San Miguel hopes for luck on import to contend for PBA title again
Wanting to be on top of the food chain again, San Miguel Beer pulled the trigger on a trade to land high-IQ big man Vic Manuel, but coach Leo Austria understands that such a thing does not happen overnight.
“We want to become contenders again,” the Beermen coach told the Inquirer on Thursday when asked of the biggest reason why they let Arwind Santos go to acquire Manuel. “Some changes were needed. But it’s a process.”
“That’s not something that will happen simply because of Vic Manuel,” he went on.
That is why Austria is hoping for a lot of things to come his way in the coming Governors’ Cup.
Topping that list is having a fully healthy roster. After all, what’s a talented crew if you can’t milk its full potential?
Austria pointed to the last Philippine Cup, where they dragged top-seeded and eventual champion TNT to a deciding Game 7 in the semifinals.
“We were one win away,” he said of his team’s botched bid to return to the title series.
“But in the first half [of Game 7], Mo (Tautuaa) got injured immediately. And then Terrence (Romeo). CJ (Perez), too, with sprains,” he recalled with a sigh. Replacing Santos would mean that Manuel will be playing long minutes helping out at the middle.
June Mar Fajardo still remains as the team’s cornerstone and is expected to play a lot better than he did in the PH Cup, his first tournament since coming back from a shin injury that sidelined him for a year.
Manuel idolizes Santos and is a virtual clone of the one-time Most Valuable Player who helped Austria win all his eight titles as a coach of the Beermen, and the trade certainly made headlines.
San Miguel also has one of the oldest teams in the league, and though Manuel is no spring chicken, he seems to have more miles left in him than the 40-year-old Santos.
Austria is also hoping for better luck with the import that they have chosen for the season-closing conference.
San Miguel hasn’t been particularly fortunate with reinforcements of late, especially during Governors’ Cups. In fact, two of Austria’s bids for a Triple Crown sweep were marred with import woes, including one they had to send home just when the Beermen seemed unbeatable—Dez Wells, who came at odds with his talented local crew.
“It’s also a matter of luck,” he said. “That’s why most teams go for returning imports. There’s lot of factors to be considered—from his attitude to playability. And if he is even helpful to the team’s cause.”
“But you still never know until they’re actually here [in the country],” he added.
The import-spiced conference will get a final date for its opening once all of the teams’ reinforcements plane in.
With all that in mind, San Miguel has chosen 2017 Phoenix import Brandon Brown for the season-ending conference slated to open this Nov. 28.
“I hope he’s a good fit,” he said. “We’ve seen how he plays and his performance is commendable. Hopefully he could be truly helpful to us.”
San Miguel, the league’s winningest franchise with 27 titles, has been on a mission to reclaim its lofty perch in the PBA since it has been out of the title series in the last two Philippine Cups in Pampanga.
And Austria swears by that it’s ticking those boxes—instead of crossing just one name off a wish list—that will truly help them do just that.
Meanwhile, the league continues to work on all things needed in order to have fans back in the stands for the Governors’ Cup.
Commissioner Willie Marcial was set for a late Thursday meeting with Dr. Raul Canlas to finalize protocols that will be put in place in order for that to happen.