By WAYLON GALVEZ
For the first time this season, Rain or Shine guard Paul Lee is healthy to start the conference.
Lee and the rest of the Elasto Painters will debut in the season-ending PBA Governors’ Cup as they face Tropang TNT in what should be an exciting match today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Often hobbled due to a left knee injury he sustained last season, Lee is thrilled to be starting the tournament ‘pain-free’ unlike in the previous two conferences.
“Masaya siyempre na makakapag-start ako ng conference, hindi kagaya nung mga nakaraang Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup. Kaya medyo excited ako,” said Lee.
The game between Rain or Shine and Tropang TNT is set at 7 p.m. after Mahindra (1-0), which shoots for its second straight win to join Meralco (2-0) on top, meets Globalport (0-1) at 4:15 p.m.
The 6-foot-1 guard hurt his left knee in a tuneup game prior to the season and he underwent a Platelet Rich Plasma or PRP procedure to repair the damaged lateral meniscus and ITB tendon.
The injury forced the former Rookie of the Year to miss the elimination round of the Philippine Cup, returning only in the playoffs. But in Game 5 of the semifinals against San Miguel Beer, Lee reinjured the knee.
Lee had a second PRP last January, or a week after eventual champion SMB eliminated ROS in their semis showdown. Lee missed the first five games of the Commissioner’s Cup but eventually regained his deadly form in time for the playoffs.
The University of the East stalwart was solid against San Miguel in the semifinals as ROS won the five-game series, 3-1, and then played a big role in his team’s 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven finals against the Alaska Aces, getting named PBA Press Corps Finals MVP.
Lee had a resounding performance in the finals – 16 points and 3 rebounds – despite being bothered by the left knee injury. A third PRP was performed on him two weeks after the finals, which forced him to pull out of the Gilas Pilipinas training pool.
Now that he’s healthy again, Lee said he’s hoping the third PRP would be his last, and that he’ll be able to regain his form after joining the team’s practice session two weeks ago.
“Hopefully magtuluy-tuloy na yung pag-galing ko,” said Lee, who will join veteran teammates and Gilas Pilipinas veterans Jeff Chan and Gabe Norwood, as well as Beau Belga, JR Quiñahan, Jericho Cruz and rookie Mav Ahanmisi.
Lee said he isn’t rushing things.
“It’s up to coach Yeng (Guiao) naman kung paano nya ako gagamitin; kung gaano katagal. Medyo nakukuha ko na naman yung rhythm ko, yung condition ko,” Lee said.
Rain or Shine will have as import Dior Lowhorn, who previously played for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (2013) and Globalport (2014) with career averages of 30.18 points and 11.24 rebounds per game.
Guiao likes having the 6-foot-5 Lowhorn, a reinforcement whom he thinks fits their system since the power forward can dominate the inside game and is capable of keeping up with their running game while playing big on defense.
“We like what he brings to the table, kumbaga noong last Commissioner’s Cup nanalo kami with an import in Pierre Henderson-Niles, who scores less but is a good rebounder. Si Dior Lowhorn halos ganun din ang built pero mas may scoring siya,” said Guiao.
As for TNT, the team will have Mario Little as import, replacing former NBA campaigner Jason Maxiell, who failed to meet the required height limit of 6-foot-5 this conference.
TNT mentor Jong Uichico described Little as a ‘do-it-all’ player as he will team up with Asian reinforcement in Michael Madanley of Syria, as well as Gilas stalwarts Jayson Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo.