Narrowing the gap
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 18, 2017 - 4:00pm

With a souped-up roster, GlobalPort brought down title contender Meralco, 94-86, in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the MOA Arena last week but although it could be a portent of things to come, Batang Pier governor Erick Arejola said yesterday advancing to the playoffs is an iffy proposition.

GlobalPort has a 3-6 record with two more games left in its elimination schedule – Rain Or Shine on May 26 and San Miguel Beer on June 2. The top eight placers move on to the quarterfinals with the last four finishers struck out. At the moment, GlobalPort ranks No. 9, ahead of No. 10 Mahindra and No. 11 Blackwater, both with 2-7 records, and No. 12 NLEX, winless at 0-8.

“We’re still hoping to make it,” said Arejola. “It’s a difficult route because we need teams ahead of us to lose so we get a chance to move up. It also means we’ve got to win our last two games.” 

On top of the ladder are San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra, both at 5-1. They face off at the MOA Arena on Sunday. Tied at No. 3 are Star and Meralco with 7-2 slates. TNT is No. 5 at 6-3, Alaska No. 6 at 4-3 and Rain Or Shine No. 7 at 4-4 and Phoenix No. 8 at 4-5. Today’s games pit NLEX against San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra against Rain Or Shine at Cuneta as the PBA resumes action after the SEABA break.

For the Meralco game, GlobalPort suited up new import Justin Harper of the University of Richmond and three fresh trade recruits – Jonathan Grey from Meralco and Bradwyn Guinto and Sean Anthony from NLEX. The Batang Pier also reactivated Josh Urbiztondo who saw action in eight games with the Batang Pier in the previous conference before he was loaned to the Singapore Slingers in the ABL.

Before the infusion, GlobalPort coach Franz Pumaren said with Terrence Romeo, Stanley Pringle and Mike Cortez at the core, the team was three to five players away from championship contention. Arejola said the influx has narrowed the gap to maybe, one or two players short of threatening for the title.

Harper, 27, is GlobalPort’s third import this conference after the lackadaisical Sean Williams and the low-scoring Malcolm White. “We felt we needed a change from White,” said Arejola. “We wanted a more offense-minded import particularly since we were playing without Terrence. We like Justin, especially his leadership on and off the court. The new guys are adjusting very quickly. We played well against Meralco and we’re happy with the changes we’ve made.”

Harper arrived in the morning of the Meralco game and without practicing, showed up to play. He finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in 42:15 minutes. An eye-popping stat was his three-point percentage of 71.4 (5-of-7) was higher than his two-point percentage of 38.5 (5-of-13). On the downside, he had no assist and eight turnovers, a reflection of his unfamiliarity with his teammates, the GlobalPort system and the PBA game. With practice, Harper should be a lot more efficient.

Harper improved his stats from year to year at Richmond. He averaged 3.3 points and 1.3 rebounds as a freshman then 9.2 and 4.6 as a sophomore, 10.6 and 5.4 as a junior and 17.9 and 8.9 as a senior in 2010-11 when the varsity reached the NCAA Sweet 16. Harper was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second round pick in the 2011 NBA draft and played for Orlando, Detroit and Philadelphia in 22 combined games over three seasons up to 2016-17. A two-time NBA D-League All-Star, Harper saw action in France and Italy as an import before moving to the PBA. 

Anthony, Guinto and Grey combined for 29 points against Meralco, all off the bench. Pumaren started Harper, Pringle, Cortez, James Forrester and Billy Mamaril. From GlobalPort’s roster to start the conference, gone are Anthony Semerad (to TNT), K. G. Canaleta (to Blackwater) and J. R. Quiñahan (to NLEX).

Pumaren said he’s not the type of coach to demand players from management. “I work with the players available,” he said. “My job is to maximize the talent we’ve got on our team.” But Pumaren’s eyes lit up when asked what he thinks of Phoenix guard Matthew Wright. There’s history behind Pumaren and Wright. Pumaren recruited Wright for the Philippine team to play at the FIBA Asia U18 Championships in Tehran in 2008. The Philippines finished seventh of 15 with a lineup that included Norbert Torres, Jaypee Mendoza and R. R. Garcia.

“We got Matthew from Canada on Norbert’s recommendation,” said Pumaren. “So we go back a long way. After that, Matthew went to play for St. Bonaventure University in the NCAA Division I. Now, he’s with Gilas and doing well with Phoenix.” Arejola, however, said plucking Wright out of Phoenix is an impossible dream. “That’s not possible,” he said. “Phoenix will never give him up.”

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