Photo by Jemverick Viray/ The LANCE.
Even before the enhanced community quarantine was implemented, Letran head coach Bonnie Tan had been implementing strict protocols during the Knights' practices.
From wearing facemasks and always keeping their hands clean to practicing social distancing, the Knights were already given a rundown on how to avoid the coronavirus (COVID-19) by their mentor.
"After ng Chinese New Year, aware na kaming lahat sa coronavirus. Ako mismo, being connected sa Filipino-Chinese schools, I was preparing the team na. Two weeks kami walang pasok nun e, after Chinese New Year, pero tuloy-tuloy practice namin nun sa Letran," said Tan, who is entering his second year as the Knights' chief tactician.
"During those times, na-educate ko na yung players sa safety measures para maiwasan yung pagkalat ng virus. We provided facemasks to soaps to alcohol through Alcoplus. Every player always had alcohol and facemasks with them. Pero during practices nun, we practices no touching na -- including no huddles na and magkalayo kami during prayers."
Despite bracing for the worst, Tan can't help but feel for his players.
One of the first canceled events for the team was a trip to Tokyo, Japan back in February. This was the team's reward for winning the NCAA Season 95 Seniors Basketball Tournament last November.
"Na-cancel din yung dapat reward ng mga bata which is a trip to Japan. End of February dapat kami aalis. Medyo nakakalungkot dun sa mga players natin na first time mag-out of the country. Kumpleto na yung visas at bumili na rin sila ng winter clothes," shared Tan.
Instead of heading to Japan, the Knights went on to join the 2019 Philippine Collegiate Champions League.
Letran though suffered blowout after blowout in the PCCL. It began with a 65-95 loss to University of Santo Tomas followed by a 53-76 whipping courtesy of San Beda. To cap its campaign, Letran fell to Ateneo, 61-79.
Then came the PBA D-League.
Back in March 2, Letran, backed by Wangs Basketball, was dealt a 90-102 defeat by De La Salle University.
What came next though was cancelation after cancelation of tournaments.
For Tan, the results of those games no longer matter. What's important now was how he can bring the Knights home before March 20.
"Lahat ng players natin, pinauwi ko na lahat. But before that, I asked them kung mayroon ba silang uuwian na safe. Sabi naman nila oo. This happened before the flights were canceled. Lahat sila naka-book ng flights sa kanikanilang mga province," Tan shared.
"So far, clear naman silang lahat ngayon. Wala namang nagkaproblema sa mga COVID issues."
The veteran tactician lamented that the month of March was supposed to be the time that will see the Knights hit their game-form.
"Pakumpleto palang kami nun since kakatapos lang ng stints nung ibang players namin sa MPBL," said Tan as Larry Muyang and Ato Ular just returned to the team before the ECQ was implemented.
"Actually, lagi ko kino-compare yung calendar namin last year to this year. During this time last year, naglalaro na kami ng competitive basketball sa D-League e. We had a good run nun. Sayang nasira yung momentum ngayon."
Now, Tan can only check on the Knights through the team's group chat.
Both King Caralipio and Mark Sangalang are currently working on their respective shoulder injuries while the rest of the Knights are doing personal workouts at their home.
But once the quarantine has been lifted, Tan knows that there will be a lot of work to be done.
"Actually sa akin naman, better yung nangyari na nasa baba kami nun para hindi mag-relax yung mga players. Pero pag natapos nito, siguradong back-to-basics kami."
There is still four months before Season 96 opens its curtains. Tan though hopes that the league gives them and the other teams ample time to prepare for the tournament.
"Sana bigyan kami ng enough time to recover. Yun lang pinag-aaralan namin ngayon, yung timetable, para pa-peak na kami going into the season," he opined.
"Sinasabi ko na lang lagi sa players ngayon, everything has a reason."