And other great lessons the Ginebra guard has learned

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo 

I was sitting on one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever sat on at Pace Prehab and Recovery while I, along with my co-writer Catherine Orda, discreetly plot the flow of our talk with owner and physical therapist Francis Diano. When we got there, he was still having a session with Denise Laurel, which gave us enough time to figure out our plan.

Fifteen minutes have gone by and Diano finally accosted us, diving straightaway into the idea of prehab and why it’s essential for athletes. At the peak of our conversation, Sol Mercado of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel came in, wearing a reversed gray cap, black workout clothes, and a pair of Nikes then acknowledging us with a “Hey.”

Sol Mercado putting in work at PACE Prehab and Recovery

A few colleagues have praised the 6’1” guard, saying he’s one of the most down-to-earth basketball players and yesterday’s chat with him proved his humility. From what appears to be an intimidating presence on the court, he was the complete opposite beyond the sidelines.

It wasn’t just Ginebra that waited eight years to end their championship drought in 2016, it was also Mercado’s first time to become a PBA champion and eventually winning more titles with the team thereon. But prior to becoming a crowd favorite, Mercado’s career had gone through a rollercoaster ride since being drafted fifth in 2008, getting shipped from one team to another before finally finding his home with the Kings.

“He teaches the game of life through basketball. He’s not really so concerned with you as a basketball player, he’s more concerned with you as a man,” Mercado says

“It was all worth it. Going through those other teams and coaches was a blessing. To be on different teams, to see a different perspective and learn from different coaches, but to finally be with Ginebra and coach Tim [Cone] and my teammates at Ginebra and obviously, the crazy fans and the support that we have, it was all worth it,” Mercado says.

More than the championships, Mercado couldn’t be more delighted about having that rare chance of being mentored by the winningest coach in PBA.

“For him, it’s all the little things that matter. He teaches the game of life through basketball. He’s not really so concerned with you as a basketball player, he’s more concerned with you as a man. That really has made the most impact in my life, just being there and staying in the moment. It’s one of the biggest things that he really taught me,” Mercado says.

Moreover, Mercado unceasingly regarded Cone as the real game-changer in his approach to the game. Throughout his stint with Ginebra, he has evolved as one of the smartest combo guards in the PBA, having improved the way he calls the shots for his teammates, displaying astounding defense, and adding a reliable high-volume three-point shooting in his arsenal.

When I was young, I used to always play with a chip on my shoulder, that really let things affect me during the game. Now I think I’m more of a ‘in the moment’ type of person,” Mercado says

“Being able to have the next play mentality, if you make a mistake or if you do something great, no matter what it is, that’s one of the things that I really work on. When I was young, I used to always play with a chip on my shoulder, that really let things affect me during the game. Now I think I’m more of a ‘in the moment’ type of person,” Mercado says.

Before we ended our short but lasting conversation, I asked about his pal Justin Brownlee, Ginebra’s resident import who delivered their first championship in eight years at the 2016 Governors’ Cup against the Meralco Bolts.

“Honestly, I think he shouldn’t be here. He definitely should be in the NBA. But I’m glad he’s here. As a friend, I wish he wasn’t here because I really think he deserves to be playing at the highest level of basketball.”

“Justin’s a great person. He’s very humble. He doesn’t let success get to his head. He’s very grounded, he’s just a great teammate, probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with, not just import, but obviously the best import I’ve ever played with, hands down.”

Sol then proceeded to his workout as I watched him prepare for his imminent return with Ginebra. As a solid Ginebra fan since a little kid, talking with him in person was one for the books. But if there was one thing I will never forget about the day I spent with him, it was when he was lying down, face screaming in pain while he stretches his right leg, looking at me and still managing to say “Nice shoes, man.”