Frankie Lim’s New Groove

The last time Frankie Lim coached in the NCAA, his San Beda Red Lions won four rings in five years—stacked with talent, driven by Lim’s fiery intensity, and a powerhouse in every sense of the word. But after a fistfight broke out between the Red Lions and a visiting San Sebastian volleyball team inside the San Beda gym, Lim was slapped with a two-year ban from the NCAA.

It was a controversial time. Lim said they had come to the defense of Nigerian big man Ola Adeogun, who had heard the volleyball players call him “unggoy.” According to Lim, he had told San Sebastian coach Roger Gorayeb to keep his athletes in line and commented on their lack of discipline, but the fight turned physical when Gorayeb threw the first punch. San Sebastian, meanwhile, alleged that Adeogun had simply misheard the “o-oy, ale ale oy” pre-game hum and that it was Lim and his players who started the fight.

If this had happened today, the entire gym would have broadcasted it on Facebook or Instagram Live, and and we’d have no shortage of videos to show what went down. But this was 2011, so all we got were a couple of viral photos from the melee. Both sides stuck to their stories until the end, and both coaches received two-year bans. At the time, Lim had called the suspension “going overboard” for applying in-game penalties to a fight that took place off the court; but in the end, he tendered his resignation from San Beda and bid an emotional farewell to the Red Lions.

Seven years later, Lim is back. But this time around he’s isn’t coaching the San Beda superstars nor their closest rivals in the LPU Pirates, but the Perpetual Altas, who finished second to last in the previous season’s standings. It’s a different beast, but on opening day, his new-look Altas nearly beat the Red Lions.

After the game, Lim smiled while talking about San Beda: “They have to admit, kinabahan sila.”

Patience and perspective

To coach the Altas, Lim admits he had to adapt—especially having limited time since taking on the post in January. Rather than dominance, the first order of business had to be development.

“I’m doing a lot of things with Perpetual that I didn’t do with San Beda,” he shares. “Like with sets and drills, namuhunan talaga ako sa skills development. But I’m happy because they work hard every day.”

That willingness from players matters, because it’s clear that his intensity has not waned. “I ask a lot from them [at practice],” Lim admits. “For me, if you’re not going to go all out, if mahina ka, you’re wasting my time. I don’t do soft practices.”

“They’ve been very patient with me,” he goes on, saying that while guiding a rebuilding team presents different challenges from coaching top dogs, he now also enjoys a different sense of satisfaction. “Other teams may be more seasoned, but when you’re working with fresh players like these, what’s good is their desire to play and win is pure.”

Lim, meanwhile, rewards their patience with patience of his own. “I’m not asking any of you to be Superman and do everything for your team,” he tells them. “All I need you to do when you get to the court is play the way you do in practice. Play like the best version of yourselves.”

‘Nakakataas talaga ng confidence’

Team captain AJ Coronel says the team found it easy to embrace Lim’s approach because of what he represents: a chance to go toe-to-toe with top teams.

“Nakakataas talaga ng confidence na nasa amin si Coach Frankie,” explains Coronel. “‘Yung best na sinabi niya sa amin, ‘ang San Beda, pangalan lang yan.’ Ibig sabihin, tao rin sila. ‘Wag kaming matakot sa kanila.”

Coronel is one of only four holdovers from last year’s squad, alongside Rom Mangalino, Anton Tamayo, and Prince Eze. “Nag-grow ako kasi kailangan. Apat lang kaming veterans na natira sa team so walang choice, kailangan may mag-step up,” he says.

This is a far cry from how Coronel spoke in his rookie and sophomore year, when the shy player would beg off from interviews and ask reporters to speak to his teammates instead. Now, with the confidence boost from Lim—who mentions the respect the other Altas have for their captain—Coronel has embraced his new role.

“Kung nire-respeto nila ako, siguro kasi nire-respeto ko rin sila. Kahit team captain ako, kapag pinagsabihan nila ako na sa isang play, dapat iba ginawa ko, open ako,” he says. “Nakikinig ako tapos sinasabi ko ‘ah, tama ka nga.’ Mas maganda talaga chemistry namin this year. Kahit bago ‘yung ibang players, mabilis silang nakaka-adjust.”

And so, Coronel says, they’re all in to go all out, too. “Grabe ‘yung practice, pero okay lang. Kapag petiks ka sa practice, magiging petiks ka rin sa laro,” he says, echoing their coach.

A winning culture?

After giving the Red Lions a run for their money on opening day, NCAA fans are eager to see what’s next for the Altas. After all, fortunes change fast in collegiate basketball—just ask LPU, who were the bottom-ranked team just a couple of years ago, or CSB who went from being near-winless two years ago to being tagged as a dark horse to make the final four.

Can the Altas barge into the ranks of the league’s top teams in Lim’s first year?

Lim is quick to temper other’s expectations for this season, but if the Altas improve on their first game’s performance, they just might. A lot is expected from Eze, as Lim was known for coaxing stellar performances from his big men in San Beda. “I’m expecting Eze to play 30 minutes a game. With minutes like those, you better be giving MVP numbers,” Lim says.

Lim also hopes to produce consistent performances from the veterans and encourage better decision-making from high-energy new guys like Edgar Charcos. And in any case, they’ve already begun building for the future—big man Ben Adamos has jumped ship from San Beda to serve residency at Perpetual, and if the Altas continue to improve, you can bet he won’t be the last in the NCAA to do so.

Back when Lim was with San Beda, much was said about “the winning tradition” of San Beda. The same is true today, to the point that the Red Lions admit the pressure is so high that alumni, classmats, and even campus security guards hound them for answers after a loss. In that sense, San Beda’s “winning tradition” refers to the expectations heaped upon them. But in reality, no one team has a monopoly over success—and that’s what Lim is counting on to lift his new team to greater heights.

The winning culture doesn’t just fall into your lap. You build it.