No sacred cows
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2019 - 12:00am

Blackwater PBA team owner Dioceldo Sy has been in the business of managing human resources to grow his cosmetics empire Ever Bilena for over three decades. If there’s anyone who knows how difficult it is to build a team of hard-working men and women, it’s Sy and he’s a master of getting things done the right way.

The Elite broke into the PBA in 2014 as an expansion franchise. Sy’s passion is basketball, a sport he played when he was in high school at UNO. He parlayed his passion into a business formula, using basketball as an instrument to advertise his products. Sy joined the PBL with Blu Detergent and Shark Energy Drink, even becoming the league chairman. In the WPBL, he introduced the team Ever Bilena Gandang Pinay. Before making the jump to the PBA, his Blackwater squad played in the D-League where it took the Foundation Cup crown in 2012-13. Sy has also supported the Gilas women’s team, formerly known as Perlas Pilipinas, since 2015 and with trusted lieutenant Patrick Aquino at the helm, masterminded the squad’s elevation to Level 1 in FIBA Asia in 2017.

Obviously, Sy knows his basketball and how to run a successful organization. But with Blackwater in the PBA, Sy is still dreaming of a breakthrough. In 14 conferences so far, the Elite has finished last in six and never qualified for the semifinals. Its highest placing was third at the end of the recent Commissioner’s Cup eliminations but Blackwater was eliminated by Rain or Shine in the best-of-three quarterfinals, 2-1.

Sy’s vision is to transform Blackwater into a no-superstar unit that plays the Euro style. “More passing, less dribble, no isolations, hitting threes, a lot of motion,” he said. “I’m willing to trade anyone who doesn’t play according to this system. I’ve seen how the system works. I watched the games of the FIBA World Cup and the Terrific 12 tournament in Macau. That’s how I want Blackwater to play.”

Assembling the right mix has been a struggle. Some fans have even questioned the wisdom of Blackwater’s player movements and wondered if the direction is to acquire marquee players for a business purpose. In the current Governors Cup, Blackwater has traded Ray-Ray Parks, Allein Maliksi, Mike DiGregorio and Toto Jose. That meant giving up a combined total of over 40 points a game. Blackwater has also traded Abu Tratter, Nards Pinto, Art de la Cruz and Poy Erram in previous conferences.

Surprisingly, Blackwater got back former players Brian Heruela and K. G. Canaleta in the recent maze of trades. Also coming in were Don Trollano, Tony Semerad (still in the injured list recovering in Australia) and Mike Tolomia. In 2017, the Elite traded for Chris Ellis who never showed up to play a single game. Sy isn’t in the habit of forcing a player to suit up for Blackwater.

Sy said slowly, he’s building a core for the future. Mac Belo, for instance, was just signed to a three-year contract extension. Sy said he’s also high on Carl Bryan Cruz and Paul Desiderio. “We brought back Brian because we need stability and defense in the backcourt,” he said. “We brought back K. G. because he’s a spot-up shooter who fits the Euro style. We don’t want to keep players who could be a problem for us.”

Without naming names, Sy said he put his foot down on a player who demanded a big raise even if undeserved and another player who made a mockery of the “more pass, less dribble” philosophy at practice. In Blackwater’s recent trip to Macau, Sy gave up a room at the plush Mandarin Hotel to stay with the players close to the playing venue.

Negotiating a trade for Parks was a challenge. “Several teams made offers,” said Sy. “At first, TNT didn’t want to trade Semerad or Trollano and just offered draft picks. After coming to terms, another team called but it was too late. Ray played well for us in the Commissioner’s Cup and even with Alex Stepheson leaving early, we were OK so why fix if nothing’s broken. But now in the Governors Cup, we’re not playing like we should so we decided to make changes.”

Blackwater has now lost five in a row and with Marqus Blakely not living up to expectations, the Elite is headed for another doormat finish. This early, Blackwater is looking at draft options and studying where it could improve from coaches to players. As a successful businessman, Sy isn’t used to clinging to the short end of the stick. He’s impatient for a turnaround and he wants it sooner than later.

DIOCELDO SY PATRICK AQUINO
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