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Culture change for Phoenix

Newly designated Phoenix head coach Louie Alas said the other day playing conservatively will be a thing of the past when the Fuel Masters welcome the PBA season with a resolve to engage in high-energy defense for 48 minutes.

“We’ll be defense-oriented,” said Alas. “Our commitment to (PBA governor) Atty. (Raymond) Zorilla is to change our culture. Whether we’re up 20 or down 20, we’ll play as hard. Whatever we lack in talent, we’ll make up by working harder than other teams. Defense is about hard work. There’s no luck involved. At practice, we want it to be habit-forming. We do short but intense practices of an hour and 30 minutes with only three one-minute water breaks. We want guys to get used to getting tired.”

Alas, 54, took over the reins from Ariel Vanguardia and brought in Topex Robinson as his first assistant with Nic Belasco, Mel Alas, Cesar Tolhen and Cris Reyes also in the staff. Alas and Robinson were previously with Alaska.

Gone from last year’s cast are John Wilson, Chico Lanete and Dylan Ababou. From the recent draft, Phoenix picked up 6-3 1/4 Jason Perkins of La Salle, 6-3 1/3 Sidney Onwubere of EAC, 6-4 Jasyon Grimaldo of MLQU, 6-2 1/2 Wilson Baltazar of Lyceum, 5-8 1/3 Dan Sara of Sam Beda and 5-8 1/2 John Casino of Arellano. Onwubere, however, is headed to TNT in exchange for 6-5 rookie JonJon Gabriel and veteran Justin Chua. The deal is awaiting approval by the PBA commissioner. 

Returning veterans are Willie Wilson, R. J. Jazul, Gio Alolino, Doug Kramer, J. C. Intal, Karl Dehesa, Matthew Wright, Joseph Eriobu, Marvin Hayes and Jeff Chan. “When Matthew’s out with Gilas, there’s a big vacuum in our team,” said Alas. “It’s not so much the games he’ll miss but it’s the practices. No problem with Matt picking up but his teammates will readjust, particularly in doing defensive drills. Of course, the priority is our national team and Matt is a big part of their rotation. The other guys are learning to be more aggressive, less conservative, in defense.”

Alas pointed to Perkins as the next Willie Wilson or Joe De Vance. “Jason’s a very smart player, he picks up easily whether he plays three or four,” said Alas. “He’s a back-in type, not a deep post player and he can hit the three. He’s a quick thinker and he knows how to use his body to get position. We invited about 20 rookies for a pre-draft camp and Jason was the standout. We were lucky that Jason was still available when we had our turn in the draft.”

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Alas said he’s not looking to bring his son Kevin over from NLEX. “Kevin’s happy at NLEX, sobra ang alaga sa kanya,” he said. “He loves coach Yeng (Guiao) and I think he’ll be a better player with Kiefer (Ravena) as a teammate. When I was assistant coach at Alaska and we played against Kevin and NLEX last season, my wife Liza cheered for Kevin. But now that I’m head coach, she’ll be cheering for Phoenix. I’ve always prayed for Kevin to do his best but whenever we’re up against each other, I pray for us to win.”

It’s Alas’ second tour of duty as a PBA head coach after Mobiline/TNT in 2000-01. He coached the Manila Metrostars to the MBA title in 1999, the national team to a gold medal at the 1999 SEA Games, Letran to three NCAA crowns in 1998, 2003 and 2005 and the Philippine Patriots to the ABL championship in 2009-10. What’s missing is a PBA diadem. 

“My most memorable championship was in the SEA Games because that was for our country,” he said. “Another memorable experience was winning the NCAA title in 2003 when nobody expected Letran to make it with Aaron Aban, Boyet Bautista, Ronjay Enrile and Jonathan Pinera.”

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