Coach Leo Austria of defending champion San Miguel Beer considers Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Magnolia and TNT KaTropa as threats to their bid to defend their Philippine Cup crown when the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 43 kicks off on December 17.
The three-time recipient of PBA Press Corps Coach of the Year award added that Northern Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Blackwater, Alaska and Rain or Shine might also pull off surprises with their retooled lineups.
“All of the teams are competitive but I believe Ginebra, Star (Magnolia) and Talk ‘N Text (TNT) stand out mainly because they were the same formidable teams last season,” Austria told The Manila Times in a phone interview on Sunday.
Back-to-back Governors’ Cup champions Ginebra was a force to be reckon with in the first conference due to the presence of twin tower 7-footer Greg Slaughter and 6’9 Japeth Aguilar, while Magnolia is also a legitimate contender because of Paul Lee and a balanced roster.
TNT, on the other hand, has a deadly arsenal at its disposal because of the presence of Kelly Williams, Moala Tautuaa, Gilas Pilipinas players Troy Rosario, Jayson Castro and Roger Pogoy.
“NLEX is fortifying its lineup, the same is true with Alaska, Blackwater and Rain or Shine,” added Austria.
The Beermen started their training last November 13 hoping to be at 85 to 90 percent fighting form before the start of the season.
San Miguel Beer had a chance to complete a Grand Slam last season after winning the Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup but lost to the Gin Kings in the Governors’ Cup.
Besides re-signing Marcio Lassiter to a three-year contract, Austria said they would sign up free agent Billy Mamaril next week to serve as June Mar Fajardo’s back-up this season. The role was originally for center Jay-R Reyes, who with Ronald Tubid and Rashawn McCarthy, were traded for the Picanto’s top overall pick Christian Standhardinger.
“Billy (Mamaril) was Shell’s No.1 center but he’s in a different situation now. We would rely on him whenever we need a big man,” said Austria, who mentored Mamaril during his coaching stint with Shell in 2005.
JOSEF T. RAMOS