Ato Agustin shares basketball journey, foiling TNT’s Grand Slam bid

PBA legend Renato “Ato” Agustin, also known to most as “The Atom Bomb,” proved that he was not only good as a player but also as a coach.

The 1992 PBA Most Valuable Player mysteriously vanished after winning his last PBA title with the Batang Red Bull Thunder, the franchise’s first title over Agustin’s former team, the San Miguel Beermen.

Among his teammates at the time included Davonn Harp, Mick Pennisi, Junthy Valenzuela, Kerby Raymundo, Willie Miller and Lordy Tugade. Antonio Lang was the team’s import at the time.

Renato Agustin
Renato Agustin

Ato Agustin ends PBA career gracefully with Red Bull

Agustin recalled that moment. And while he was still pursued by PBA teams after that run, Agustin explained why he opted for retirement when he spoke to this writer at the Pampanga Dragons silver anniversary held at the Sixty Four Resto Bar, Vista Mall in San Fernando, Pampanga last December 7, 2023.

“Nag-retire ako pero actually kaya ko pa. Pero gusto ko yung mag-exit ako gracefully. Hindi yun bago ka mag-retire, mag-exit ka [na sabihin] ‘Huy matanda na yan, Huy mag-retire ka na.’ Ang hirap kasi ng ganon. So ‘yun, nag-champion pa kami ni coach Yeng [Guiao] sa Red Bull, that was the time nag-retire na ako. Alam ko may kumukuha pa sa akin noon pero ayoko na,” the 7-time PBA champion shared.

The Atom Bomb quietly started coaching in 2003 with Pampanga Stars

Although all was quiet on his end, Agustin quietly started to venture into coaching. He shared how he still ended up returning to the Metropolitan Basketball Association where he became a playing coach with the Pampanga Stars.

“Nakabalik pa ako sa MBA. Naging coach ako ng Pampanga Stars nung 2002-2003. Pero noong una, playing coach. Sabi ko baka di ko na kaya maglaro. Pero ayun, pinalaro pa din ako,” the 60-year-old said.

After that, he ventured into politics, serving as city councilor for nine years.

“Noong 2004, inisip ko kasi kung ano pwede magiging fallback ko. So sinubukan ko sa politics which is luckily nanalo ako bilang konsehal dito sa San Fernando mula 2004 hanggang 2013,” Agustin added.

Ato Agustin’s NCAA coaching baptism of fire

However, in 2009, basketball still hounded Agustin and ended up being named the coach of the San Sebastian Stags.

Agustin took over as head coach of the San Sebastian Stags, succeeding now-fellow San Miguel Beer coach Jorge Gallent at NCAA Season 85.

“At that time, kinausap ako ni Governor Delta Pineda.Tinanong niya kung gusto ko mag-coach ng Baste. Sabi ko wala pa akong background. Wala pa akong idea kasi nga matagal ako nahinto. Sinabi niya na lang sa akin ‘May mga tutulong naman sa iyo’ and then ayun, grinab ko naman yon at ayun, nakapag-champion naman sa NCAA,” he recalled.

The Stags bagged the NCAA Season 85 title at the time at the expense of the San Beda Red Lions. San Sebastian swept the Red Lions, 2-0, with Jimbo Aquino being hailed as the NCAA season 85 Finals MVP.

Coach Renato Agustin at San Miguel practice.
Coach Renato Agustin at San Miguel practice.

Agustin gets call to coach San Miguel in the PBA

After about 8 months, Agustin shared how he was being considered to take over as coach for San Miguel Beer in the PBA. And he wasted no time weaving his coaching magic as well.

“Una San Miguel, nag-finals kami pero natalo. 2011 PBA All-Filipino, natalo ako noon. Tapos nag Petron, dun ako nanalo,” he said.

In his first year as head coach, Agustin was able to lead the Beermen to the 2010-11 PBA Philippine Cup finals. They bowed to Talk ‘N Text, 4-2, and settled for a runner-up finish.

After that, things just went haywire for SMB, in the 2010-11 PBA Commissioner’s Cup. They racked up a woeful 2-7 win-loss record and failed to get past the elimination round.

Sweet revenge for The Atom Bomb

Come the 2010-11 PBA Governor’s Cup, the team changed its name to the Petron Blaze Boosters. However, Agustin admitted that the odds were stacked up against him with most of his top players injured.

“Wala akong player talaga. Pa-Grand Slam ang Talk ‘N Text noon,” he recalled.

Among the familiar names who were injured then include Lordy Tugade, Joseph Yeo, Jay Washington and Danny Ildefonso.

Despite that, Agustin found a way to pull through. With the help of their import then, Anthony Grundy, Petron shocked many when they pulled the rug from under the heavily-favored TNT squad, 4-3, to bag the 2011 PBA Governor’s Cup.

Not only was it a shocking turn of events, but it was also payback for the team after losing to TNT in the PBA PH Cup that same year.

Agustin’s secret to leading Blaze Boosters over TNT

Asked to shed more light on that run, the decorated PBA player and coach said that it was the faith and trust he had in his players.

“Basta ako naman, meron talaga akong tiwala sa mga players. Once ma-handle ko sila, makikita mo kaagad ang talent nila. Hindi naman magiging PBA mga yan kung di magaling yan diba? So yun lang. Tiwala lang sa mga players,” Agustin ended.

Brian Yalung

Join the discussion