Before the 2013 PBA Draft, the only words used to describe Ian Sangalang was that he really, really wanted to be drafted by Ginebra. After he was drafted by the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers, the talk was about his short contract, which was seen as his early out to go to Ginebra.
Sangalang decided to skip his last year with the San Sebastian Stags in the NCAA. He also cut short his last PBA D-League season after winning the MVP trophy. He was the consensus number two pick but he arrived in the PBA to little fanfare.
The number one pick, Greg Slaughter, is now known as Gregzilla. The number three pick, Raymond Almazan, is Rock ‘N Roll, even Justin Melton, his fellow San Mig Super Coffee rookie, has a nickname. Ian Sangalang is still just Ian Sangalang.
But he sure doesn’t mind as he’s now in the Philippine Cup Finals with the Mixers and he’s playing the best basketball of his young career. In Game 2 of the series, he scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.
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“Hindi ko inexpect na maglaro sa finals pero simula pa lang ng season sinabi ko sa sarili ko na kailangan talaga akong maging ready kasi pag binunot ka ni coach Tim [Cone] dapat focused ka,” Sangalang said after the win. He played 22 minutes in the game, the most for the rookies, and tied PJ Simon for a team-high 12 field goal attempts.
“Sabi kasi sa akin ng mga kuya ko, basta open, banat,” he shared. “Sinasabi lang sa akin na defense talaga yung priority namin as a team pero basta open ako, tira ko lang daw.”
He spoke of wanting to play for Ginebra in the pre-season but he’s showing that he wants to win with the Mixers. “Pinapakita ko lang sa kanila na nagpapasalamat ako at kinuha nila ako sa draft,” he shared. “Gusto kong bumawi dun sa ginawa nila para sa akin.”
Cone, the head coach of the Mixers, appreciates everything that their rookie has done for the them so far.
“Ian has been absolutely huge because we have a tendency to overplay our guys. We overplay Ping, Joe [Devance], and Rafi [Reavis],” the coach admitted. “Ian has been God-sent. Mostly because he does everything quietly.”
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“Even in practice he’s very quiet. I think he’s a combination of Bong Hawkins and Reynel Hugnatan,” Cone continued. “He’s that quiet operator that people really don’t notice that much but he’s absolutely killing you. Sometimes teams don’t even realize that Ian is beating them.”
Most of the PBA fans have looked past the big man. In the eliminations, he averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game but few seemed to notice. In comparison, his fellow San Sebastian alum Calvin Abueva normed 12 points and nine rebounds a game in his rookie year. Sangalang, at least in terms of stats, got to, say, 75% of what Abueva had. But would you say he also got 75% of the attention The Beast got? Definitely not.
“A rookie comes in like that and he gets big minutes in important games, sometimes veterans get jealous. But because he’s such a sweet and quiet kid, nobody minds,” Cone said. “Guys like James [Yap], PJ, and Ping are happy for him because he’s a nice guy, hindi mayabang.”
Cone is usually very tough on his rookies. Even when he was with Alaska, only the best ones got regular playing time in their first seasons. Even Mark Barroca played sparingly in his first year under Cone. However, Sangalang managed to break the norm.
“You have to earn it with me,” the coach explained. “That means you have to have an innate understanding of what we demand from you and rookies usually don’t get that. They have to feel their way into the system. But after five practices I felt I was coaching a 35-year-old. He was that intelligent, he got everything instinctively, and he was fluid in everything he did.”
Sangalang may not be as popular as Slaughter or as rock and roll as Almazan. He may not have advertisements like Jeric Teng or have multiple fans clubs like Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia but he’s quietly getting the job done.
“He has that veteran stature,” Cone gushed about his rookie. “It’s hard to believe that he turned 22 a few weeks ago.”