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Alaska ready for big rebound

Alaska coach Alex Compton said the other day he’s looking forward to a big rebound by the Aces this coming PBA season with high expectations of bringing back the fighting spirit that has defined the franchise in building a championship tradition.

“Our performance last season was totally unacceptable, certainly not in keeping with Alaska’s high standards,” he said. “This season will be different. I haven’t been as excited about a coming season in years. We’re bringing back that renewed spirit of Alaska fighting until the last buzzer, that even if we’re down by 20 in the fourth period, we’ll still be out there battling to win.”

Compton, 43, said the 14 straight losses that Alaska suffered bridging the Commissioner’s and Governors Cups last season were tough to swallow. “We all hated it,” he said. “We felt something weird was going on. Of the 14 losses, six went down to the last possession, two ended in overtime and we led by double digits in eight. There were issues we had to address as a family and I think we’ve made big steps in getting us back on track.”

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In 10 conferences since taking over the Alaska reins two games into the 2014 Governors Cup, Compton has led the Aces to four Finals. Alaska came close to winning the Philippine Cup title in 2015-16 but the Aces blew a 3-0 lead in the Finals to lose to San Miguel Beer in seven games. Compton said despite the bitter defeat, Alaska came back strong in the next conference and returned to the Finals against Rain Or Shine. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” he said. “The conference after we lost to San Miguel, we survived five knockout games, got to the Finals and won two games after falling behind 0-3 without Jvee (Casio) and Vic (Manuel). That kind of spirit is what we’re excited to bring back this season.”

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Compton said he took three weeks off with his family to visit his hometown in Madison, Wisconsin, after the season to regroup. Last week, Alaska was back at practice and Compton welcomed first round draft pick Jeron Teng. Alaska’s second round pick Davon Potts will join the Aces after playing in the NCAA Finals with San Beda. Compton has brought in Eric Altamirano, Danny Ildefonso and Tony de la Cruz to bolster his staff. Aside from De la Cruz, the only other Alaska player not coming back from last season is Dondon Hontiveros, now with Alab Pilipinas in the ABL.

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“Eric is a proven winner and has won championships at every level,” he said. “We go back a long way. I lived with his family back in 2006-07, we started the NBTC together. He’s coached over 1,000 games and his knowledge of the game is something you can’t learn without experience. He’s also a great organizer, very meticulous with unbelievable attention to detail.”

Compton said he expects Carl Bryan Cruz to play a larger role this season. “It was difficult for Bryan last year because of Gilas,” he said. “Bryan was in and out. He was called up 60 days before every competition to practice with Gilas and it wasn’t easy working under radically different systems. I think the experience with Gilas has made him a better player and we’re hoping he’ll be a major part of our rotation. I envision Bryan as a big man, a stretch four and coach Danny will work on his post moves. His ability to perform was never in question. We’re expecting big things from Bryan this season. I’ll be fathering him as part of our family.”

Compton said like everyone in the squad, Teng and Potts will earn their minutes on the floor. “Jeron has a unique game and it’ll be a challenge for other teams to defend him,” he said. “I think he was a steal as a fifth overall pick. Depending on whether we go big or small, Jeron can play two or three. I’m excited to watch Jeron and Calvin (Abueva) play together. We know Jeron works hard but it’s a different level of competition in the PBA where he’ll be matched up against guys like Marcio Lassiter and Joe De Vance so he’s got to be ready. Davon has the benefit of learning from coach Boyet (Fernandez) and coach Jamike (Jarin) at San Beda. He’ll be a fit in our system, too.”

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