Ispesyal na laro, sa matikas na si Keeling

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Ni Dennis Principe

KUNG meron man na naglilista ng mga pinakamagagaling na import na isang PBA conference lamang ang inilaro, tiyak na kasama diyan si Harold Keeling.

Katatapos lamang ng Dallas Mavericks stint ng noo’y 23-anyos na si Keeling nang tapikin siya ng Manila Beer Brewmasters sa two-import 1986 Open Conference kung saan ka-tandem niya ang isa pang ma-alamat na import na si Michael Young.

“I was not a major player in the NBA so I was not scoring a lot of points,” pahayag ni Keeling sa isang telephone interview ng Balita Sports “I knew I could score a lot there so I had fun going to the Philippines because I became an important part of the team and it was better than sitting on the bench in the NBA.”

Balak sana noon na kunin ni team manager Andy Jao si Bobby Parks o Dexter Shouse, ngunit sa tantiya niya noon ay sobra sa height ang dalawa bilang ka-tandem ng 6-foot-5 na si Young.

“That would have been a super strong team with Michael Young and Bobby Parks but I felt my team needed a point guard so Harold, being a point guard, was highly recommended by my friends who were scouts in San Francisco,” ani Jao.

Solid pa din ang roster ng Manila Beer dahil nakuha nila ang core ng nabuwag na Crispa Redmanizers na sina Abet Guidaben, Yoyoy Villamin, Lim eng Beng at Atoy Co.

Nadala ni Keeling sa Finals ang Brewmasters ngunit nakatapat ang mabigat na koponan na Ginebra na pinangunahan ng super tandem na sina Michael Hackett at Billy Ray Bates.

Ang Game One ng Best-of-Seven Finals ang hinding-hindi makalimutan ni Keeling kung saan sa kabila ng kanilang all-out na laro ay natalo pa din sila ng Ginebra sa isang buzzer-beating slam dunk ni Bates para ilista ang isang 135-133 victory.

“Michael scored 50 points and I scored 50 points and we still lost by two points. We were in the car going back to the hotel and we just looked at each other and told each other what else we had to do?,” sambit ni Keeling.

Naitala ng Ginebra ang isang 4-1 series victory para kunin ang kauna-unahang PBA championship ni Sonny Jaworski bilang playing-coach.

Aminado man si Jao na panahon ng Ginebra para mag-champion, nanghinayang pa din ito dahil hindi nila nakita ang tunay na potensyal ni Keeling na may natamo palang injury bago magsimula ang Open Conference.

“He got injured in practice and he never fully recovered from that injury. His explosiveness during the pre-season did not come out that much in the tournament proper,” pahayag ni Jao. “His quickness in penetrating to the basket was his forte but we were very happy with him. No complaints about him because even our players, they liked him.”

Nakapaglaro si Keeling ng 22 games ng nasabing conference kung saan nag-average ito ng 35.6 points (55% FG shooting), 8.1 rebounds, 7.5 assist, 2.2 steals at 1.6 blocks na per game averages.

Desidido pa noon na bumalik si Keeling ngunit itinaas ng liga ang height limit ng imports sa mga sumunod na conferences bukod pa sa nag-disband na ang Manila Beer matapos ang 1986 season.

“I was ready to come back but they require 6’6” imports. After a year I had a chance to play in France for four years and Israel for two years before settling in Venezuela where I played for 12 or 13 years,” ani Keeling.

Hindi man sila nag-champion, memorable pa din ang pananatili ni Keeling sa bansa.

“I remember going to shopping all the time. That was one thing, we bought a lot of tailor-made suits and I remember riding a jeepney three or four times. I remember going to Cebu, to Boracay,” aniya.