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Coach Ryan Gregorio looks back at the time he built Purefoods' Big 3

by Reynald Magallon, May 28, 2020 9:56am

After winning his first PBA championship in his rookie year in coaching, and against a great mentor in the then-Alaska head coach Tim Cone, in 2002, Purefoods head coach Ryan Gregorio said he had rough times before making it back to the promised land once again.

Trying to move forward from the retirement of the franchise's face Alvin Patrimonio, Gregorio and  Purefoods were scampering to rebuild the team.

They found a potential franchise player in James Yap in 2004 PBA draft. Signed PJ Simon, a free agent who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 PBA draft and traded for a raw and tenacious Marc Pingris, not knowing the trio would eventually become the cornerstone for the franchise's next seven championships.

Photo from James Yap IG account

For Gregorio, there was no doubt that Yap will be the next face of the franchise in the post-Patrimonio era. The three-time PBA coach of the year was completely sold on drafting the UE Red Warriors standout as the second pick. 

"We have to pick the right pieces to get to the promised land, James Yap was there. The best pick in that particular season. I was hoping James would fall in our lap," said Gregorio in an episode of the 2OT podcast hosted by PBA anchors Magoo Marjon and Carlo Pamintuan.

"I was just dead set, this guy won a lot of personal awards in the UAAP but never a championship so the moment he steps in the PBA you could just imagine how hungry that guy is," the veteran mentor recalled.

Gregorio, however, knew it will take more than just Yap to make it back to the Finals. He needs a reliable supporting cast and maybe even dance partners to take on the league. Simon then enters the scene.

Seeing 'Scoring Apostle' during his days in the PBL, Gregorio knew he was just a cut above the rest.

"He was playing for the rival team of the guys I drafted, Welcoat pa nun eh, James, Paul Artadi, Jojo Tangkay, kumpleto rekado yun but here comes PJ, by his lonesome, playing for Fash, was unstoppable, and when I say unstoppable, the guys is legit," said Gregorio.

The now-Meralco alternate Governor was fascinated by Simon's skills set. What more impressed Gregorio, is that Simon doesn't need to take a lot of shots to get his numbers.

"He comes off the pick shoot the perimeter jumper. He runs in transition gets the ball finishes with impunity, ganun kagaling yung bata. This guy doesn't need to get a lot of shots to get points. Ultraefficient guy," he added.

Completing the triumvirate was the addition of Pingris, who back then, Gregorio described as a raw but enthusiastic player. Pingris needed still some fine-tuning, but he blossomed under Gregorio's tutelage. Gregorio knew that Pinoy Sakuragi has the potential to become one of the best in the league.

"His raw enthusiasm, that is where it all started, this guy came from a school of hard knocks and every time you see people like that, you know they're gonna fight to survive, to put food on the table and always try to wiggle off many challenges just to make sure their head is above the water, that's exactly what I saw with Marc Pingris," he said of the many time all-defensive team member.

"Talagang nung araw kung saan saan ang utak niyan, mainitin ang ulo, neither here nor there he was not really sure where he is heading," he further recalled.

A player's coach that he is, Gregorio said he tried to listen to his players and give value to their opinions, that exactly how he molded Pingris and turn the rough rock into a diamond that he is today.

"He would come to my house, together with his father and tell me 'coach 'nung di ko pa nakikita yung tunay na tatay ko ikaw yung naging tatay ko'. But from a coaching standpoint exactly the essential that I was teaching my player, this guy turned out to be a diamond."

"That rough enthusiasm, that relentless spirit, that great you know in fighting adversities, I knew would make him a successful person," he added.

In essence, the trio also made Gregorio's name a notable one in  Philippine basketball. Gregorio ended up with three championships under his belt, with the three leading his teams. That trio certainly became one of the greatest as well even if they ended up parting ways with the coach who put them together. They became a vital cog in the San Mig Coffee Grandslam team.

The three are now on the latter part of their careers and they had splendid ones all thanks to the former PBA coach who paved the way to the creation of Purefood's great triumvirate.

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