Magnolia arrests alarming slide, dumps Phoenix with help of new import
Chito Victolero didn’t look too far when asked the reason why Magnolia finally got its first win in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup.
“This guy,” Victolero said, pointing at new import Antonio Hester, whose performance in Friday’s 108-95 victory over the Phoenix Fuel Masters gave the Hotshots renewed vigor.
Hester’s 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals at Mall of Asia Arena gave planted the initial seeds for a potential Magnolia turnaround after an unusual 0-3 start in the season-ending conference.
Barangay Ginebra remained spotless after routing NorthPort, 115-100, in the second game.
Justin Brownlee had 22 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in leading the Gin Kings, who rose to 3-0 as the Batang Pier dropped to 0-5.
Victolero had plenty to say about how Hester has changed the Magnolia outlook after struggling with original import Eric McCree. Not helping that frosty start was Ian Sangalang being sidelined with an illness.
“There’s a lot of room for our guards to maneuver and to create things,” Victolero said. “He attracts a lot of the defense, so our guards now have options to shoot or create.
“He also improved our assist numbers because of the multiple passes that’s happening on the court. But the most important thing is we were able to improve our defense and rebounding,” he added after handing the Fuel Masters their fifth defeat in six outings.
Victolero and his staff feel Hester is the guy for them, given his recent performance for the Zamboanga Valientes in the Asean Basketball League and previous PBA experience, having played with the Terrafirma Dyip in last season’s Governors’ Cup.
Delighted was perhaps the word that could be described of Hester’s description of his reaction when he got the call from Magnolia management.
“When I got the call that I was coming to Magnolia, I was excited because of the type of shooters that is on this team,” Hester said. “I’m a pass-first guy, knowing this team, I lit up with joy.
“I’m just ready to help them out as much as I can and do what I do best,” added the Hotshots reinforcement, fondly called “Big Hes.”
Now on a talented team, Hester hopes to continue the Magnolia momentum, especially on Sunday with a crucial battle with Barangay Ginebra that could determine if climbing out of the cellar is achievable.
Magnolia’s three defeats came at the expense of teams with winning records, namely Converge (4-1), TNT (4-1) and San Miguel Beer (5-0), and Victolero hopes that the trend would end in the renewal of the “Manila Clasico.”
“We faced elite teams in our first three games, and it was not easy,” said Victolero. “The good thing is that our opponents didn’t dominate us. We had a chance to win those games, it’s just the breaks didn’t go our way.
“And that’s the positive thing I want to relay to the players that there’s a 50-50 chance against elite teams. Now that we again face a champion team in Ginebra, there’s that same chance also.”