KaTropa gets tough, physical
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Failing to advance to the Final Four in the three PBA conferences last season, TNT KaTropa is on a mission to rebound with a lineup that’s been transformed into an aggressive, defense-oriented unit by active consultant Mark Dickel and head coach Bong Ravena. 

“We’re tougher and more physical,” said TNT governor and PBA chairman Ricky Vargas. “That’s the way Mark likes it. He’s a very detailed teacher who relates with the players almost like a college coach. Mark talks about values, gets involved with the players on a personal basis and always emphasizes the importance of working as a team.”

Dickel, 42, is from New Zealand and was recommended to TNT by Indiana Pacers assistant coach Bill Bayno who coached Talk ‘N’ Text in 2001-02. Dickel played for Bayno at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas where the point guard averaged 9.0 assists to top the NCAA Division I in that department as a senior in 1999-2000. Dickel saw action in leagues all over the world and suited up in Germany, Russia, Poland, Greece, Belgium, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand in a 21-year playing career that ended in 2014. A two-time Olympian, Dickel played on coach Tab Baldwin’s New Zealand Tall Blacks squad that took fourth place at the FIBA World Cup in Indianapolis in 2002.

Dickel is backed up by Ravena and assistants Sandy Arrespacochaga, Josh Reyes, Yuri Escueta and Alton Lister. Previous coach Nash Racela left the team after a 1-4 start in the Governors Cup and was replaced by Eric Gonzales on an interim basis for a game before Dickel and Ravena took over.

TNT had no picks in the first and second rounds of the draft last December and its third round choice J. R. Ongteco of St. Benilde and fourth round selection C. J. Isit of Mapua weren’t signed so this season’s roster features only veterans. The offseason recruits were Brian Heruela and David Semerad from San Miguel Beer and Michael Miranda from NLEX via Blackwater. Heruela, Semerad and Miranda fit the profile of the emerging, hard-nosed TNT players. Gone from last year’s roster are Terrence Romeo, Alfrancis Tamsi and Papot Paredes.

Heruela used to hound TNT’s Jayson Castro when he was with San Miguel while Semerad and Miranda are rugged defenders who don’t mind contact. Semerad is now united with his twin brother Anthony and it’s the first time they’re playing on the same team in the PBA. The Semerads are the third twins to play in the league after Noel and Joel Guzman and Jing and Noli Aldanese.

When TNT makes its 44th season debut against Barangay Ginebra at the Philippine Arena tomorrow, Troy Rosario and Yousef Taha will be missing in action. Rosario took an accidental elbow from J. R. Quinahan during a practice game with NLEX and is out for four to six weeks to recover from a nose injury. Taha will be sidelined about two weeks after taking a hit from Raul Soyud in the same game. Turn But Vargas said the good news is Castro is 100 percent and so is R. R. Pogoy. Ryan Reyes is back slimmer and looking in tip-top shape. Kelly Williams, Jericho Cruz, Don Trollano, R. R. Garcia and Harvey Carey are all raring to go, too. The team is relatively young with an average age of 29.5 as only three players are at least 35 – Reyes, 35, Williams, 36 and Carey, 39.

As the MVP Group’s flagship, TNT is determined to become a championship contender once again. Its last title came in the 2014-15 Commissioner’s Cup or 10 conferences ago. In 2016-17, the team registered a 36-25 record or a winning clip of 59 percent, finishing fourth in the Philippine Cup, second in the Commissioner’s Cup and third in the Governors Cup to make it to three semifinals. But last season, the overall mark fell to 18-19 as TNT went 6-7 for eighth in the Philippine Cup, 8-5 for fifth in the Commissioner’s Cup and 4-7 for ninth in the Governors Cup.

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