Q&A with Manny Pacquiao’s new deputy coach Chris Gavina

In its 1st 5 conferences in the PBA, Mahindra playing coach Manny Pacquiao had to rely a lot on a solid lead assistant, who has a good grasp of basketball, given his hectic schedule that included boxing, business, along with being the congressman in his hometown in Saranggani.

The Enforcers, then known as KIA Carnival during their maiden conference in the 2015 Philippine Cup, began the season with Glen Capacio helping out Pacquiao at the sidelines.

Chito Victolero then, took over beginning in last season’s Commissioner’s Cup, compiling a 15-29 win-loss record during his 4-conference stint.

Victolero though stepped down last Wednesday, citing among others, personal reasons like health and the decision to focus on a small family business he runs.

On Friday, Mahindra team manager Eric Pineda announced that they have elevated strength and conditioning coach Chris Gavina to lead assistant coach, making the latter the newest alter ego of Pacquiao.

For basketball fans, Gavina is a virtual unknown since he never played in the PBA D-League, the defunct Philippine Basketball League, or even the PBA.

FOX Sports decided to get in touch with Gavina so he could personally talk about his background, how he got involved at Mahindra and what his plans are, now that he’ll be running the day-to-day practice and help Pacquiao call the shots in the PBA.

FOX Sports: How did you take the appointment or promotion at Mahindra?

Coach Chris Gavina: I honestly did not expect to be appointed as the coach to fill in for coach Chito Victolero. I was just as surprised as everyone else when it was announced at our last coaches’ meeting with management. In my eyes, coach Chito was doing a tremendous job in leading and improving our team conference to conference. I don’t think it has truly set in yet, but I am very excited at the opportunity and what I lacked in experience, I will more than make up for with my relentless work ethic and willingness to continually evolve as a coach.

FOX Sports: How are you taking the new coaching challenge, having had no prior coaching experience in the PBA or PBA D-League?

Coach Chris Gavina: I am extremely grateful at the opportunity being given to me by our management. I will take this challenge on one day at a time and not look too far ahead so that I can concentrate and focus on the team’s present situation. With the help of our coaching staff and management, I would like to create a gold standard for our organization that will pave the way in building the core values needed to breed a champions mentality. Our head coach Manny Pacquiao is a true champion and I feel we should establish a culture that mirrors boss Manny’s warrior champion spirit.

FOX Sports: Will Mahindra fans expect major changes in the team’s system, both defense and offense?

Coach Chris Gavina: I believe we will take on more of an “enforcer” mentality especially on defense. Defense will be our primary pillar of strength that will define us as a team. Our team manager Eric Pineda told us the old adage that “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” I know it’s extremely cliche but defense will be our foundation and our focal point as we start practice next week. It’s fairly simple, if you don’t have the fire or the passion to play defense, then you will not be given the reward of playing time. It’s that simple for me. As far as offense, all I can say is we will be an exciting team to watch. We will be bringing a Bruce Lee approach to our offense. As he stated, “to be like water” so we will be in constant flux, basically a “position-less” offense where we are constantly changing pace, roles, and tempo as we feel suited will best put us in a situation for success.

FOX Sports: Do we expect player movements in the upcoming days?

Coach Chris Gavina: I am not in a position to say what player movements our organization will be executing in the next couple of days. We are simply focused on our current players and their development as individuals and as a team.

FOX Sports: As far as player personnel is concerned, do you have the liberty to tap players and trade for players that yo feel can be of help in achieving Mahindra’s PBA goals?

Coach Chris Gavina: Management as well as myself and our coaching staff have an open forum in regards to player personnel and we are in constant communication at all levels of team needs in order to bring in players that would become vital assets to our team.

FOX Sports: What type of import does Mahindra need to get into the playoffs?

Coach Chris Gavina: From past conferences and our current roster, we feel we need an import who has an unrelenting “motor.” An import capable of dominating both ends of the floor at the same time to make our current players perform at a higher level. We would want a high character import who puts the team’s best interest above his own because that is the ego-less culture we would like to instill for Mahindra.

FOX Sports: How did you start your basketball career in the Philippines?

Coach Chris Gavina: First, my dad’s name is Sonny Gavina and my mom is Lilia Torres-Gavina. Both my parents are Filipinos. My dad just passed away last year and my mom is retired and lives here in the Philippines now. I was born here in the Philippines and we migrated to Jersey City, New Jersey when I was 3 years old.

I was already a full-time formulation chemist working for L’Oreal prior to my decision to leave my job in New Jersey and pursue a life-long dream of playing professionally in the Philippines. I arrived in the Philippines in 2008 with eyes wide shut. I’ve already undergone 3 knee surgeries but yet, that fire inside me to pursue a dream of playing in the Philippines always haunted me while I was in the United States.

Leaving everything behind in the United States was the greatest decision I could have ever made in my life. I came to the Philippines with an unrelenting belief that I would play out here. I first rented out basketball gyms so I could do my training by myself, and after a few months, I was able to join in tryouts for a couple of Liga Pilipinas teams. It wasn’t till I received a call from the team liaison of the Quezon Red Oilers, who were stationed in my dad’s hometown of Lucena, was I able to tryout and finally get on my first team here in the Philippines. Although I didn’t really play much for coach Oliver Bunyi, I learned plenty along the way. After Quezon, I managed to reach out to coach Al Solis in Cebu and he told me if I was willing to fly to Cebu on my own volition and cost, I could tryout for him. So I bought a one-way ticket to Cebu because I had no intention of not making his team. After a week of tryouts, I was able to impress coach Al with my floor leadership and defensive tenacity and he put me on his team.

FOX Sports: How did you end up as a strength and conditioning coach after Cebu?

Coach Chris Gavina: After finishing out my contract with Mandaue, I moved back to Manila and I started to coach at Coach E basketball. That’s where I had the privilege of coaching GlobalPort boss Erik Arejola’s son. Boss Erik had brought up to me that his team AirAsia Philippine Patriots had been conducting interviews for a strength and conditioning coach and I informed him of my background as a certified strength and conditioning specialist. I already knew I needed an edge to get my foot in the door to become a coach out here in the Philippines because I simply did not have the connections to even be considered for an assistant coaching position anywhere.

I was able to provide an impressive training program for the Patriots, who was coached by coach Glenn Capacio at the time. After my 1st practice of putting the Patriots through my program, I was gladly hired by boss Erik Arejola as the Patriots head strength and conditioning coach for the 3rd season of the ABL back in 2011. I was eventually brought up by boss Mikee Romero’s GlobalPort team in the PBA in 2012. I owe a lot of gratitude to boss Mikee Romero, boss Erik Arejola and coach Glenn Capacio for giving me my first opportunity to get into the coaching ranks here in the Philippines.

FOX Sports: Did you play college basketball in the US?

Coach Chris Gavina: I attended and played college ball at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, where I graduated with a degree in Chemical Biology. After having my jersey retired and inducted to the Stevens Athletic Hall of Fame, it was my dad, Sonny Gavina, who insisted that should not live a life of regret by not chasing my dream of playing professionally in the PBA.

FOX Sports: Have u already heard of the PBA before while you were still in the US? How do you find the competition in the PBA initially?

Coach Chris Gavina: My dad was such a basketball fanatic. When I was young, we always had calendars of San Miguel teams in our restaurant in Jersey City. So I knew who Norman Black was, Samboy Lim, Mon Fernandez, and of course, (Sonny) Jaworski.

But I never really had any intention of playing out here. I just wanted to use basketball to get a free education and not burden my lola and dad in college tuition fees.

Competition in the PBA is not so much physical as it is mental. You have to be able to have the mental toughness to deal with the physicality of players in the PBA. If you show weakness here, you will be eaten alive. Players in the PBA are elite players who display a high level of skill sets as well as any other Southeast Asian country I have had the opportunity of encountering.

FOX Sports: What can fans expect from Mahindra under your partnership with playing coach Manny Pacquiao starting in the Governors Cup?

Coach Chris Gavina: With the partnership of coach Manny Pacquiao and our entire coaching staff consisting of myself, legendary coach Joe Lipa, coach Rob Wainwright, coach Marlon Martin, coach Alex Angeles, coach Rich Alvarez and coach Mulong Orillosa along with our management, fans can expect an extremely high-octane, tough and gritty defensive-minded team. Our players will look to play a “pure”, selfless, attacking, unorthodox style of basketball that will provide fans an entertaining and thrilling style of basketball that will get them off their feet cheering us on. – By Richard Dy

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava