Big SMB test minus June Mar
What’s life for San Miguel Beer (SMB) in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup minus the league’s biggest star will be known this Sunday when the Beermen open their quest for a record sixth straight all-Filipino title against the Magnolia Hotshots at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
As the losing finalist the last two years, no other team than the Hotshots deserves a first crack at the Beermen in what many experts have predicted to be a wide-open season with SMB ace June Mar Fajardo, who is expected to receive a milestone sixth straight most valuable player (MVP) award during the opening ceremony before the match, out of the tournament with a fractured right shin.
SMB coach Leo Austria acknowledged the big challenge facing the Beermen during the recent PBA media day, adding they will rely on pride and experience to survive with the 6-foot-8 backup center Mo Tautuaa now thrust into a position dominated like no other by the 6-10 Fajardo.
With seven-footer Greg Slaughter opting to rest than sign a new contract with Barangay Ginebra, the first tournament of the league’s 45th season now becomes a key battleground for the remaining slot men of the competition led by Japeth Aguilar and Christian Standhardinger, who had teamed up with Fajardo and Slaughter in practically dwarfing the opposition in the country’s runaway cage victory in the Southeast Asian Games last December.
The 6-9 Aguilar, the Finals MVP when Ginebra captured the Governors’ Cup title over Meralco several days after the SEA Games, will be the main man this time for the Gin Kings while the 6-8 Standhardinger will reprise his role as the unstoppable scorer and rebounder for NorthPort that he assumed after being unceremoniously traded by SMB last season for Tautuaa. Standhardinger was later named best player of the conference of the last Governors’ Cup.
The TNT KaTropa also boosted their stock by acquiring 6-9 Poy Erram from sister team NLEX recently even as the Meralco Bolts continued to hope for the speedy recovery of their top 6-8 center, Raymond Almazan, who injured his left knee in the last title playoffs.
With its big combination of 6-8 Rafi Reavis and 6-7 Ian Sangalang, Magnolia remains a force in the shaded lane even as the Hotshots added another reliable guard in their already loaded array of backcourt aces by recruiting Chris Banchero from Alaska in the last tournament.
Stanley Pringle, another mainstay of the SEA Games Gilas team, is also expected to boost Ginebra’s campaign with Bobby Ray Parks Jr. doing the same for TNT after signing a yearlong pact.