Macau stint primes San Miguel for PBA grand slam bid
MANILA, Philippines—It’s been nearly two years since San Miguel attempted to complete an elusive Grand Slam when it missed out on the opportunity in the 2016-2017 season.
That loss did tarnish the Beermen’s somewhat impenetrable dominance as PBA’s winningest franchise, taking three of the possible five championships in the next two seasons.
A couple of years on, the Beermen are once again at the cusp of that elusive prize but unlike the 2017 heartbreak they now have valuable international experience to bring to the PBA Governors’ Cup.
San Miguel finished fourth in the East Asia Super League: The Terrific 12 in Macau, an invitational tournament where teams from the PBA, CBA, B.League, and KBL competed in a week-long tournament.
“This could be a good preparation for us going into the third conference,” said San Miguel head coach Leo Austria. “We’re so lucky to have been invited in this tournament because we gained knowledge and experience and we’re able to see players from the CBA, KBL, and B.League.”
Point guard Chris Ross said competing in the Terrific 12 isn’t just about carrying San Miguel’s banner but also the Philippines’ flag as well since the Beermen, together with TNT and Blackwater are the Philippine representatives in the continental meet.
“It’s a chance to represent the Philippines with my team and like I said there’s this great competition from all over Asia—the CBA, Japan’s [B.League], and Korea’s KBL,” said Ross.
The Beermen had a great start in the preliminaries sweeping Group B with wins over the CBA’s Shenzhen Aviators, 90-76, and the B.League’s Ryukyu Golden Knights, 101-92.
Despite the strong start, San Miguel fell to the eventual champions Liaoning Flying Leopards and MVP Lance Stephenson111-89 in the semifinals.
San Miguel could not turn things around in the bronze medal game losing to the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions, who plays in the CBA with Liaoning, 91-89.
The Beermen, though, didn’t have five-time MVP June Mar Fajardo and national team wingman Marcio Lassiter in the four games while point guard Alex Cabagnot only played in the final two.
Christian Standhardinger also missed the bronze medal game as he rested due to lingering pains in his left knee.
This left bench players Von Pessumal, Paul Zamar, Kelly Nabong, and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser to fill in the void.
Austria, who’s known to use an eight or nine-man rotation in the PBA, said he was proud of how his support players played in the tournament despite having little to no playing time in the PBA.
“That’s what they’ve been waiting for and I told them that even though you’re not getting minutes you have to be in game shape,” said Austria.
Zamar appeared in five elimination games in the Commissioner’s Cup, averaging 3.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in around 10 minutes a game but he was thrust as the Beermen’s sparkplug against the Golden Kings and he repaid Austria’s trust with nine points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block in 19 minutes of play.
Nabong, meanwhile, was the surprise in the bronze medal game when he had 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep.
Ross added that the time for reckoning in the Governors’ Cup is still in January of 2020 but he said that San Miguel has to use its experience in Macau in helping build momentum in the team’s Grand Slam chase.
“Hopefully we’ll hit the ground running and we’re not trying to sweep the eliminations or peak early, we’re just trying to figure out the right time, trying to make it through the eliminations, and play our best ball,” said Ross.