Tops of the conference

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Before the start of Game 2 of the PBA Governors Cup Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Sunday, the Best Player and Best Import of the third conference were announced with the awardees representing the two teams playing in the best-of-7 title series.

Barangay Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter took Best Player honors while Meralco’s Allen Durham claimed the Best Import award. Slaughter was second to San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo in statistical points, 393 to 463, but made up for the deficit by topping the media and PBA votes. Meralco’s Chris Newsome won in the players’ poll with 11 first-place votes to five for Slaughter. However, he lacked the push from statistical points and player votes. In the final tally, Slaughter compiled 975 total points, Newsome 707, Fajardo 617, TNT’s Jayson Castro 440 and San Miguel Beer’s Arwind Santos 371.

Durham’s margin over Ginebra’s Justin Brownlee was decisive as he ranked first in statistics and the media, players and PBA votes to collect 1,219 points. He took 32 first-place votes from media and 13 from players. Brownlee finished second with 834 points. He had three first-place votes from media and four from players. TNT’s Glen Rice Jr. amassed 574 points and San Miguel Beer’s Terrence Watson 482.

Slaughter’s re-emergence from a 52-game sit-out to bag the Best Player award was an inspiring story of courage. His tale of woe started after the Commissioner’s Cup last season. He underwent arthroscopic surgery in May last year with Dr. George Canlas clearing his right ankle of debris and adhesions. Slaughter sat out the first eight games of the previous Governors Cup then reported for duty in Ginebra’s game against Mahindra. The comeback was a disaster as he suffered an ACL tear in the right knee during the contest, sidelining him for the rest of the conference. When Ginebra took the Governors Cup crown, Slaughter was on the injured list.

Slaughter, one of three first overall draft picks in Ginebra’s roster (the others are Japeth Aguilar and Joe De Vance), sat out the Philippine and Commissioner’s Cup this season before he was reactivated for the third conference. Up to the end of the semifinals, Slaughter averaged 14.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 blocked shots and 27.1 minutes in 16 games.

The remarkable thing about Slaughter is he won the Best Player award despite starting in only five of 18 games so far. With Slaughter as a starter, Ginebra posted a 3-2 record. Coming off the bench or starting isn’t an issue with Slaughter who said he’ll do whatever coach Tim Cone wants “for the good of the team.” He said “it makes no difference to me.” In the Finals, Cone has started Aguilar at center with Slaughter his reliever but they’ve also played together in stretches. This is the 29-year-old Slaughter’s first championship appearance so it’s a milestone in his career.

As for Durham, the Best Import award is his second after claiming the same honor in the previous Governors Cup. Just like Slaughter, it’s well-deserved. He’s the only import to average a 20-20 with 25.4 points and 20.1 rebounds up to the end of the semifinals. In Game 2 of the Finals, Durham delivered 25 points and 22 boards.

Durham has come a long way from his freshman year in high school where his mother Monica didn’t allow him to play because of poor grades. He was academically eligible but his mother knew he could do better in the classroom so she sat him down to teach him a lesson to work harder on his books. “My mom told me I couldn’t play until I brought my grades up and it changed the way I looked at school a lot,” he said, quoted by writer Dean Holzwarth. “I was looking forward to playing basketball in high school and it came down that my grades weren’t up to par. It really hit me because I messed up. It snapped me into reality and ever since then, my grades have been going up and up.” Durham went on to become a star at Wyoming Park high school under coach Thom Vander Klay.

Then, Durham enrolled at Grace Bible College, a small school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He averaged 15.5 points as a freshman in 2006-07 then left the school to attend Grand Rapids Community College because of financial limitations. Durham, however, returned to Grace Bible in 2008-09 and led the varsity to three straight National Christian College Athletic Association Division II championships. In the process, he broke the school’s 44-year-old scoring record by becoming the all-time leader with 2,467 points. He also finished his career as Grace Bible’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,314 boards.


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