FORMER PBA player-turned-coach Junel Mendiola passed away due to a lingering illness last June 16, three days after his 45th birthday.
Mendiola was a mainstay of the Purefoods team that captured the 2002 PBA Governors Cup with then-rookie coach Ryan Gregorio at the helm.
A third-round draft pick by Purefoods in 2002, Mendiola had career averages of 1.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in just 14 games with the Hotodgs.
"He did play a lot of minutes, but he was a contributor every time he stepped inside the court," said Gregorio in an interview with the official PBA website.
"He was also a positive energy in our practices. He embraced his role so well,"added Gregorio
Before appearing in the PBA, Mendiola starred for the Philippibe School of Business Administration (PSBA). He led the Jaguars to three NCRAA titles and earned MVP honors three times as well.
Mendiola also played for Oriental Battery and Welcoat Paints in the PBL and Pangasinan, Laguna, and Pampanga in the MBA.
In 2001, Mendiola was a member of thhe Boysie Zamar-mentored national team that bagged the gold in the 21st Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Mendiola was also a successful coach.
He called the shots for Trinity College and M. Builders in the PBA D-League and Hobe Bihon in the Millennium Basketball League (MBL).
Mendiola also served as playing coach of the MBL-backed Philippine team in the seventh Zhen Chenggong Cup international basketball championship held Dec.26, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008 in Nanan, China.
His death came as a big surprise to the PBA.
PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said he had just talked to Mendiola's wife-actress Sheila Marie Rodriguez last Monday to relay about the financial support the league is extending to cover the hospital expenses of the former Purefoods guard.
"Nagulat din ako nung nakarating sa akin yung balita kasi nga kausap ko pa yung asawa niya. Kahit paano nagpa-abot ng kaunting halaga yung liga para sa kanya," said Marcial in a statement.
"Akala ko talaga OK na. Ang bilis," said NorthPort team manager Bonnie Tan, who was a close friend and classmate of Mendiola during their early college days at University of Santo Tomas.
"Maraming salamat sa lahat. Rest in peace," said former PSC commissioner and Mendiola's long-time friend-adviser Tisha Abundo in her Facebook post
Abundo even posted an old photo of NCRAA champion PSBA Jaguars with Mendiola in the line-up.
San Miguel Corp. and the PBA Legends also extended financial support.