Chito Victolero

Magnolia Hotshots aim for breakthrough
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Since Chito Victolero took over the Magnolia reins before the start of the previous PBA season, the Hotshots made it to the semis in the last three conferences but never to the finals. Magnolia PBA governor Rene Pardo said the breakthrough could be just around the corner.

In the season before Victolero’s arrival, the Hotshots finished ninth in the Philippine Cup, eighth in the Commissioner’s Cup and 11th in the Governors Cup. Then, Victolero came in and quickly reversed the team’s fortunes as it wound up third in the first conference and fourth in the second and third.

Magnolia tied San Miguel Beer for first place with identical 8-3 records in the single-round eliminations of the ongoing Philippine Cup. Both will enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinal playoffs. San Miguel claimed pole position by virtue of the Beermen’s 77-76 win over Magnolia last Feb. 4. 

“Coach Chito is very different from the past coaches I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” said Pardo. “He’s very democratic as he involves and allows his assistant coaches and even the veteran players to make improvements and corrections on his play patterns. Each assistant coach is assigned a team to review and prepare a game plan which is discussed in detail with the team before the actual game. As they say, the test of the pudding is in the eating. Three semis stints last season and we’re looking good this first conference. We hope we go all the way. Chemistry of the team is at its best, too.”

Pardo said Victolero’s assistants provide strong support. “Jason (Webb) is the first assistant,” he said. “Johnny (Abarrientos) takes care of the point guards. Juno (Sauler) focuses on defense. Itoy (Esguerra) looks after the bigs. Tonyboy (Espinosa) tracks statistical data, both ours and the opposing teams. Mon (Jose) is in charge of video.”

Defense is what has turned the team around. This conference, Magnolia is No. 1 in points allowed at 84.1, No. 1 in field goal percentage allowed at 39 percent, No. 1 in three-point percentage allowed at 25.4 percent and No. 2 in turnover points at 20. Against Blackwater, the Hotshots held the Elite’s high-scoring Mike DiGregorio to only two points. Against GlobalPort, Magnolia limited Stanley Pringle to only five points, the only game where he failed to score in double figures. 

Pardo said Magnolia’s first choice as import for the Commissioner’s Cup was 6-8 Ricardo Ratliffe who played for the Hotshots in the last two seasons. But Ratliffe, 29, begged off after signing a five-year contract to suit up for the South Korean national team as a naturalized import. Ratliffe averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds in the recent second window of the FIBA Asia/Pacific qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Ratliffe recommended Vernon Macklin to Magnolia instead.

Macklin’s Philippine agent Sheryl Reyes said if Magnolia makes it to the Finals, the former Detroit Piston will arrive here in the third week of March or if not, by March 28. Macklin, 31, is finishing his contract in the Korean league on March 12. He’s averaging 23.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 34.7 minutes in 48 games with the Goyang Orions. Macklin was the Pistons’ second round pick in the 2011 draft and has played in Turkey, China, Qatar and Puerto Rico. In 2013, he saw action for Barangay Ginebra, averaging 23.3 points and 14.7 rebounds in the Commissioner’s Cup.

A key to Victolero’s success is a deep rotation. There are 12 Hotshots averaging at least 10 minutes, eight at least 20 and only one Marc Pingris is logging at least 30. Paul Lee leads the team in scoring with a 17.4 clip. The two other twin digit scorers are Ian Sangalang (13.5) and Mark Barroca (10.5). Four players are hitting at least eight an outing – Rome de la Rosa (8.7), Justin Melton (8.6), Jio Jalalon (8.3) and Aldrech Ramos (8.1). Pingris tops the Hotshots in rebounding with 9.6 a game.

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