The past three seasons in-a-row saw San Miguel Beer crowning itself the Philippine Cup champion making the Beermen the only team capable of coming up with a Grand Slam. They came up short thigh in as many times.
This year, coach Leo Austria’s charges, again, emerged the All-Filipino crown owners, opening anew the door for SMC president and CEO Ramon S. Ang to fulfill what every franchise owner dream of owning he much-coveted honor of becoming the only second team in the play-for-pay’s 43-year history to do so twice.
Only the legendary Crispa Redmanizers had done the trick in 197t and 1983.
And no less than Mr. Ang himself, RSA to team members and employees, who made known his wish during the thanksgiving party he hosted in honor of the Beermen shortly following their Philippine Cup title conquest.
“No, it wasn’t a marching order, pero the fact na binanggit niya ang wish niya, nangangahulugang dapat na naming tuparin ito,” Austria told this writer in an interview on the eve of the Beermen’s debut against the Meralco Bolts in the on-going import-laced Commissioner’s Cup Tuesday.
“Kung maari lang daw naman,” skipper Arwind Santos butted in. “But the fact na ngayon lang nagsalita si Boss RSA tungkol sa Grand Slam, dapat gawin na naming obligasyon na ibigay sa kanya ang gusto niya.”
And for that purpose, Austria had to call his players from vacation barely three weeks after the All-Filipino coronation night to prepare for the Commissioner’s Cup, where the Beermen are actually the defending titlists.
For that purpose, too, the Beermen acquired what team management thought is the best import in the market—the six-foot-eight Troy Gillenwater—said to be a veteran campaigner in the Asian and European leagues.
And so far, with the way he’s been performing in practices since arriving in Manila at the time the Beermen were defending the All-Filipino against sister team magnolia Hotshots, Gillenwater, according to Austria, looks what the team really needs.
The Beermen, of course, boast, too, of the presence of the much-ballyhooed 6-7 draftee Christian Standhardinger, a Fil-German, whose height and bulk are sure to compliment four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo’s usual dominance at the paint.
As in the past campaigns, the team’s strength is built around its tested starters in Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter. Santos, also as in every import-reinforced conference, will be tasked defending the imports more than offensive prowess.
“Puwede din namang tumulong sa opensa kung kakailanganin , pero ang assignment ko na naman ay ang dumepensa sa mga import ng kalaban,” Santos said with a grin.
“The addition of Christian (Standhardinger), medyo nakumpleto na ang rekado, kumbaga, ng team,” Santos assessed. “And if Troy (Gellinwater) will come up with what is expected of him, malakas at puwede na talagang katakutan gaya ng bali-balita.”
“Itong first game namin against Meralco and, probably, our next three to four games ang magsisilbing sukatan kung saan kami makararating sa aming misyon na manalo ng grand slam,” Santos added drawing concurrence from coach Leo.