‘Hardest worker’ Mariano steps up big time for shorthanded Ginebra
Barangay Ginebra forward Aljon Mariano had his best game in the PBA on Sunday night and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Mariano tied his career-high with 20 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting from the field to provide a much-needed lift for the depleted Gin Kings, who were missing six of their players including key cogs Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Sol Mercado and Jervy Cruz.
The 6-foot-3 forward said he knew stepping up is a must with him playing a bigger role in the absence of his teammates.
“We’re really undermanned. If you saw our practice last week, there were only seven or eight of us practicing, but we came into this game and really played with our hearts,” Mariano told reporters after Ginebra took down San Miguel Beer, 110-102, for its fourth win in five stints. “My job is to really try and stop the import and the points just come as an extra for me.”
The 26-year-old Mariano, who was an early second round pick in the 2015 PBA Draft, also played an instrumental role on the defensive end as the primary stopper to SMB import Arizona Reid.
On top of his career offensive game, Mariano also collected seven rebounds, two steals and a block while locking down Reid, who only scored 13 points on 6-of-21 from the field.
His stellar play certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
“Aljon stepped up big time. He was huge. Defending, rebounding, running the break, finishing on the fastbreak, he really played really, really well. We see him do that in practice everyday and I’m glad the fans are finally getting the chance to see it,” Ginebra head coach Tim Cone praised.
Joe Devance, who was also equally commendable, after playing through an injury, feels all the injuries are also a “blessing in disguise” with Mariano and other role players like Kevin Ferrer and Prince Caperal gaining confidence with extended playing time.
“It’s AJ’s time right now. I’m so proud of him. He balled out and he’s the hardest worker on the team,” Devance, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists, said.
“With the injuries, it’s like the blessing in disguise for AJ, Prince and for all the guys who haven’t been playing that much. It’s just gives them confidence and really helping us get deeper.”
It was the second straight time that Mariano showed what he’s capable of after scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds in a 124-118 loss to Blackwater on Friday.
“I’m starting to get my rhythm and my teammates are just looking for me so I’m able to get easy shots,” Mariano said.
Mariano hopes to sustain his form with Ginebra not expecting to get its injured players back anytime soon.
The Gin Kings will have their work cut out for them again when they take on the surging Phoenix Fuel Masters and their prolific import Eugene Phelps on Saturday in Cagayan de Oro City.