Phoenix head coach Ariel Vanguardy set a lofty goal for the coming Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup – a semifinal appearance.
But you can’t blame the second-year mentor especially after the Fuel Masters “overachieved” last Philippine Cup with a quarterfinal stint.
“From 11th when I took over, we got to eighth to sixth spot last conference. We hope to crack the top four in the second conference,” Vanguardia told The Manila Times on Wednesday through text message.
For the mid-season conference, the Fuel Masters are bringing back the high-scoring Eugene Phelps to fuel their ‘small ball’ style of play.
Phelps was not Vanguardia’s first choice for the Commissioner’s Cup, which pegged a six-foot-10 height ceiling.
Jarrid Famous was supposed to reinforce Phoenix in the tournament, which kicks off this Friday, but his rights were not released by GlobalPort.
Still, Vanguardia feels that the six-foot-five Phelps can help the team’s bid for a semifinals appearance.
“He can create mismatches with his quickness versus big imports and even at 6’5 he is used to guarding bigger imports,” said Vanguardia of Phelps, who averaged 36 points, 19 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 10 games in the last Governor’s Cup.
Phelps tallied last season’s highest output with 52 points in their 120-107 win over Batang Pier.
The Fuel Masters also tweaked their roster during the off-season, adding veteran guard RJ Jazul and burly rookie forward Joseph Eriobu in the lineup.
Jazul was acquired by Phoenix from Alaska for Simon Enciso while it also traded for Eriobu in exchange for Prince Caperal, who went to Mahindra.
“I’m excited also with our new guys. RJ Jazul gives us leadership that we had been longing for and Joseph’s energy is rubbing off with everyone,” he added. “Plus, Karl (Dehesa) and Doug (Kramer) got more time to gel with the team.”
In last year’s Commissioner’s Cup, Phoenix ended with a 3-11 win-loss record under former coach Koy Banal.
Vanguardia took over in the next conference and led the team to a 5-6 record for eight spot and a quarterfinals stint.
In the last Philippine Cup, Phoenix finished at No. 6 with 6-5 win-loss record but lost to seeded Star in the quarters.