Blackwater promises to build on lone win in a disastrous season
Just a few steps away from Blackwater’s dugout, amid the din of the celebration of the Bossing’s slump-busting victory over No. 1-seeded Magnolia in the PBA Governors’ Cup late Wednesday night, Blackwater team owner Dioceldo Sy spoke of his team’s future.
“I hope we get good catches in the drafting. We have three, first-round picks, so I’m hoping for the best,” he told a few reporters while catching his breath.
Over at the press room, Blackwater coach Ariel Vanguardia was echoing the same message. Only his came with an assurance.
“[We have] like four picks that can really help us, help this franchise get over the hump,” he said. “We won’t trade those picks. We’ll keep them. We’ll try to really build this team.”
To understand the pure momentousness of Vanguardia’s promise is to retrace the club’s spiral to their unflattering record. The road to ignominy started long before the 120-82 blowout at the hands of Alaska back in Oct. 20, 2020—loss No. 1 of a tailspin that would last 29 games.
It began earlier than that.
Winning just two games in the first two conferences of the 2018 PBA season, the Bossing (then Elite) zoomed to a 7-4 record in the Governors’ Cup to tab a No. 5 seeding in the playoffs. That squad, powered by import Henry Walker, ran into the 8-3 and twice-to-beat Magnolia Hotshots. Though Blackwater lost, 103-99, the club managed to tab a moral victory by drawing commendable performances from its local crew.
But that hardly seemed a compelling reason for the team’s brass to keep the team intact as they dealt away tested international veteran Paul Zamar to San Miguel Beer, and then later a blossoming Poy Erram to NLEX in a bid to rejig the cast and build around a future pick that turned out to be two-way star Ray Parks Jr.
It was a vision which fizzled swiftly as Blackwater eventually also shipped veteran Allein Maliksi and project big man Raymar Jose to Meralco, practically reducing their playoff team to just Mac Belo, who eventually also joined the Bolts.
Parks Jr’.s stay didn’t last long either, as he was also eventually shipped to a TNT side so hell-bent on reclaiming its place atop the league’s food chain.
Blackwater’s inability to keep decent role players and potential cornerstones cost the franchise in the long run as it pretty much had raw prospects and untested players competing in a landscape dominated by just six teams belonging to two corporate conglomerates.
It also didn’t help Blackwater when it fired coach Nash Racela before the 2021 season. A believer of tedious, but vital, processes, the former TNT mentor sold the idea of long investments, and said culture and connection must be cultivated before a team could reap success.
In an interview with the Inquirer during the first bubble season, Racela likened the struggle to “planting seeds.”
“If you look at other teams, no one became successful overnight. Remember when coach Tim [Cone] took over Ginebra? It took him a couple of conferences,” Racela said.
“Coach Yeng [Guiao] struggled, too, before he was able to form a capable NLEX team. You look at … San Miguel Beer during its Petron years, there was a struggle, [too]. Success awaits those who are patient, and it’s the same when you talk about the process of planting seeds.”
Blackwater is projected to have three-first round selections in the annual proceedings this summer, including the first overall pick; A fourth, the team’s choice early in the second round, could be vital as well. And Sy is hoping to reel in another big man whom he can build around.
“We’re looking at all the Filipino-Americans coming in,” he said. “Though I still don’t know all of the Fil-Ams; I have high hopes that we get a big man.”
“We have plenty of fine point guards already. So I need some big man who can help the team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the drafting so I can get some new faces and rebuild the team.”
Grand plans, indeed, for a team that barely avoided the league’s first winless season—the Bossing needed a key turnover from a team with nothing to play for and a clutch hang-time basket from Barkley Eboña to nail that victory.
But whether or not those new faces end up becoming transactional pieces for a vision as murky as the team’s recent past is something that truly remains to be seen.