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Is Watson here to stay?

There’s more to just winning the PBA Governors Cup title for San Miguel Beer. A Grand Slam is within reach and if San Miguel bags the third conference title, it’ll be the second season sweep in franchise history and the first for coach Leo Austria. In all, there have been five Grand Slams in the PBA’s 42-year existence – Crispa in 1977 with coach Baby Dalupan, Crispa in 1983 with coach Tommy Manotoc, San Miguel in 1989 with coach Norman Black, Alaska in 1996 with coach Tim Cone and San Mig Coffee in 2014 with Cone.

Austria’s not taking any chances in the Governors Cup, knowing what’s at stake. San Miguel is just a jewel away from snatching the triple crown. The team is on its third import after Wendell McKines and Terik Bridgeman with Terrence Watson now in the saddle. 

McKines, 29, was on his third tour of PBA duty after Alaska in 2013 and Rain Or Shine in 2015 so his familiarity with the local league was a huge advantage. His numbers were strong as he averaged 26.2 points, 14.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 37.8 minutes in five games with San Miguel. But the problem was with McKines in harness, the Beermen could only show a 3-2 record with losses to Star by six and to NLEX by three. Not good enough was the assessment. 

McKines’ situation was difficult because he’s basically an inside operator with virtually no perimeter game. Basically, he’s a duplication of what JuneMar Fajardo brings to the table. Austria would rather play a more versatile import, someone who can pop from the outside, slash and help out on the boards from multiple positions.

With the vote in to let go of McKines, San Miguel gambled on Terik Bridgeman, a 6-4 1/2 wing who never saw action in a high-level league. Bridgeman played for William Paterson in Division III and Caldwell in Division II then this past season, averaged 11.9 points in the Georgian league, rated in Europe’s lower tier. Bridgeman looked lost in the face of tough competition in the PBA and was a bust. He had two points and six rebounds in San Miguel’s 90-79 loss to Alaska and four points and four rebounds in a 103-96 win over Rain Or Shine. Bridgeman’s two-game averages of 3.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 18.5 minutes were a clear indication that the level of play was way over his head.

Watson, 30, is San Miguel’s third man at the plate and it looks like he’s staying. Under PBA rules, McKines may be reactivated since he was San Miguel’s original import but that option is no longer available as he’s been signed up in South Korea. So if Watson doesn’t work out, San Miguel will just have to bring in another body.

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Watson’s awesome wingspan is anywhere between 85 to 88 inches. That kind of length is a rarity and a blessing for a basketball player. It’s like he has tentacles for arms. University of Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy spoke of Watson: “He’s incredibly long…he’s not a great shooter but he can pass it…he can guard four positions, he can run point and create match-up issues…he can play the high post and make decisions with the ball.” In 2006-07, Watson led Mott Community College in Michigan to the national junior college Division II title and earned All-American honors. But in his only season with Mississippi, he averaged only 1.4 points and 6.7 minutes in 18 games, prompting his transfer to Ball State in Indiana. In his first and only campaign with Ball State, Watson averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Ball State coach Billy Taylor described Watson as a high impact player. “He’s extremely talented,” said Taylor. “He can play both forward positions, he has extremely long arms and is a very good rebounder and shot blocker…he’s expanded his range in the perimeter.” From Ball State, Watson played three years in Iceland and saw action in Israel and Finland before trying his luck in the PBA.

In his San Miguel debut at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Sunday, the 6-4 1/4 Watson was impressive in compiling 28 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in 39 minutes but the more important thing was the Beermen beat Barangay Ginebra, 107-104. An experienced veteran, Watson obviously knows the game. He delivered for San Miguel despite only two practices and three days in the country. Watson could be the import whom Austria will bring to battle down the stretch in the bid for a Grand Slam. 

San Miguel team manager Gee Abanilla said with Watson, it’s so far, so good. “Terrence can score in a variety of ways but still embraces his defensive responsibilities with our team,” he said. “Like Wendell, he can provide the tenacity we need and like Bridgeman, possesses great athleticism with his wingspan. He’s a combo forward but more of a four. We just hope that he could help us in pursuing our dream for this conference.”

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