Temper your expectations—history does not support Blackwater’s buildup promise
Ariel Vanguardia’s quote on the heels of Blackwater’s lone victory for the current PBA season will probably go down as the most screen-capped quote of the year.
“We have three first-round picks, including the first pick, which is ours, so we’ll have the first crack at whoever the best player is,” Vanguardia said.
And then he added: “We won’t trade those picks. We’ll keep them. We’ll try to really build this team.”
Jaded basketball fans will file those words for receipts—for good reason.
Very few people really take Blackwater seriously nowadays.
And every word coming from a jubilant Dioceldo Sy, the team owner who once threatened to sell his franchise, made basketball buffs who had tracked Blackwater’s history in the league cringe.
“I hope this [win] really inspires the team for the next [season],” Sy told reporters after the game.
And then he rattled off his plans to build on the 101-100 victory over Governors’ Cup top seed Magnolia by maximizing the team’s picks in the coming Rookie Draft.
“We’re looking at all the Fil-Ams coming in,” Sy said.
“I have a lot of good point guards already so I need some big man that can help the team,” he added.
(Poy Erram, Mac Belo)
Vanguardia added: “We’re not the highest-budget team. But you got to appreciate [the fact that when it comes to] rebuilding, [management] fully supports it.”
There’s just one thing, though.
Blackwater already had what they will be searching for in this year’s Draft. The team managed to pluck championship-worthy talent before. But it seemed that the Bossing were intent on building a championship team elsewhere.
In 2018, the team shipped Erram, a rim-protector reeking with offensive agility, to NLEX. In 2019, the Bossing dealt two-way star Parks to TNT for Don Trollano and Anthony Semerad—none of whom are in the team’s roster anymore. This after the Bossing shoveled off perimeter threats Allein Maliksi and Mike DiGregorio.
Then in 2021, the team dealt away Belo to Meralco.
“We won’t trade those picks. We’ll keep them. We’ll try to really build this team.”
Erram, Parks and Belo are players Blackwater fished out of the Draft. They have since become significant contributors to teams that have made a run to the finals, with Erram winning it all with TNT in this season’s Philippine Cup.
Theoretically speaking, Blackwater could have assembled a core of draftees Erram, Parks and Belo and trade pickups Maliksi and DiGregorio as early as 2017 (in this theoretical scenario, the team lures Parks out of the ABL). That’s a solid starting unit to build on en route to the tumultuous pandemic seasons.
And boy does tumultuous fall short of describing the Bossing’s tailspin there.
Further highlighting that stretch of futility is that in the midst of Blackwater’s record losing streak, Alaska—a franchise that anchored its legacy on building championship teams with astute decision-making by club management—announced it was leaving the PBA after 35 seasons and 14 championships.
Social media lit up with comments about how the wrong franchise was bidding the league farewell.
Fittingly, it was Alaska that served as Ground Zero for the tortuous grind that Blackwater went through during the PBA’s pandemic era. As an inquirer report pointed out, the Aces’ 120-82 blowout of the Bossing in Oct. 20, 2020, was loss No. 1 in a record 29-game spiral.
Twenty-nine games. The previous record holder of the longest losing streak, defunct club Presto, could have lost one game more to each of the teams that existed during its slump and it would have still been way short of Backwater’s mark.
It got so bad that Vanguardia knew every motivation of every coach he played against in the season-ending tournament.
“I think there were a lot of coaches who came [into games vs Blackwater] thinking ‘I hope their losing streak doesn’t end with us,’” Vanguardia said.
Magnolia, however, did not attach too much attention to its role as an asterisk to a forgettable league mark.
“It was bound to happen—that (Blackwater) finally gets to win,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said. “They just didn’t know when. It happened tonight.”
Perhaps the Bossing should have been as nonchalant.
After all, the team ended the season with just one victory. That still is the fewest number of wins in a season by any team that played at least two conferences, beating the previous mark of two wins by Pepsi (1990) and Country Fair (1984). Blackwater’s 1-21 win-loss mark is also the lowest season winning percentage among those three teams at .045. Pepsi won two out of 28 matches (.071) while Country Fair won two out of 23 games (.087).
All Barkley Eboña’s highlight-worthy game-winning basket did was avert a more humiliating record: a first PBA season shutout.
And yet, there was a jubilant, hopeful mood all around the Blackwater camp at Smart Araneta Coliseum after that lone win.
There’s no reason to believe that Blackwater won’t follow through with its optimistic pronouncements to really build on becoming a more competitive ball club next season.
Perhaps they truly won’t pawn off their future by trading away their precious picks.
But selecting talent has never been Blackwater’s problem anyway.
“We’re very hopeful going into the future; we’re one or two pieces away [from contending],” Vanguardia said.
Keeping those pieces for the long term, though, is another story.
(Francis T. J. Ochoa is the sports editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer)
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.