Barako Bull veterans ‘still have it’By Mark Giongco
MANILA, Philippines – They’re old veterans, they’re banged up and perhaps most of them are at the twilight of their careers.
But for Barako Bull head coach Junel Baculi: “They still have it.”
The wily vets of Barako Bull won’t stop now, not now when they’re up 1-0 in a best-of-five semifinals series against fancied Talk ‘N Text.
“These veterans refuse to give up. They’re averaging about 34-35 years old and still they want to go at it.”
That resiliency was in full color Tuesday night in a game where the Energy trailed by nine early and again by seven in the third but on both instances Barako Bull kept its poise before holding ground amid a last ditch Talk ‘N Text attack for an 84-77 stunner.
“They’re showing their heart and desire. Hats off to them. We, the management and the coaching staff, have the confidence in them that they can deliver,” said Baculi.
Only few had Barako Bull at this stage, on pace to pull off a Powerade, and lesser expected a Danny Seigle sighting, which has been one of the reasons why the Energy have made it within two wins away from a Finals berth.
“Whatever it takes for the team to win. When it comes to the playoffs, everybody has to step up their game a little bit and our defense and we’re able to do that,” Seigle told INQUIRER.net, the night Barako Bull pummeled Alaska for the semis spot.
“He’s just been plagued with a couple of injuries before but now he’s healthy. I hope, knock on wood, that he’d stay healthy for the rest of the semifinals series,” Baculi said.
Seigle was once the face of the PBA as he powered the Beermen to six titles and five of those stellar runs, he was named as the Finals MVP.
Things have dramatically changed.
The 35-year-old Seigle, who’s battled through serious injuries throughout his career, was believed to have little left in him to be productive enough when the only franchise he knew then San Miguel traded him away for Air21′s top three rookies.
Seigle started shaky in his first season with his new team but now healthier than ever, he looks to seize every bit of the opportunity.
“I feel great. I’m not playing 40 minutes like I used to and that helps a lot. We have a lot of guys you can throw in there. So I’m alright. I’m not tired at all right now I feel pretty good,” said Seigle, who upped his game mightily from an 11-point average in the elimination round to 17 points a night in the quarterfinals.
And in Game 1 of the semis, ‘Dynamite’ Danny exploded for 19 points, which showed flashes of his heyday.
Barako Bull struggled to develop chemistry with its first import Dermarr Johnson, who was then replaced by offensive weapon Rodney White.
White helped the Energy up to the quarters before leaving the team to attend to his ailing father in the States.
Then came a familiar name in Gabe Freeman, the dynamic import whose unmatched intensity and contagious energy make up for his lack of height and size upfront.
“I knew exactly what we’re going to get from Gabe (Freeman). He has a ton of energy, I’m happy he’s with us,” commended Seigle, who’s played with the two-time best import as a member of San Miguel back in the 2009 PBA Fiesta Conference where the Beermen won the title.
“What more can you ask for. He gives us energy. That’s what Barako Bull is about. He’s a good import that compliments our team,” praised Baculi.
Apart from Seigle and the six-foot-six Freeman, Barako Bull also relies on its veteran backcourt of two-time MVP Willie Miller and hard-nosed defender Wynne Arboleda.
The 34-year-old Miller, who is ironically criticized and praised for his plays down the stretch, has bounced around in the league despite his caliber while Arboleda, 35, has found himself back on track after that forgettable incident in 2009.
Not to be left out of the equation are the Energy’s contrasting centers of 37-year-old Mick Pennisi and 34-year-old Dorian Pena.
Pennisi, who gained a lot of fans for his comedic act of flopping that went viral, has made living hitting three-pointers while Pena has been in the league for a decade banging bodies and doing the dirty work inside.
“It’s not a piece of cake [coaching this group of veterans]. It’s interesting and yet complicating to coach these veterans. They want to play. And you have to distribute all the minutes so that all of them will be satisfied. I’m very happy that they’ve responded well. Despite the limited minutes we’re giving them,” Baculi said.
“We’re just a veteran team and all we want to do is win. Everyone’s going to contribute,” said Seigle.
Baculi admitted that he’s wary that his wards might get burned out in the long run and it doesn’t help that the team hasn’t have any rest since the playoffs started not even during the holy week.
Surprisingly though, they looked like the fresher team in their victory over TNT, which hasn’t played in nearly two weeks.
But despite his concerns, Baculi has full trust in his players. “If they can sustain it, if their legs can handle it (the grind) so be it. Even Danny, sometimes when we’re huddling and we’re talking he told me: ‘I can play some more,’” Baculi said. “They’re really willing to play.”
Barako Bull braces for a vengeful Talk ‘N Text side come Game 2 on Thursday.
“This is not their usual scoring. Alapag did not even score. Kelly Williams got off with an injury also. I believe they will come back stronger on Thursday and we have to be ready,” Baculi added.