Playing like a ‘veteran,’ Almazan shines for Elastopainters
MANILA, Philippines—Raymond Almazan was all over the court in the crucial stages of Rain or Shine’s 103-94 comeback win over Petron Blaze in Game 2 of their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinals series.
The way Almazan played, one would think he wasn’t a rookie. And that’s what his fiery head coach Yeng Guiao thought of his sterling performance while he went toe-to-toe with the Boosters’ reigning MVP Arwind Santos in the fourth quarter.
“Raymond played like a veteran,” said Guiao. “Raymond made the big shots, made the big rebounds and the big stops.
The six-foot-seven Almazan held his own against Santos down the stretch as he scored 10 of his 15 points in the final frame alone to go along with five rebounds.
Santos, on the other hand, finished with 12 points and had more rebounds with eight but was rendered ineffective in the final five minutes where the Painters, down by as much as 16, stemmed the tide.
“He looked like he was 250 pounds and he did it when it counted in the semifinals,” said Guiao of Almazan, who has put in a lot of work in the weight room to add more weight and muscle.
Almazan admitted he was feeling the pressure at first but he immediately got the hang of it.
“When I first came in, I was a little nervous but I got over it the moment I started sweating and suddenly I realized I’ve been to championship games before in college, and honestly, I felt like I was back playing in the NCAA Finals because I’m used to playing here in MOA,” said Almazan, the 2013 NCAA MVP, who was part of the Letran Knights’ back-to-back Finals appearances in the last two seasons.
And in the fourth quarter, it really felt like Almazan was wearing Letran’s colors as he made his presence felt in many areas — grabbing rebounds, altering shots, scoring inside the paint and even hitting a three-pointer from the top-of-the-key.
At the end of the night, Almazan made all of his six attempts from the field.
“That’s the championship experience from his Letran days,” Guiao said.
Almazan also said that he didn’t feel intimidated by Petron Blaze’s star frontcourt of Santos and six-foot-10 center June Mar Fajardo and, instead, he sees his matchup in a different way.
“June Mar is one of the league’s best centers and I am challenged to show my best and what I can do against him,” Almazan said in Filipino. “In the fourth quarter, I just told myself I’ll do whatever I can to stop him (Santos).”
Almazan said he’s been working out four times a week in hopes to achieve one of his goals which is to hit his target weight of 220 pounds. Currently, he’s at 201 —still far from his target, but already a big improvement from his 188-pound self just a couple of months back.
“Coach Yeng has given him the confidence to show his stuff. The only thing coach Yeng has been telling Raymond is to be tougher because he’s a bit thin for the PBA and coach’s instruction is to bulk up,” said ROS assistant coach Caloy Garcia, who also managed to coach Almazan in his final playing year with the Knights.
“Raymond always works hard even when he’s still not yet in the PBA and until now he’s been putting in the work,” said Garcia.