TNT coach Bong Ravena did not have to think hard about what level the KaTropa need to be if they want to compete for the Philippine Cup.
“There’s the San Miguel standard,” he said. “We have no choice but to reach that standard.”
The new PBA season opens on March 1, with the league’s premier jewel at stake. And for the last five years, that jewel has been safely locked in San Miguel Beer’s safe. It’s the key gatekeeper who makes it tough for other teams to steal that gem.
June Mar Fajardo, the league’s reigning five-time MVP who is on track for trophy No. 6, is the main reason why teams have failed to unseat the Beermen from their all-Filipino throne.
“There’s not an overabundance of big players in the PBA,” said TNT consultant Mark Dickel. “So the ones you’ve got, you’ve gotta try and get the absolute best you can out of them.”
“Last Philippine Cup, we were really fortunate that both Kelly (Williams) and Yousef (Taha) stayed healthy and played well. So you know, currently we are relying on that happening again,” Dickel added.
The goal is to be competitive against San Miguel Beer. Every all-Filipino title bid runs through the Beermen, and it’s not just Ravena and the KaTropa who think so.
“San Miguel has had an incredible monopoly on the all-Filipino in the last five years, and it’s well deserved,” said Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who made it clear after his team ruled the Governors’ Cup recently that they will be gunning for the Philippine Cup too.
“Doesn’t matter who we are—[Magnolia], TNT, Columbian—we all want to get that that all-Filipino championship so, you know, that’s what they call the crown jewel of the three championships,” he said. “When you win it in all-Filipino, you are the best team.”
And it doesn’t matter which team you ask either. San Miguel Beer is the standard to match.
“If we’re not able to get level with them, we’ll have a hard time,” said Ravena, whose team crashed out of the Philippine Cup in the quarterfinals last year. “We have to work harder [this time].”
Ginebra has a couple of bigs who can counter Fajardo in Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar. NorthPort coach Pido Jarencio, who said his team will pull off surprises in the Philippine Cup, has Christian Standhardinger.
Beyond those guys, there’s not much teams can throw at Fajardo. It’s the reason why Blackwater rolled the dice with 34-year-old rookie Maurice Shaw. “It’s not every day,” Elite coach Nash Racela said, “you see a 6-foot-8 guy in the draft.”
TNT hopes it can offset Fajardo’s advantage with a stretch big in Troy Rosario and quick-fire guards like RR Pogoy and Jayson Castro. And that they can resolve Ray Parks’ contract issue.
“The Philippine Cup is a whole different conference, so for us, it will be an adjustment period,” Dickel said. “But we’re all excited. We’re really looking forward to it.”