The 2015-16 PBA season is undoubtedly exciting for basketball fans due to the presence of young blood from the amateur ranks.
But for Barangay Ginebra’s die-hard fans, the 41st PBA season could be the last time that they will see the long-time backcourt tandem of Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand playing together.
The entry of guards LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado and rookie Earl Scottie Thompson meant a significant reduction on the minutes of Ginebra’s longtime resident stars like Caguioa and Helterbrand.
The six-foot Caguioa still averages a decent 21 minutes per contest, but Helterbrand’s playing time is at its lowest in his career at 3.8 minutes in the ongoing PBA Governors Cup.
Father Time has certainly caught up with the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2009.
A direct hire of Ginebra after playing briefly for the Batangas Blades in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association, Helterbrand, the Kentucky State alum started making heads turn when he joined the PBA in 2000.
But his stock rose in his sophomore season when he first paired with Caguioa during the latter’s rookie year in 2001.
Developing chemistry at the backcourt wasn’t a problem for the young Ginebra duo as their speedy approach to the game earned them the moniker “the Fast and the Furious”.
The Gin Kings went on to win 4 championships with the duo leading the pack, capped by their 2008 Fiesta Conference championship via a seven-game series against Air21.
But in the years following Ginebra’s last championship, “The Fast and the Furious” tandem don’t play that many minutes anymore.
The 16-year pro though, could held his head high, considering that he’s just one of those rare breeds in the PBA who have managed to play for one franchise.
While he still mulls on retiring at the end of the Governors’ Cup, Helterbrand gamely discussed to FOX Sports his feel for the game now, his friendship with Caguioa nicknamed ‘The Spark’, his desire to win a championship for the fans and his one final wish before calling it quits.
FOX Sports: You’re set to turn 40 this October, and being one of the few active ‘senior citizens’ in the league, how do you approach this season-ending conference?
Jayjay: For me it feels great, like I told many people before, I can’t see myself playing for another franchise, and to be for 16 years is really a blessing. I really thank the management, my prior bosses up to my bosses now, and really give me credit for sticking me and Mark, and really allowing us to build a family here at Ginebra. To experience, the ups, the downs, and the ups again, I really think that even if we are gone, Ginebra has really a bright future.
FOX Sports: As you approach the tail-end of your PBA career, do you have any basketball regrets?
Jayjay: Not really, because I think I had a good basketball career, I accomplished all that I could accomplish. I have won every individual major awards, I have won multiple championships, which is the most important thing. I’m also part of the greatest player of all time, which is a great feeling just to be in that list. Anything now is just a bonus. Hopefully, I can win another one before my time’s up and be ready for the next chapter, see what happens.
FOX Sports: Do you feel you have achieved everything you wished for?
Jayjay: I think I have. What more I can do? I experienced (playing in) the national team. Maybe that would be the one thing I wish I could have done better. I wish I could play on the national team and experiencing winning on the national team, making it to the Olympics, and qualifying, things like that. That would be my one and only thing I wish I could go back and redo.
FOX Sports: In your 16 years with Ginebra, do you think your team is still the crowd-darling in this league?
Jayjay: Honestly, I think now it’s close between Purefoods (Star) and Ginebra. Purefoods has grown with a lot of fans and I think they’re right up there with Ginebra now. That’s why as a team, I think we really need to win to bring back the other fans, and I think we’ve maybe lost interest on it a little bit but as a die-hard, solid Ginebra fans, those have been the one with us through think and thin, and those are the ones we play for. They are amazing, like I said we haven’t won a championship in 8 years, but we’re still one of the most popular teams in the league. Back then, I could say that we are the most popular team in the league, hands down. I think now, we’re building up to that point again, trying to win back our fans and the best way to do that is to win championships.
FOX Sports: Have you ever felt like giving up with all the bashing and criticisms, especially on your current 8-year championship drought?
Jayjay: Never. Before I relished it, I was never afraid to fail. When people don’t support me or hate me, that’s fire for me, that’s more for me that really want to go out and succeed and I think that’s why I have had a successful career no matter what anyone can say. They say ‘laos na ako’, but it doesn’t matter. I have accomplished a lot in my career. I had a great career. I have proven to the franchise that I’m a winner. Father Time just catching up with you, no one beats Father Time and I don’t care who you are, that’s where I am heading right now. But don’t get me wrong, I still think I could contribute. Maybe not as fast as I used to be, and my stamina is not as good before, I think I can still help the team win.
FOX Sports: What’s your secret to your PBA longevity?
Jayjay: Taking care your body, you make sure you stay away from injuries. That’s where taking care of your body comes in, and also you’re character, the way you get along with the management, your teammates. the coaching staff, and also praying. God has the control of everything, you really got to pray, just give Him the control and He will be the one who will put you where you’re supposed to.
FOX Sports: What’s your greatest moment as a Ginebra player?
Jayjay: Of course, the championships. Each and every one had its special moment, each and everyone have its different challenges and to me, out of everything I have accomplished, those are the most I take by the day. It’s winning those championships.
FOX Sports: How did your friendship with longtime teammate and pal Mark Caguiao evolve?
Jayjay: Well, ever since day one, we’ve clicked and just over the years we became friends, we started from friends, then best friends, up to basically family. It’s more than friendship now, he’s like a brother to me and this is a kind of friendship, you’re brotherhood is gonna last even after playing basketball. If I’m retired, and he’s still playing, we’re still gonna be friends up to our wheelchair. We’re gonna cross.
FOX Sports: Has it ever dawned on you that you will play for the PBA’s winningest coach Tim Cone?
Jayjay: I never thought in my entire career that Tim Cone would end up in Ginebra, I’ve always pictured him as Alaska coach, Purefoods coach. The guy has a great winning record in those teams. It was kind of shocking, but hey, he’s here now so we got to make the most of it and use his championship experiences to allow us to win some championships now.
FOX Sports: What are your future plans when you decide to retire?
Jayjay: Right now, I’m just leaving everything up to God. The next chapter of my life is really more focused on my family. I sacrificed being away with my family for almost my entire career basically. So I could have a good life for them, to be able to support them and now, just enjoy spending time with them now and really enjoy the fruit of my labor with them so that’s the main thing, especially my mom is getting older and my kids.
FOX Sports: One final wish?
Jayjay: Of course, it will be that this team would be blessed with another championship with this team. I know the hard work each and everyone is putting in the team, the players put in. It would be great to cap it off.