T'was one tough ride, says Isaac

Blackwater Sports may have swept the powerhouse NLEX Road Warriors to win their first-ever PBA D-League championship but for coach Leo Isaac, the road to the top was far from being easy.

''It looked easy. Sweep kasi yung title playoff,'' Isaac said. ''But if one would look back, mahirap.''

The D-League crown had eluded the Dioseldo Sy-owned franchise since becoming one of 13 original members of the league in 2011.

For four conferences, Blackwater endured hardships and even lost two straight semifinal series to Big Chill and Cagayan Valley in the 2012 Foundation Cup and this year's Aspirants Cup, respectively.

But the Elite's fortunes turned around during this Foundation Cup, with Best Player of the Conference nominee Allan Mangahas, former Ateneo center Justin Chua, University of Santo Tomas star Kevin Ferrer and ex-National University mainstay Robby Celiz leading the way.

Isaac's team earned an outright semis slot in the elimination round, and survived the underdog Boracay Rum Waves in three grueling games. That set the stage for the unthinkable.

Blackwater rallied from a 13-point third quarter deficit to stun NLEX in Game 1, 70-67, then scored the breakthrough title in Game 2, 80-74, this time, after falling behind by 14 at the half and 18 in the third.

''Four two conferences in the first year of the D-League in 2011, we did not even make it to the semifinal round. And when we made it to the Final Four in the next two conferences, napako na kami dun,'' said Isaac.

Blackwater was undeterred by the superiority of NLEX, winner of the D-League's first four conferences, believing in the fact that the Road Warriors, a collection of the best amateur players in the land, are beatable.

''Motivational words like 'tao din yang mga yan na di kumakain ng bakal' and 'katulad natin, tinatalaban din yang mga yan ng bala' ang tingin ko nakatulong para palakasin ang loob nila when I noticed na medyo kinakabahan sila,'' Isaac disclosed jestingly. ''Maybe they haven't heard those from their coaches. Eh kami, noong naglalaro ako, malimit naming marinig sa mga coach namin.''

That worked wonders for the team, Isaac said.

But the team will not rest on their laurels as they intent to play several goodwill games in Thailand and perhaps in Indonesia.


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