Photo by the PBA Media Bureau
Despite the challenges that came along the way, the Hotshots made it back to the Finals and they have their coach to thank for
The franchise that is known to older generation of fans as Purefoods, has changed from one name to another during the past few seasons. And they have undergone many roster changes which included the blockbuster swap that sent James Yap to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in exchange for Yap's fellow University of the East alumni, Paul Lee. It seems that this franchise has undergone every basketball-related change and yet, in the past 4 years, they haven't been to the PBA Finals. In those 4 painful years, the team that is now known as the Magnolia Hotshots has gone to the semifinals but not in the finals.
The Magnolia Hotshots are finally back to where they belong: the PBA Finals against the heavily-favored San Miguel Beermen.
Sure, the Hotshots have Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, PJ Simon, Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis to thank for because of the players' efforts in disposing of a young NLEX Road Warriors squad in their semifinal series which ended in a 96-89 Game 6 for the Hotshots. But then, none of these would have been possible if not to the man who has been standing up on the sidelines every single game for Magnolia. That man is, of course, none other than their coach, Chito Victolero.
To begin with, Magnolia's semifinal series against NLEX began by a tragedy as the Hotshots' energetic big man, Marc Pingris, sustained a season-ending ACL injury during the series opener which was won by NLEX, barely. But Chito Victolero kept on preaching consistency in games especially on the defensive which the players eventually got. Even with the lack of chemistry due to multiple players missing games and practices due to injury, Chito Victolero remained optimistic about his team's chances regardless of who they are facing.
With the Finals kicking off tomorrow, Chito Victolero is now being squared off against another experienced and champion coach in Leo Austria. Victolero knows one thing for certain: beating a solid team like the Beermen in a championship series will require the Hotshots to bring out their A+ game every single night. But then, you could simply look at their semifinal series against NLEX. NLEX Coach Yeng Guiao has more playoff experience and has won multiple championships too but he got outcoached by a Chito Victolero who never won a championship as a PBA player. Who knows? He has already led Magnolia back to the Finals after 4 years. He might even give the franchise its first championship since 2013. Ironically, the last time the Purefoods franchise won a title, it was against the Beermen, then known as the Petron Blaze Boosters with a rookie June Mar Fajardo.