After 10 years, San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel are meeting in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup finals anew.
The Beermen are definitely the favorites with the presence of three-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) June Mar Fajardo and they have an extra day of rest as the Gin Kings just finished off the Star last Tuesday in their own best-of-seven semifinal series.
But San Miguel head coach Leo Austria said his team is not just about Fajardo.
“San Miguel is not only about June Mar. We are winning not only because of June Mar but also because of his teammates,” said Austria during the Philippine Cup finals news conference on Wednesday in Eastwood, Quezon City.
Austria is shooting for his fourth PBA crown and third straight Philippine Cup jewel that could also give them the Perpetual Trophy named after the late Commissioner Jun Bernardino.
TNT KaTropa was the first team to bag the special award after winning the All-Filipino crown from 2011 to 2013.
Beermen Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter vowed to prepare hard against Ginebra.
“We are happy to be back in the finals,” said last year’s Philippine Cup Finals MVP Ross. “We would ready for them.”
“We wont stop working hard to get this championship,” added Lassiter also during the presser.
Multi-titled Ginebra mentor Tim Cone admitted that the six-foot-10 Fajardo would be their biggest concern in the best-of-seven championship series, which starts on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“I don’t have a plan yet to stop June Mar and I’m not even sure if there’s a plan,” said Cone, winner of 19 PBA titles including two Grand Slam with Alaska and Star.
“I believe in our guys and I hope they can find ways to compete with San Miguel,” he added.
Ginebra, then coached by Jong Uichico, came out victorious in their last Philippine Cup finals duel, storming back from 0-2 series deficit to stun the Beermen.
Jayjay Helterbrand was named the Finals MVP of the series and the 40-year guard and Mark Caguia are the remnants of that champion squad.
“It’s an amazing career for me and I have another chance to win a Philippine Cup title, but this time in a different perspective,” said the 17-year veteran Helterbrand.
“I’m more of a spectator now. I’m just encouraging the young guys to step up their game. We are just going to keep playing hard as long as we can. We’re just happy to have another opportunity to win a championship,” he added.
Curiously, LA Tenorio was on his rookie year with San Miguel and now one of the key players of the Gin Kings in the finals.
“I experienced playing against Ginebra, but now it’s a different story,” the 10-year veteran guard Tenorio said.
“Before, Ginebra was the powerhouse squad, now it’s San Miguel Beer,” he added.
Besides Fajardo, the Beermen have Arwind Santos, Lassiter, Ross and Alex Cabagnot who will carry the squad in the finals.
Ronald Tubid, who was with the Ginebra squad in 2006, knew that the Gin Kings draw their strength from the crowd and vows to deny them back-to-back titles.
“We are going to stop them (Ginebra) this time,” said Tubid.