Two years ago, the Alaska team almost made it to the play-offs of the 2011 PBA Governor's Cup only to be beaten out by Petron by virtue of the quotient factor. The team was led by import Jason Forte, who at the first few games were quite unsure of themselves, but gradually developed into a tough team that had a great run at the end of the elimination round. However, it was not the fate of this team to go to the play-offs despite playing well and finishing the elims as the hottest team of the league. The team actually had high hopes coming for the next season because the team was intact, the rookies drafted all seem to be good additions to the team.
Then the team was hit by the unexpected blow. Tim Cone asked Fred Uytengsu to release him from Alaska. And suddenly, the team was left without the constant figure of our leader. Cone moved to a SMC team, while Alaska literally looked liked a lost dog. It struggled to get wins despite an intact line-up. It finished its first conference without Tim Cone ranking 9th with a 3-11 win/loss record. The year actually turned out to be the worst in the franchise's history in the PBA. A lot of fans left, a few of us stayed. It was painful to watch the team struggle. To watch the team get frustrated because the players know they can do better but just can't seem to get things going right. Coach Joel Banal couldn't get the winning formula for 2 conferences, so Coach Luigi Trillo was tapped to be the interim coach for the 2012 Governor's Cup but the team still continued the downward spiral.
Rumors were circulating that the team is leaving the PBA because they just can't compete with the big teams of Cojuangco and Pangilinan. But Fred Uytengsu stayed firm. He hasn't given up on his team, and so why should we? He made a shocking decision to offer Luigi Trillo the permanent position to coach his beloved Alaska Aces. Doubts arose, from basketball analysts to fans like me. Coach Luigi's coaching career is tainted with his 0-28 record in the UAAP when he coached the Adamson Falcons. He hasn't won anything whether in the D-league or PBL and his coaching stint at the 2012 Governor's Cup was a measly 2-7 record, the second 9th ranking for the Aces in 1 season.
But Fred saw something in the young coach and I guess, his gut told him to give Luigi a chance. So the fans trusted Coach Luigi because Mr. Uytengsu trusted him. Luigi was then given the freedom to choose his coaching staff and make changes to the team. And he chose well. He brought in Louie Alas and Alex Compton. Topex Robinson was retained. He brought in 7 new players in the Aces and the biggest player that he had to let go was LA Tenorio. LA has been Alaska's premiere point guard for several years now. His career blossomed with the Aces and he was the orchestrator on court. But I guess, letting LA go was a blessing in disguise. The Aces were able to get Jvee Casio and veteran DonDon Hontiveros in return. Other new players were RJ Jazul, Raffy Reyes, Karl Dehesa, Aldrich Ramos and of course, the stellar rookie, Calvin "The Beast" Abueva. Veteran Nic Belasco also returned. The Aces team that Coach Luigi formed was definitely a new team, a mix of young and veteran players, but all with one goal. To get back to the winning tradition of Alaska and put the team back on top of the league.
The start of the 2012-2013 PBA season was an average start for the team, but sooner, rather than later, the team found it's groove. And all of a sudden, the team was winning again! The team chemistry improved game after game, the players learned to trust each other, from their fellow teammates to their coaching staff. However, the Aces run was ended after losing to eventual 2013 All-Filipino Cup champion TNT in their semifinals, 4-2. But despite the loss, you can see that the team has improved massively from the team that they were a year ago. They no longer looked lost, not knowing how to win. This time, they know what they are doing on-court and you can see in every players' eyes that they mean business.
This attitude continued to the 2013 Commissioner's Cup. They got the perfect import in Robert Dozier. The team's motto for the year is "We Not Me" and indeed, the team showed that there is not one superstar in the team. With this mentality, everyone is contributing, doing his own share for the end goal of winning. And because of this great chemistry, attitude and focus on one common dream, a championship, that dream was realized. The Alaska Aces dominated the 2013 Commissioner's Cup, losing only 4 times the whole conference. It was as if everyone wanted to prove that the Aces can win again. That the Aces can recover from their worst season in the PBA and get back to their winning ways again. To prove that they can win without Tim Cone and to prove that they can beat Tim Cone.
And it was as if fate was testing them when the team had to face the Cone-led San Mig Coffee Mixers in the Semifinals. The Aces has yet to beat Cone ever since he left the team. And after losing the first game of their series, it was as if, the curse isn't going to be broken just yet. But the team proved that they are a better team now. They proved that they wouldn't just go down without a fight. They have come a long way since the start of the season. They are playing their best basketball ever since the new team was formed. From here, they were finally able to bounce back and break the losing streak, winning convincingly in the 2nd game of the series. And to prove their resilience, to prove that they want nothing but a ring on their finger, they won the last 2 games of the series in a come-from-behind fashion. Since their first win against Tim Cone, they never looked back. Despite the huge wins, the team was so focused in getting the championship that they never celebrated their big victories against San Mig Coffee.
Come the Finals, they pounced Ginebra and sweeped the Finals series, 3 games to nil, to finally win their franchise's 14th crown. The team was so prepared in the series that no matter what Ginebra throws at them, they are able to counter. And when the final buzzer finally sounded, the balloons falling on them on the court, we finally saw the players actually celebrating. The huge pressure was released and they got what they wanted. The team that had something to prove has proven that they can get back on top of the PBA and be one of the best teams in the league once again.
Each championship is very sweet and this one truly has it's own way of being special. It's the start of a new winning era for Alaska. And for sure, this team wants more. As they say, when you're at the bottom, there's no way to go back up. The Aces hit rock-bottom after Cone's departure. And indeed, they went nowhere but up. They didn't stop until they reached the highest point and be crowned Champions once again. Cliche as it may sound, this time, it again rings true...Wala Pa Ding Tatalo sa Alaska.