reavis, we were able to get Rico Maierhofer from the draft, we got Don (Allado), we got KG Canaleta. Everything just fell into their proper place," said Gregorio.

"And James, Kerby (Raymundo), the usual leaders of this team, really performed the way they should perform as leaders. There were times when James and Kerby were not their usual selves and the others just stepped up."

Despite fatigue and the downturn in adrenaline post-championship usually brings, there will be little rest for Purefoods.

"We will definitely not wait for another four years to win another championship," Gregorio said.

Pacquiao-Clottey fight has sold 38,000 tickets

WITH just over a week left before Manny Pacquiao’s title defense against Joshua Clottey at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, at least 38,000 seats have been sold, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Pacquiao, meanwhile, has left nothing to chance in his defense of his World Boxing Organization welterweight crown. He intensified his training Wednesday under the watchful eyes of trainer Freddie Roach, according to Lance Pugmire of the Times.

"There’s no such thing as an easy fight," Pugmire quoted Roach as saying.

Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 knockouts) has religiously followed Roach’s directions at the gritty Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.

"His overall movement—I’ve never seen a fighter develop their ‘other’ hand to the extent Manny has," promoter Bob Arum said. "At this point, his right is as good as his left. You think he’s going to jab, and he throws a hook off the jab."

Pacquiao has worked unflinchingly, according to Pugmire, wrapping his hands in a stifling hot closet, jumping rope for hours, running so long on the concrete of Hollywood that he’s recently developed shin splints.

"Everyone thinks he wins because of his hand speed, but it’s his foot speed," Roach told the Times. "You have to make both feet work together. His hands and feet are in balance, and that’s the difference between him and so many others."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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