KOY BANAL of Magnolia Ice Cream-FEU and Caloy Garcia of Welcoat Paints believe the same thing as far as the season-ending conference of the Philippine Basketball League is concerned.
Both coaches consider the Montaña Pawnshop Jewelers as the team to beat when the league unwraps its Open Championship on October 23 at the Pasig Sports Complex.
In the last two conferences, Montaña failed to advance in the semifinals, prompting team owner Armand Quibod to form a competitive team capable of going against the elite teams like multititled Welcoat and Second PBL Unity Cup champion Magnolia, (formerly Viva Mineral Water).
“He [Quibod] instructed me to find the best talent available, and we’re happy with what we got. The team is doing well so far,” said team manager Clarence Aytona in Friday’s Scoop sa Kamayan Session in Padre Faura, Manila.
The return of Magnolia—a quality brand well loved in most Filipino households—to the basketball limelight is big news in itself. The San Miguel Corp. franchise dominated the PBL during the early to mid-1980s when it was still known as the Philippine Amateur Basketball League.
The Dairy Ice Cream Wizards’ revival in the PBL dovetails with SMC’s return to the ice cream business, with San Miguel having announced plans to build a modern ice cream plant at an industrial park in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
“The challenge for the team now is also to ensure that we consistently deliver games reflecting the high quality of the brand that we carry,” Banal added at the forum organized by the Sports Communicators Organization of the Philippines.
SMC restored its PBL franchise last year, immediately bearing fruit in a runner-up finish as the Viva Mineral Water Force in the 2003 First PBL Unity Cup and subsequently, a championship trophy in the conference’s second edition last June.
As in these campaigns, the Wizards will again be composed of the core of the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, bannered by Arwind Santos, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines’ Most Valuable Player.
Meanwhile, the Jewelers, who will be handled by coach Robert Sison, tapped American playmaker Alex Compton (Sunkist-UST), guard Reed Juntilla and big man Francis Albert Mercado (Hapee Toothpaste) during the dispersal draft.
They also got the services of veteran forward Ariel Capus from Welcoat Paints and named Karl Kenneth Bono of Adamson as the second overall pick in the rookie draft to team up with veterans Jondan Salvador and Al Magpayo.
“With the talent and experience they have, the addition of Alex Compton and the other players, Montaña is really strong,” said Banal, who hopes to duplicate his team’s feat last conference when they downed fancied Welcoat in the Finals.
PBL commissioner Chino Trinidad, on the other hand, said he believes the playing field is equal as the eight competing teams have what it takes to make it big in the season-ending conference.
“I think the teams are all even. Whoever jells the first will make the difference. But the bottom line here is that heart and the will to win ang magdadala sa teams,” said Trinidad.