As a newcomer in the PBA, Rey Evangelista had a successful ride, playing in the championship round and winning the title in the Commissioner’s Cup, while playing for the old Purefoods franchise.
That successful run also earned him a spot in the PBA-backed national team which represented the country in the Hiroshima Asian Games.
Year 1994 was supposed to be a banner season for the former University of Santo Tomas stalwart, who a year earlier had a historic moment being a part of the Tigers squad that swept their way to the UAAP championship and capped a perfect season.
Everything was falling into place except the one that got away— the Rookie of the Year honors in 1994.
Nearly three decades had passed, yet the pain would still haunt him each time Evangelista would think about the Rookie of the Year derby he and rival Boybits Victoria disputed.
The award for the best newcomer was given to Victoria, a talented guard from Swift, even though Evangelista’s team went on to the championship round in two of the three conferences.
“To tell you frankly, it was heartbreaking for me,” Evangelista told The Link. “I was in the coliseum, sa Cuneta. Naalala ko pa noon paglabas ko, naluha talaga ako. I was expecting because I was really ahead in the statistics, media votes and players’ votes, then may mga bumati na sa akin. Nagko-congratulate na sa akin maski wala pa ‘yung awarding. Talagang hindi ko napigilang lumuha.”
Looking back at his checkered career, Evangelista felt fortunate to be a part of two great generations of Purefoods.
He burst to the scene at a time when Alvin Patrimonio was the PBA’s most dominant force as he saw The Captain capture the MVP award in 1994 and 1997— the third and fourth awards won by the league’s heir apparent of Robert Jaworski as the face of the league.
Evangelista was there during The Captain’s last championship run in the 2002 Governors’ Cup, the same conference where he was named as the Best Player of the Conference.
“That was the biggest award na napanalunan ko in my entire career. Who would ever thought na magiging Best Player of the Conference? We had Alvin Patrimonio on the team, a four-time MVP. It was really a blessing from God,” he said.
But Evangelista isn’t just your typical one dimensional player and throughout his PBA career, he felt fortunate to be a part of the league’s All-Defensive Team. For three straight years, he was included in the league’s All-Defensive squad (2000 to 2002) and he paid tribute to long-time teammates Glenn Capacio and Jerry Codinera, two of the best stoppers the PBA ever had, as his biggest influences.
Evangelista would continue his exploits until Patrimonio passed the baton to two-time MVP James Yap as Purefoods’ face of the franchise.
The lefty forward from Ormoc would win his last title in the 2006 Philippine Cup, the same year when Yap won the first of his two MVP awards.
Looking back, Evangelista felt he gave everything to the sport he loved and he couldn’t ask for more.
But he couldn’t help himself feeling the pain when one talks about his rookie season.
The Rookie of the Year award. The one that got away.