Austria looking to fuel San Miguel’s drive
Leo Austria sensed a certain characteristic among San Miguel Beer players when he first took over in 2014.
“When I took over this team, the players were hungry. They all wanted to win,” Austria told the Inquirer on Friday. “There was no need for us to motivate them. They were already doing that for themselves.”
That hunger fueled a drive that resulted in a championship spree, which hiked the franchise’s total in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) to 27, the richest haul in the league.
Somewhere along the way though, there was a slight change. And Austria measured his words carefully to avoid being taken out of context.
“I don’t know if it’s human nature or whatever,” he said.
“There comes a point that you tend to become too familiar with the flow of things. Sometimes, that results to a dip in effort,” he said. The dip wasn’t much, just the usual dent that organically falls into place when teams make a title binge the way the Beermen have.
“We needed some changes in our team. And what we’re looking for is hunger,” said Austria after San Miguel traded away a key piece of its squad less than a week ago.
“If we can inject our team with players who are diligent, then it could rub off on the rest of the team. And I think that is the key,” he added.
Just a day after saying those words, San Miguel Beer’s rebuild mode sent off yet another important member of its core; Alex Cabagnot, a clutch-shooting guard, was shipped to Terrafirma in exchange for Simon Enciso.
Cabagnot is the second of San Miguel’s so-called “Death Five” traded away to allow the Beermen to get slightly younger. Less that a week ago, it traded veteran forward Arwind Santos, 40, to NorthPort for bruiser Vic Manuel, 34.
In exchange for the 38-year-old Cabagnot, the Beermen got the 30-year-old Enciso, a high-energy playmaker with a penchant for knocking down the long ball. Enciso has played for winning programs like Alaska and TNT, but has yet to win a PBA championship.
He might just provide the hunger factor Austria is looking for.
Cabagnot averaged 12.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists for San Miguel in the last Philippine Cup, where the Beermen lost to eventual champion TNT in the semifinals.
Enciso, meanwhile, was just recently traded by Blackwater to Terrafirma last Sept. 28 after coming off a career-best 13.7 points per game last conference. He never got to play a single game with the Dyip.
Just after the Santos-Manuel swap, Austria said the team’s roster facelift is far from over.
“If there’s another opportunity, why not?” said Austria, whose club has not been in the finals in the league’s pandemic era.
Whether acquiring Enciso will mark the end of San Miguel’s rebuilding or not remains to be seen.
Reports had it that the Beermen wanted Dyip big man Roosevelt Adams in the deal, but at least two sources said Terrafirma balked and the league removed Adams from the table before approving the swap.