Is Danridge on way out?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - March 2, 2011 - 12:00am

Because the PBA Commissioner’s Cup is a short tournament, teams aren’t wasting time giving imports a second chance. There’s no such thing as patience when the tournament format calls for the expulsion of the bottom four teams after a single round-robin elimination, two best-of-three quarterfinal series, two best-of-five semifinal series and a best-of-seven finals. And let’s not forget, all ties will be broken by the quotient system, meaning no playoffs, so expect teams to pile up points until the last buzzer.

Powerade was the first team to ship out an import and coach Bo Perasol did it even before the second conference started. Titus Ivory of Penn State was the initial casualty. Ivory, 31, came with journeyman credentials, moving in and out of Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Belgium and Israel. As a varsity senior in 2000-01, he averaged 15.8 points on a team that went to the NCAA Sweet 16. Ivory got the boot when Perasol decided to suit up Russell Carter of Notre Dame instead.

Another casualty was Air 21’s Jajuan Smith who also didn’t make it out of the starting gate. He failed a drug test administered by the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) and coach Bong Ramos settled for Jeremy Robinson.

Still, another dropout was Alaska’s original import Eddie Basden who once played for the Chicago Bulls. Basden was measured slightly over the 6-4 height limit for imports and reportedly cried when he was served his walking papers. Alaska sources said he was well-liked by the team staff and enjoyed eating fast food on the back sidewalks of Makati. Luckily, coach Tim Cone had someone on standby just in case Basden didn’t work out. L. D. Williams of Wake Forest University flew in to replace Basden and so far, the unbeaten Aces aren’t complaining.

* * * *

B-Meg joined the import-dumping bandwagon and got rid of Rob Brown after one game. Brown was still in town when would-be replacement Shamari Spears, no relation to the popular singer, showed up. With two imports to choose from, coach Jorge Gallent decided to go with the first pick to test him out. Brown got the nod in Derby Ace’s game against Rain Or Shine and delivered 29 points but alas, the Llamados lost a 95-94 decision. Brown, 31, didn’t do too badly, hitting 9-of-12 from the floor and 11-of-19 from the line, grabbing 11 rebounds, picking up two assists and committing just three turnovers in 40 minutes.

But Gallent decided to try Spears in B-Meg’s game against Powerade in Tubod last Saturday. Spears, 24, is fresh out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte – he was dismissed by coach Alan Major after averaging 17 points in five games this season. Major wouldn’t reveal the reason for the ejection but since it came in the middle of the campaign with Spears the team’s leading scorer, there had to be a serious offense.

The scuttlebutt was Spears was disenchanted with Major, a first-year coach who took over from Bob Lutz. It’s no secret that Spears had a special relationship with Lutz who recruited him. Spears had been suspended twice for violating team rules before Major dropped the axe. In his final game for Charlotte, Spears played only two minutes in the second half of a loss to Oregon State – the lack of faith displayed by Major in Spears obviously intensified the tension between the two.

Under Lutz in 2009-10, Spears was the varsity’s No. 1 scoring option and he responded by hitting in twin digits in 24 of 27 games, averaging 16 points. Lutz pried Spears out of Boston College to play a stellar role with the 49ers. “He’s a legitimate post presence that demands attention from the opposition,” said Lutz. “Whether they choose to double-team him or not, he’s going to cause problems for people.”

Spears shot 22 points in his B-Meg debut and failed to lead the Llamados to victory. Powerade drubbed B-Meg, 103-96.

* * * *

Now, there’s word that Meralco’s high-flying, Bible-reading import Tony Danridge may be on the way out despite averaging 30.5 points in his first two outings. The Bolts are still winless and that’s a cause for concern. Coach Ryan Gregorio may be thinking of replacing Danridge with an import who is more of a fit for Meralco. Danridge is an open-court artist and unfortunately, takes away offensive opportunities from crack scorers Mac Cardona and Sol Mercado.

In Meralco’s game against Rain Or Shine last Sunday, Danridge went crazy in the first half with five dunks. But when coach Yeng Guiao adjusted the Elasto Painters’ defense to clog the middle, Danridge lost his magic. Rain Or Shine toughened up and played physical as Hassan Adams, Ryan Arana and even Jireh Ibanes took turns shadowing Danridge.

There must be a way for Mercado at No. 1, Cardona at No. 2 and Danridge at No. 3 to co-exist. Mercado has the ability to quarterback the Bolts and doesn’t mind deferring to either Cardona or Danridge. Maybe, Gregorio’s problem isn’t so much Danridge not complementing Mercado or Cardona as the way the entire team doesn’t play defense. The Bolts must make a commitment to play hard-nosed defense like Gregorio’s former B-Meg bruisers. So far, Meralco has given up 115 points to Ginebra and 101 to Rain Or Shine. Any way you look at it, the Bolts’ defense sucked in both those games. Ginebra got away with shooting .475 from the field and Rain Or Shine, .461. By the way, Ginebra dropped 11 three-pointers on .478 shooting on Meralco and the Elasto Painters buried eight on .571accuracy. The figures glaringly showed that Meralco didn’t contest the outside shots with conviction, didn’t stretch the defense and seemed content to gamble by allowing long bombs.

Danridge had no assist in the game against Ginebra – not a good sign. But it wasn’t Danridge’s fault that Meralco lost. The Bolts couldn’t contain Ginebra import Nate Brumfield, lost the battle of the boards, allowed the Kings to compile seven more assists and gave up 11 triples. In the final reckoning, what did Meralco in was its failure to play consistent defense. It was the same story in the Rain Or Shine game.

Will there be more import switches? Teams are permitted to change imports even during the finals. At the moment, you can be sure that every team has a standby import waiting to fly in. That’s how nerve-wracking the competition is in a short conference.

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