In The Ish: Fueled to Win

This article appears in SLAM #226, available online.

By Polo Bustamante

Scottie Thompson was shy.

He had his head bowed down slightly as he walked into the office for the cover shoot. He settled into the a table at the back of the room and pulled out his phone to distract himself, while the photographer was setting up.

During the shoot, Scottie was patient and accommodating, albeit a little bit awkward. He was unsure of himself, waiting for the photographer and art director to suggest poses before he made any moves. He followed every slight adjustment to his hand placement, facial expression and body angle that was asked for and held that final pose through multiple takes.

Being drafted into a team like Barangay Ginebra back in 2015, Scottie had no time to be shy. Back then Ginebra was in the middle of a championship drought. Every player that they brought in, whether through a trade or the draft was seen by the fans as a ray of hope, the missing piece to their long-awaited championship.

“Yung na-draft palang ako, na-pressure na ako e, kasi nga yung buong crowd sumigaw,” Scottie recalled. “Doon ko agad nakita na grabe pala talaga yung Ginebra. Nung tinawag ako, nagulat ako nag-sigawan yung mga tao, sobrang dami. Di ko akalain na doon pala sa mall, puro Ginebra fans pala yung nandun.”

It didn’t take long for Scottie to feel the pressure. As soon as he heard the roar of the crowd, he knew that immediate results were expected from him. “Na-overwhelm ako talaga, sobra,” he shared. “Na-pressure ako sa sarili ko kasi kailangan ko magpakita, kailangan ko i-prove sa kanila na worth it yung kinuha nila.”

It also didn’t take long for Scottie to make his mark. Just like a loose ball floating up in the air, he grabbed every opportunity given to him by the Ginebra coaching staff. “Kung ilan minutes ako pinasok, gusto ko lang ibigay lahat para kunin ko yung tiwala ng coaching staff ko, mga teammates, at si Coach Tim (Cone),” said Scottie about his role on the team early on.

From being an impact player off the bench, Scottie slowly earned the trust of the team, eventually taking on the starting role by the third conference of his rookie year. Scottie’s rise didn’t stop there. More than a year after taking over the starting spot, Scottie played a crucial role in helping Ginebra end their championship drought. Two quick years into his PBA career, Scottie was able to call himself a champion. 

That’s because there wasn’t anything shy about Scottie’s game.

On the court, he’s sure of every move he makes. Scottie’s game has a certain audacity. He is absolutely relentless. He plays in-your-face defense against 10-year PBA vets or rips rebounds from imports a full foot taller than he is. Scottie is an unavoidable force. 

“More on hustle. Every loose ball, kinukuha ko, kailangan kong mabigyan yung team ko ng extra possessions sa bawat game,” he proudly said about what he brings to the team.

What he does for Ginebra usually won’t appear in the box scores, but opposing teams definitely feel it when he’s on the court. His impact is immeasurable but very tangible. The boards are nice. The buckets are a bonus. The Finals MVP is an impressive Wikipedia note to have. But the foundation of Scottie’s career so far are the championships he’s collected throughout his young career.

LA Tenorio is a superstar.

He brought that superstar energy to the shoot. He flashed his high-wattage smile, as he entered confidently into the room. He knew almost everyone in the shoot, greeting them warmly like they were old friends.

During the shoot, LA was experienced and collaborative. He knew which poses he looked good doing and even busted out some that he’s done before in previous shoots. He was ready for the shot even before the prompt from the photographer. He took a look at the photos taken and suggested ways to improve his poses.

It wasn’t a surprise to see LA so comfortable in that environment. He’s been around the block, playing nearly all his life in front of bright lights. He was already a star even before he was traded to the most popular team in the league.

LA spent the first two years of his career as a back up, before finally breaking out with the Alaska Aces. During his time with the Aces, he won the Most Improved Player, a Finals MVP, a spot in the Mythical Team and a championship. The Aces found a franchise point guard and LA thought he found a home. “The relationship that I had, and the experience that I had with Alaska nung time na ‘yun, I was okay na nandoon ako sa Alaska. I wanted to finish my career with Alaska that time na I was there,” he recalled.

Unfortunately, the business side of the league caught up with LA. Just when he was starting to build a career with Alaska, he had to start from scratch once again, after being traded to Ginebra. “To be honest, the moment that I found that I got traded to Ginebra, I was feeling unsure about it,” LA said about the trade. 

He already had a rhythm with Alaska. He was handed the keys to the team and had earned their trust as their young leader. In Ginebra, he entered a team that already had established franchise players. “Hindi ko nakaka-usap si Mark (Caguioa) and si JJ (Helterbrand) before. That was the first time na nakasama ko sila. The first time, na-star struck ako sa kanila, because it’s JJ and Mark diba?”

Beyond trying to fit in alongside Mark and JJ, LA was joining a team that was in flux and seemingly crumbling under the pressure of trying to end a championship drought. “They were getting a lot of players and we changed coaches every conference when I got there. Medyo nangangapa pa lahat. But you know, playing for Ginebra, there’s always pressure to win. Not only championships, but every game you have to win,” explained LA.

The constant shuffling of players and coaches made it nearly impossible for the team to get momentum. That led to repeated early exits and several heart-breaking losses. It seemed as if the pressure was getting to LA as well. There were times during his first four years with the team where he seemed visibly frustrated at himself and his teammates. His rise as a player plateaued after the trade.

That all changed when LA was reunited with a familiar mentor. “Parang bumalik ako when I was in Alaska,” he said about Coach Tim’s transfer to Ginebra. “He changed the culture of the team.”

LA not only reunited with his former coach. He also took on the role he left with Alaska. That meant that when Coach Tim took the reigns in Ginebra, everyone else was starting on their back foot, while LA had a head start. 

“Yung trust na binibigay niya sa akin at saka yung role na binibigay niya sa akin is one of the leaders ng team. Not necessarily leader na to all score all points, to be the best player in the team, but to mentor players and to guide the players with his system.”

Coach Tim’s arrival immediately paid dividends. A year after he took over, Ginebra ended their championship curse, and LA was a huge part of that championship run. His leadership and steady play helped the team get through some tough times. He was one of their best players during that run, collecting another Finals MVP in the process.

“It was like you were in the happiest place on earth,” he recalled about their 2016 championship run. “Parang nabunutan kami lahat ng tinik kasi ‘yun yung pinaka-inaantay ng lahat. Yun lang naman ang gusto namin mawala.”

After getting that burden off his back, LA continued the upward trajectory of his career. He won multiple championships after that 2016 crown and added another Finals MVP to his already sparkling resume.

LA and Scottie have their differences. But it’s their similarities that make them such a unique, and irreplaceable pairing for Ginebra.

Both of them are determined, hard-headed, even. They refuse to lose and they’ll do everything in their power to make sure that they win. LA won’t hesitate to fire up a shot during a clutch situation, knowing fully the flak a miss will bring. Scottie isn’t fazed by silly things like height disadvantages. He will rise up as high as needed to grab a crucial rebound. 

The two have tweaked and fine-tuned how to play off each other when they do share the court. “Four years na kami magkasama ni kuya LA. Nababasa ko na kung kailan ako mag-cu-cut kapag nag-da-drive siya. Yung vision niya, yung vision ko at yung pag-basa namin sa isa’t-isa. Alam ko na kung paano ako gagalaw kapag hawak niya yung bola,” Scottie explains.

“Sa practice medyo nakaka-inis bantayan pero ‘yun yung sobrang gusto ko sa game niya. He’s very relentless,“ LA says about Scottie.

Beyond their chemistry during games, it’s their growing relationship off the court that determines Ginebra’s success. Scottie sees LA as a mentor, someone that’s led him on the right path so far in his career.

“Si kuya LA talaga yung pinaka-nag-guide sa mga rookie. Siya talaga yung nag-guide sa amin on-and-off the court. Siya yung sumuporta sa akin,” shares Scottie about his relationship with LA. “Yung bond namin iba talaga. Sobrang kuya ko na siya talaga.”

LA takes it a step further. He sees Scottie as someone that can be even greater than he will ever be.

“Tinuturing ko siyang isa sa mga anak ko sa team,” LA proudly shares. “I want to mentor him. I want him to be more successful than I am right now. Alam ko madami siyang gusto ma-achieve as a basketball player. Nandito ako to guide him. I just want to guide him sa tamang path for him to be successful.”

There’s one more thing that the two players have in common.

They both lack a Philippine Cup Championship. That’s something they’re both gunning for as they move on to the next season.

“Actually, that’s part of my bucket list,” he says with a laugh. “Talagang gusto ko manalo ng All-Filipino. All my championships, all my five championships I won with an import. This time, is another opportunity for me to play in the All-Filipino conference. Another chance for me to win that championship.”

Scottie echoes LA’s hopefulness in adding a Philippine Cup crown to his trophy collection. “Personally, coming into this All-Filipino, mas-excited ako kasi nandiyan si Stanley (Pringle) sa amin. So mas malaking chance na sana makuha namin yung All-Filipino kasi yun yung wala kami.”

The two have already won four championships together. But they’re hungry for more. And they’re using each other to fuel themselves to keep winning.

Scottie is fueled by the success of LA. “Ang taas ng tingin ko sa kanya. Sobrang ang laki ng respeto ko sa kanya. Yung laro ko, yung mga achievements ko ngayon isa siya sa dahilan kung bakit ko narating ‘yun,” he shares. “Yung experience na nakuha ko noon nung first time, gusto mo laging ma-ulit. Talagang work hard kami every year na makapag-champion kami.”

LA is fueled by the youthful energy of Scottie. “Yung nakikita ko nalang din sa kanya, the way he works every practice. Doon ako nadadala sa kanya and the young players. That is also the reason why I am still here in the league, because of them.” he shares.  “Nare-remind din ako na I need more. Na hindi ako titigil hangga’t sa hindi sila tumitigil.”

Young, shy, audacious.

Experienced, outgoing, audacious.

LA and Scottie fuel each other, are fueled by each other.

They will win in spite of their differences, because of their similarities. 

They will win for each other, because of each other.