It was a scorching hot Saturday afternoon in downtown Bangkok, a pink-colored taxi was hailed to take us to the outskirts of the city to the swanking, sleek-looking Stadium29, the home arena of the Thailand Basketball League.
Now counting Bangkok as his second home, Patrick Cabahug managed to tell the cab driver the location of the venue, while still giving some navigational help along the way in some decent Thai.
In between me cursing out the traffic and complaining about the sweltering heat inside the car, he shared stories about the journey that brought him across the South China Sea.
Growing up in Cebu City in the central Philippines, basketball came natural to Patrick. After all, his uncle Elmer was a former pro-cager and his dad played a lot of commercial basketball himself.
He was recruited to play for Adamson University in the premier collegiate league in the Philippines and then applied for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) draft in 2008, but unfortunately, went unpicked before finding success in the semi-pro Philippine Basketball League.
“WE DON’T NEED TO FORCE ANYTHING OUT THERE, JUST PLAY YOUR HARDEST WHILE ENJOYING YOURSELF OUT THERE. BASKETBALL COMES EASIER WHEN YOU ENJOY THE GAME.”
Like when he was in the collegiate ranks, Cabahug was an immediate standout for Toyota Otis (PBL) and for the Misamis Oriental Meteors in the defunct Liga Pilipinas.
As if a primer of what was to come, Patrick was named part of the Philippine national team that won the gold medal at the Southeast Asia Games that year.
“It was also here in Thailand. I remember it like it was yesterday. Some of my teammates were Jason Castro, Chris Tiu, Gabe Norwood, and Beau Belga.” he trails off smiling. That same tournament is the start of him finding success outside of his comfort zone, outside of home.
With a chip still on his shoulder, Cabahug signed on to suit up for the Kuala Lumpur Dragons as a heritage import in the upstart ASEAN Basketball League in 2010. After three years as one of the young leaders for the Dragons, he moved on to play for Hi-Tech Bangkok City, winning a championship with the club in 2014.
His teams were able to make the playoffs in four of his five seasons playing in the region’s first professional league of its kind. He also had a brief stint in between, playing for AIR21 in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), but found his way back to the ABL.
When Hi-tech left the ABL, another door was opened for him to play in the domestic league in Thailand. In his first season there, he managed to average more than 22 points per game.
“IT WAS ALSO HERE IN THAILAND. I REMEMBER IT LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY. SOME OF MY TEAMMATES WERE JASON CASTRO, CHRIS TIU, GABE NORWOOD, AND BEAU BELGA.”
Cabahug also found himself in the Mono Group, the rival group of his former team. This also set up some sort of a reunion as his current team, Mono Thewphaingarm, was set to open a best-of-three against Hi-tech in the playoffs’ semifinal round that same afternoon.
As one of the more seasoned veterans on the roster, ‘Kuya Pat’ has not only served as the best player on the court, but also served as a mentor to the young guards on his team like Jittaphon ‘Shopper’ Towaeroj, Tawatchai ‘Jeng’ Suktub, and even fellow Filipino import Paul Zamar, who has also found success playing for ‘Thew.’
The Cebuano sharpshooter feels neither threatened nor fear to be outshined by the young guys on his team. To him, this is an opportunity to share what he knows and lead by example out there on the court.
“We don’t need to force anything out there, just play your hardest while enjoying yourself out there. Basketball comes easier when you enjoy the game. No need for additional pressure by thinking you need to score this many points,” said Cabahug right after dropping a game-high 29 points, albeit in a close loss to the powerhouse team he used to play for.
Ten years after winning the SEA Games gold in the very country he plays in today, it might appear like it has come full circle for Patrick, but he isn’t done yet.
Aside from wanting to win a title in Thailand, the sweet-shooting guard still has his sights for possibly another run in the ABL. “I also miss the atmosphere of the ABL. The TBL is a very good league, but I kind of miss the experience of playing home-and-away in the ABL.”
Mentioning how the level of competition is pretty much at par, he added in Filipino, “It feels good to play in your team’s home arena. It is also cool to play in away games, with the hostile atmosphere fans bring like when we play in places like Vietnam.”
“THE TBL IS A VERY GOOD LEAGUE, BUT I KIND OF MISS THE EXPERIENCE OF PLAYING HOME-AND-AWAY IN THE ABL.”
After making it all the way to the Thailand Basketball Super League (TBSL) finals last March, Patrick and Mono Thew bowed out just shy of ultimate victory. He’s disappointed they lost to a stacked franchise, but ever gracious even in defeat, he caught up with his former teammates outside of the court to congratulate them.
“The work doesn’t stop. We still have a battle for third place this weekend, we still need to win that.”
And win it… they did.