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Despite a 0-3 record in pre-season games, San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria expressed confidence in his team’s readiness to defend for the third straight time in the PBA Philippine Cup.
The team has not been successful in tuneup matches as SMB lost to the new-look Star, as well as retooled Rain or Shine and NLEX, but Austria said that when they step into the court Sunday at the start of the 42nd season, they will be all set to battle the Hotshots.
“We’ll be ready, that’s for sure,” Austria guaranteed yesterday.
Just like in the previous conferences, the team is dealing with minor injuries as Austria missed the services of June Mar Fajardo, the reigning three-time league MVP, in their exhibition game with Rain or Shine.
The team also missed a couple of players versus Star and NLEX, but Austria said Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, David Semerad and Yancy de Ocampo will be available against the Chito Victolero-mentored Star.
The new season will start with the Philippine Cup on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. An elaborate opening ceremony is scheduled at 4 p.m., while the lone game between SMB and Star is set at 6:15 p.m.
According to Austria, the injuries are not serious, but they needed to take precautionary steps so as not to aggravate the injuries and make sure they parade a complete roster against the Hotshots.
“Hindi naman serious yung injuries nila, pero mas makabuti na nag-pahinga sila during the tuneup games for them to get ready when the tournament starts; yun ang mas mahalaga,” said Austria.
As for the ‘team to beat’ tag, Austria said it comes with the territory being the Philippine Cup two-time champion and considering the team’s intact roster led by the 6-foot-10 Fajardo.
A third consecutive all-Filipino championship would give the Beermen the ‘perpetual’ trophy which is named after former league commissioner, Emilio ‘Jun’ Bernardino Jr.
In the history of the PBA, only TNT has claimed a ‘perpetual’ trophy when it captured the all-Filipino tournament plum from 2011 to 2013. The league started to give the ‘perpetual’ trophy – outside of the regular Philippine Cup crown – back in 2008 for a team that wins three straight all-Filipino titles.
Also returning this season is former league MVP Arwind Santos, as well as veterans like Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Ronald Tubid and Gabby Espinas, while the new recruits are RR Garcia and rookie Arnold Van Opstal.
“Kasama naman talaga yung pressure e, andyan naman palagi yan; hindi lang dapat kami pa-apekto,” said Austria.
Aside from the usual contenders TNT KaTropa and Governors’ Cup champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Austria sees Rain or Shine – the Commissioner’s Cup champion – and NLEX as solid contenders.
The Elasto Painters no longer have ace guard Paul Lee and veteran center JR Quiñahan after they were traded to Star and Globalport, respectively, but Austria said RoS remains formidable under coach Caloy Garcia.
As for the Road Warriors, he said that playing against them was like playing opposite RoS since coach Yeng Guiao, who won two titles with the Painters before moving to NLEX last month, uses the same system in calling the shots for his new squad.
“Alam naman natin kung paano mag-handle ng team si coach Yeng, talagang gagamitin at bibigyan nya ng opportunities lahat ng players, para sa Rain or Shine,” said Austria.
“Eto namang Rain or Shine, maski na nawala na sina Paul Lee and JR Quiñahan, malakas pa din sila lalo nasa kanila si James Yap and anjan pa naman yung iba nilang veteran players, so intact pa din naman sila,” he added.