Coach Jamike Jarin is used to punching above his weight class.
While it came as a surprise that Phoenix Super LPG qualified for the semifinals of the PBA Season 48 Commissioner’s Cup, Jarin knew that was a possibility. All he needed were a bunch of players who would commit to his plan and an import that was perfect for their system.
Once he had his pieces in place, upsetting some of the best teams in the league was no longer a dream, it was possible.
Many were surprised with the various gimmicks he employed during this PBA conference.
Picking Tyler Tio or Ricci Rivero for a jump ball against opposing imports? Sure.
Using all 16 Fuel Masters in a do-or-die game against Meralco? Why not.
Starting your bench in Game 1 of the semis versus Magnolia? Of course.
But for those who followed his coaching career, these were by no means surprises. These were taken straight from the Jamike playbook that he’s developed in his decades of coaching that started from the very bottom.
Coaching, even if he’s gotten really good at it, was never really the dream for Jarin. Like many Filipino boys, his goal was to play in the PBA.
In the 80s, Jarin tried out to be a member of the RP Youth team. He was targeting a spot at the point guard position but he didn’t make the cut. PBA great Olsen Racela would be at the 1 for that team and he was joined by the likes of Vergel Meneses, Jun Limpot, John Cardel, Vic Pablo, EJ Feihl, and Bong Ravena.
“That’s when I figured playing basketball was probably not for me,” said Jarin.
Instead of continuing to swim against the tide, he pivoted and focused his efforts in coaching. He needed to start from scratch and scratch was a summer league in Filinvest 1. Jarin would coach the likes of Macky Escalona and BJ Manalo when they were just about 10 years old.
Jarin’s first real gig was with the girls' teams of Our Lady of Grace Montessori. At the same time, he was also an unpaid volunteer assistant coach of the Philippine Women’s National Team.
The big break for Jarin happened in 1998. With the Metropolitan Basketball Association founded as a competitor to the PBA, many coaches from the collegiate and even high school ranks jumped to the pros. Their seats had to be filled and Jarin was one of the many who finally got the chance.
“It was BJ Manalo who recommended me to join the Ateneo Blue Eaglets,” he admitted. This led to being hired as the deputy head doach, with Sandy Arespacochaga as the head coach.
13 years later, he’d exit the high school ranks with 12 UAAP Finals appearances and eight championships. In 2009, he led the Blue Eaglets to a three-peat, assisted Norman Black in the Blue Eagles’ own three-peat, and helped Chot Reyes win the Philippine Cup Championship with Talk ’N Text.
Jarin’s dream came true when he was finally given a chance to coach Gilas Pilipinas Youth in the 2013 FIBA Asia U16 Championship. The team bannered by current PBA players Matt and Mike Nieto, Richard Escoto, Diego Dario, and Jolo Mendoza went to the Finals by defeating a Japanese side with Rui Hachimura in the group stage and Chinese Taipei in the semifinals.
Jarin’s squad, who had an average height of 6-foot flat, only lost by seven points, 85-78, against China who normed at 6-foot-6 as they both qualified for the U17 FIBA World Cup.
This is where those Jarin gimmicks really hit their stride.
Jolo Mendoza on the jump ball versus China’s 6’11” center? Sure.
Telling one player not to take a triple all competition long only to draw up a three-point shot for him in the gold-medal match? Why not.
Coach Jamike dancing after every field goal against China? Of course.
It might be difficult to understand from the outside, but Jarin knows how to get the reaction and the buy-in he needs from the people who really matter: the members of his squad.
In his first conference as a full-fledged PBA head coach, sans the interim tag of the last Governors’ Cup, Jarin has brought Phoenix Super LPG back to the semifinals. Something they have not achieved since the PBA Bubble.
However, it’s not just Jarin. The franchise was already taking steps toward building a competitive squad.
Sure, it might have been tough to let go of Calvin Abueva, especially when the player they got in Chris Banchero left the team as a free agent. It was also difficult to let Matthew Wright walk away. But even with those big blows, Phoenix stayed the course.
There have been countless rumors about the franchise being up for sale, but their team owner Dennis Uy watched all their playoff games to show his support.
With only one first-round pick in the past two years, which they used to get a game-changer in Kenneth Tuffin, they still managed to get a decent haul centered on Tyler Tio and Ricci Rivero. The new crop also include Chris Lalata, Raffy Verano, and Matthew Daves (even Encho Serrano before the left as well).
Phoenix Super LPG turned out to be that one team that PBA fans needed to see. While the powerhouse teams largely stayed consistent, still receiving support from their loyal fans, the Fuel Masters successfully made other people look to see what’s going on.
How can this team that had no All-Star last year be doing this?
As coach Yeng Guiao said, it’s five times more difficult for an independent team to win a championship in the PBA. The last one to reach the PBA Finals was Alaska in 2018. The last one to win a championship was Rain or Shine in 2016.
The Fuel Masters showed that even though it seems difficult, there is a way. And like the uncanny story of their coach, good things happen to those to keep the faith.