Throwback Thursday: Perry Ronquillo, the PBA’s ‘cerebral’ coach

In today’s fast-paced PBA games, athletic players and the ever-evolving style of plays, probably just a few among today’s young generation of basketball fans would remember Perry Ronquillo.

You see, Ronquillo used to pit coaching wits against some of the PBA’s multi-titled coaches like Tim Cone, Jong Uichico, Yeng Guiao and Norman Black during the late 1990s.

He served as the head coach of Shell in 1998, taking over the reins from Chito Narvasa (now the PBA commissioner) up to the time he decided to leave the franchise at the end of the 2003 season.

To people close to the former La Salle player, Ronquillo was a cerebral coach.  His championships were led by the stars of the previous PBA generation led by Benjie Paras, Vic Pablo, Fil-American Chris Jackson and Gerry Esplana.

In his 6-year coaching tenure, Ronquillo won 2 PBA titles, guiding Shell to a tight, 4-3 Finals victory over Mobiline (now Tropang TNT) in the 1998 Governors Cup, before outlasting a tough Tanduay team, 4-2 in the 1999 All-Filipino Finals.

He won the Baby Dalupan Trophy as Coach of the Year in 1998 and 1999.

Ronquillo has been away from the Philippines for 12 years now, migrating in the United States with his family in 2004 where he currently works as a cash office specialist in Northern California.

But FOX Sports had a chance to touch base with Ronquillo recently, and gratefully, he talked about his coaching journey in the PBA.

Early coaching lessons

In retrospect, Ronquillo said he never really wanted to be a head coach when his career began as an assistant coach during the early 1990s.

In 1994, Ronquillo was tapped by Norman Black to be one of his assistants when the PBA-backed national team composed of some players from San Miguel and Purefoods represented the country in the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan.

Although the Philippines could only place fourth behind Japan in the battle for bronze, Ronquillo said his stint as an assistant coach in the national team as well as his time in the Philippine Basketball League and the UAAP somehow, prepared him for the “big break” in the PBA.

“Before the PBA, I had stints in the PBL (Philippine Basketball League), UAAP and the National team as an assistant in 1994.  It was truly a great learning experience transitioning from an assistant to head coach since it kind of softened the shock for me,” recalled Ronquillo.

Among the many coaches he had worked with, the now US-based former coach credited Narvasa for helping him become decisive coach.

“Being under Chito made me a more decisive coach. We had different personalities but in the end, I learned from him that as a coach, you cannot second guess yourself too much,” he added.

Narvasa remembered that by the time he arrived at Shell in 1996, Ronquillo was already sitting as an assistant coach.

The first-year PBA commissioner recalled that Ronquillo was “an easy person to get along with.”

“Perry is such an easy guy to get along with. Up to now, we’re good friends. We still keep in touch with each other,” recalled Narvasa.

Although Narvasa never won a PBA championship with Shell, he was proud of the fact that he and Ronquillo worked together in assembling a cast that would eventually bring 2 league titles for the franchise.

“I’m very happy we built the team together from 1996 and then nung umalis ako, tinuloy niya and then namunga.  I think the next year nag-champion na eh,” he said, while beaming with pride.

Before leaving Shell, Narvasa managed to steer the Turbo Chargers to the Finals in the 1996 Commissioner’s Cup.

Import Ken Redfield, a triple-double specialist, was at the forefront of the team’s solid run during the mid-season conference as Shell earned the right to face a star-studded Alaska side.

But injuries eventually to starting playmaker Ronnie Magsanoc and Benjie Paras dampened Shell’s title chances as Narvasa’s ball club fell, 4-3 against Alaska. The Milkmen eventually went to win the Governors Cup title, en route to registering just the pro league’s 4th Grand Slam crown in PBA history.

Defensive coach

Narvasa said proof of Ronquillo’s “coaching genius” was his ability to help Shell become a tough, defensive unit.

During their coaching partnership, Narvasa admitted liking the high-octane offense more than teaching defense to the players.

“He (Ronquillo) was more of a defensive coach, while I’m more of an offensive coach kasi gusto ko fastbreak. Gusto ko mataas ang score. Gusto ko paikot lagi ng bola, gusto kong magturo ng mga galaw. Ayaw ko talaga mag-depensa,” he said.

“So tamang tama yung balanse namin. It was a very good combination with having Perry there.”

Before leaving Shell in 1998, Narvasa said they made some personnel changes, which he felt prepared Ronquillo for greatness.

“We traded some people, got some people at yun na mismo ang naging core,” he said.

Chris Jackson, a no non-sense defender came on board, along with veteran playmaker Gerry Esplana, who swapped teams with Esplana. Vic Pablo also arrived during their time in the place of Bong Alvarez, while Jun Marzan provided the energy and defense.

Ronquillo said his two league championships were never handed to them in a silver platter.

While busy preparing for the PBA Finals in 1998, an emotional Ronquillo recalled how difficult it was to be away from his mother, who was battling for dear life in New York.

“I won two championships and both of them were very memorable since I was facing challenges left and right. My mom was dying in New York during the first championship series,” he said.

Led by import John Best, Shell overcame a 2-3 Finals deficit by winning Games 6 and 7 to overcome Mobiline in seven games.

The following season, Shell returned to the Finals in the All-Filipino where Ronquillo’s team faced off with Tanduay, powered by solid Fil-Am big men Sonny Alvarado and Eric Menk.

Considering that Tanduay manhandled Alaska in the semis to reach the championship round, Ronquillo admitted Shell was installed as the underdog.

But the Turbo Chargers, who opened the Finals with a 91-84 loss, won 4 of the next 5 games to hand Ronquillo his 2nd PBA championship.

Itch for basketball

Ronquillo said his busy work for over a decade in the US has kept him out of the loop in the PBA.

However, the former Shell mentor said he’s well aware that PBA players these days have veered away from the one-on-one style of play that characterized the last decade of the 20th century.

“I really don’t follow the PBA that much anymore due to lack of time, but I’m aware of how the players have become more athletic and how the game has evolved into a quicker game which really emphasizes the talented perimeter and long range game of the Filipinos,” explained Ronquillo.

Though out of coaching for the last 12 years, Ronquillo is feeling the itch to get involved in basketball again.

“I am trying to set up a camp here (in the US) catering to all. I  am also looking at other possible sports related businesses,” shared Ronquillo.

“I’ve recently sent out my resume to some colleges. I am aware I have to start from the bottom again so I apply for assistant coaching jobs.”

Should plans don’t miscarry, Ronquillo plans to come back and have a vacation in Manila next year.

Will PBA fans see him make a coaching comeback? Only time will tell. – Richard Dy

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava

Photo taken from Perry Ronquillo’s official Facebook account