SMB to face challenge head-on

Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Bring ‘em on.

Five-peat reigning PBA Philippine Cup titlist San Miguel Beer welcomed the serious challenge newly minted Governors’ Cup kingpin Barangay Ginebra and the rest of the field are expected to mount in the battle for the league’s crown jewel beginning March 1.

“Everybody is hungry for the all-Filipino crown and wants to stop us,” said SMB coach Leo Austria, whose charges are turning to their quest for a sixth consecutive crown to salve the wounds from their failed grand slam drive last season.

“After what happened, the players are more motivated now. They know what’s at stake and they know they have to do their best,” said Austria.

The Beermen had positioned themselves for a rare triple crown in 2019 by clinching a historic five-peat in the season-opening tourney via a seven-game escape act over Magnolia then annexing the Commissioner’s Cup with a six-game disposal of favored TNT KaTropa.

Austria’s charges were in the thick of the fight in the season-ending Governors’ Cup before disaster struck. 

Explosive import Dez Wells got injured and later got into a spat with the locals that came to a head with a fistfight in practice, leading to Wells’ departure and the team-imposed suspension on Arwin Santos, Kelly Nabong, and Ronald Tubid amid SMB’s playoffs run.

Ranked fifth in the quarterfinals, the depleted Beermen bowed to the No. 4 and twice-to-beat Gin Kings via a 100-97 verdict, their treble dreams dashed.

“It hurts to not win the grand slam but overall, we have to learn from such unfortunate things,” Santos, who just recently got his sanction lifted and joined SMB’s practices, said in Filipino.

“Personally, I want to prove that I’ve learned my lesson, that’s my challenge this year. And continue the winning attittude and strive harder since it’s the all-Filipino, we don’t want to lose in the all-Filipino,” he added.

Leading the challengers to the Beermen’s throne are the team responsible for stopping their grand slam charge, Ginebra. Coach Tim Cone had declared they’re targetting the Philippine Cup next, feeling they stand a better chance with Stanley Pringle as anchor.

“That’s the goal of every coach in the PBA, how much more for coach Tim? His team is really a contender every conference,” said Austria. “It’s been a while since they last won the All-Filipino and during their championship run, they showed their potential and I think they’re capable.”

“I hope we realize how important this is. A five-peat is a big achievement, and a six-peat will be even bigger,” said Austria.

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