MANILA, Philippines—Take out a couple of star players and the NLEX Road Warriors still look very much like a champion team.
That’s how much talent and depth the Road Warriors have that even Freego Jeans coach Leo Austria said in jest that for most teams, the rest of the field was fighting for crumbs.
“Obviously, it’s really hard for us to beat NLEX,” said Austria. “Even before the conference started, the talk already is who will take second place.”
Boasting a squad studded with MVPs and national team players, the Road Warriors swept the Jeans Makers in the best-of-three Finals to capture their second straight crown in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup.
Yet no matter how easy their title run looked, NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez said the road back to the top wasn’t as smooth.
“The first one was sweeter, but with all the problems that we encountered, we’re also proud of this one because we were able to overcome them all,” said Fernandez.
“For one, we couldn’t practice as a team early in the season because of the players commitment to the national team and their schools, and we also had injuries.”
Former UAAP MVP RR Garcia, Garvo Lanete, Dave Marcelo, Emman Monfort, Chris Ellis and Cliff Hodge missed games to suit up for the national team in the SEA Games.
At some point, San Sebastian stars Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang and the other varsity standouts had to play for their schools early in the conference.
Ronald Pascual, the Finals hero in their inaugural title run, also had to sit out for the rest of the tournament due to a knee injury.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park,” said Fernandez. “I’m just glad everyone played their roles.”