Pinoy fans cheered as Renaldo Balkman helped Justin Brownlee lead Alab Pilipinas to a 90-79 rout of the Malaysia Westports Dragons in the Asean Basketball League (ABL) last Wednesday night at the FilOil Flying V Center in San Juan City.
The Filipinos’ reception of Balkman during his debut with Alab was a far cry from how they treated the Puerto Rican big man nearly five years ago.
The local crowd then booed after Balkman choked Petron (now San Miguel) teammate Arwind Santos during their 73-83 loss to Alaska in a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) game at the Araneta Coliseum. The PBA slapped Balkman with a lifetime ban for his unsportsmanlike act.
Balkman, now said that he has learned his lesson and was glad to receive a warm welcome from Filipino fans as he returns to Philippine basketball.
“It (warm welcome) felt good. I didn’t expect it, but the past is past. I did lots of things since then and tonight, it wasn’t on my mind, it wasn’t on my head. I just went out there to play basketball. It’s been a long time,” said Balkman.
Alab head coach Jimmy Alapag believes that the 6-foot-8 cager has already changed since that incident in 2013, and hopes that people will now have a different view on him.
“I think what happened years back was really an isolated incident. At the end of the day, no one’s perfect. We all make mistakes. He said numerous times that he’s regretful of what happened,” said Alapag.
“Hopefully, that issue will be dead and he’ll be able to leave a much better impression here in the Philippines,” he added.
Balkman is grateful for the gig offered by Alapag. The two met during the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, where the deal materialized.
“I played against him as a player and now he’s my coach. It’s a blessing for me to be given that chance. We talked about it a couple of years ago. He told me that if he had a chance to coach me, he would (call me) and that’s what happened. Right now, I’m still thanking him ‘cause he kept his promise so I’ll keep my promise to him of winning a championship,” said the 33-year old Balkman.
In his first game back, Balkman posted a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds in 35 minutes of play, en route to the Tanduay-backed squad’s sound beating of the Westports Malaysia Dragons.
“It felt great. I’m on a mission to win a championship back here. Today was a great day to be back in the Philippines,” said Balkman, who was recruited together with Justin Brownlee as World Import replacements to Ivan Johnson and Reggie Okosa.
Balkman arrived early Wednesday morning and only had two hours of sleep but still managed to pull off a stellar performance in his ABL debut.
“It was tough being on a flight for so long. But after a time, we would just get back to our ways and we’ll be better. I have a lot more basketball in me than what I showed tonight. A little jetlagged, but I still fought through it,” said Balkman.
The National Basketball Association veteran said he is eyeing to play again in the PBA but wants to prove himself first in the eighth season of the regional hoops competition.
“That’s the goal (to return to the PBA). But right now, we’re gonna finish the ABL first. We’re gonna finish this and see where it goes,” said Balkman.
“Right now, it’s about the ABL and we can talk about the PBA later. Our goal is to win a championship here in the ABL,” he ended.