Star makes debut vs Phoenix
Coming off what could be termed as a heartbreaking conference, Star debuts in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday against a Phoenix Petroleum crew that—with a major adjustment three playing days into the conference—will be looking to win games on the defensive end.
“It made us tougher,” coach Chito Victolero told the Inquirer in a recent interview, referring to the Hotshots’ unexpected exit in the Final Four of the Philippine Cup despite being 2-0 ahead in the best-of-seven series. “It made us a better team.”
With that debacle behind them now, the Hotshots plunge into action against the Fuel Masters and new import Jameel McKay in the 7 p.m. contest at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
And this game will put to test the character that Star built in that humbling experience against Barangay Ginebra.
NBA veteran Tony Mitchell will reinforce one of the most complete local rosters in the league, a roster built to battle the heavyweights like San Miguel Beer and TNT KaTropa.
But the Hotshots will have to show that they are up to conquering equally formidable teams like Phoenix, which opted for defense in letting Eugene Phelps go and enlisting a certified defensive player in McKay.
Phelps dropped 53 points and had 21 rebounds in a double overtime victory over Blackwater on Saturday, but being under 6-foot-5 in a tournament that allows teams to parade imports no taller than 6-foot-10 certainly puts Phoenix at a disadvantage.
McKay is listed at 6-foot-9 and was a former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year while with Iowa State.
He will have to be efficient on that end in trying to stop a battery of scorers of the Hotshots, led by Paul Lee and Allein Maliksi.
Lee, after earning a leave from national team duty, will continue his role as the new franchise player of the Hotshots and will try to lead the team to its first championship in the post-Tim Cone era.
Victolero said that the Star coaching staff would not get in the way of Lee playing maximum minutes as possible with the Hotshots despite a nagging knee injury that kept him out of the Gilas Pilipinas pool.
“Unless he says so,” Victolero said of Lee’s expected major minutes. “It’s an injury that is being managed by the team doctors. He (Lee) will be the one to tell us if he can’t go (for long minutes).”
The Fuel Masters will be coming into the game seeking a share of the early lead with defending champion Rain or Shine at 2-0, the same card that the Alaska Aces will be chasing opposite Blackwater in the 4:15 p.m. game.
Mitchell is listed as 6-foot-9 and will have a lot of help in the shaded lane with Ian Sangalang, Rafi Reavis and Marc Pingris.
Alaska, meanwhile, seems to have landed a potentially great import in Cory Jefferson, but the Aces will be playing a totally different team in the Elite, who also have a good one in Greg Smith.
The Aces ran roughshod over GlobalPort also on Saturday, with the Batang Pier playing without leading local scorer Terrence Romeo.
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