Friendship will take a backseat starting on Friday as American import Rob Dozier leads dangerous Alaska against his close buddy Pierre Henderson-Niles and formidable Rain or Shine in what promises to be an explosive best-of-seven titular showdown for the PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown.
The 6-foot-9 Dozier, 30, teamed up with the 6-foot-8 Henderson-Niles for three years at University of Memphis where they played alongside Chicago Bulls superstar and one-time NBA league MVP Derrick Rose, leading the Tigers’ title campaign that ended in an overtime loss to the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2008 NCAA Tournament finals.
After their collegiate careers, Dozier admitted he sees Henderson-Niles “regularly throughout the summers. I’m always at his hometown in Memphis because my son is there and the mother of my child.”
But now, Dozier and Henderson-Niles are standing on opposite sides, hoping to steer their respective squads to the Promised Land after a series of close calls and failed tries in the last few years.
Dozier, who helped the Aces win their 14th crown overall during the 2013 edition of the mid-season tourney, vowed to go all-out even at the expense of Henderson-Niles whom he considers as his “brother.”
“Even in college, we’ve never been friends on the court. We always compete and try to make each other better back then. But now, it’s gonna be us fighting for the ultimate prize. So it’s gonna be a battle. He is my brother no matter what, on and off the court, but we’re gonna compete,” Dozier told FOX Sports on Thursday before the pre-finals press conference at the PBA Cafe-Metrowalk in Ortigas, Pasig City.
Dozier added he’s still surprised that he and Henderson-Niles were able to go this far, much more that they would face each other for the coveted crown.
“I don’t think it was expected. Months ago, both of us didn’t even know we’ll end up in the PBA Finals. Especially me dealing with injuries, not knowing if I would be healthy enough. But it’s a great feeling. I’m excited for him just as I am for myself. We’ll go out and battle like what we did in college. We’ll go out and have fun,” he said.
After surviving Talk ’N Text in a three-game quarterfinals tussle and second-ranked Meralco in the semifinals that went a full five-game route, Dozier is convinced they are in for another challenging task against Rain or Shine, which booted out sister teams Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer in successive fashion in the playoffs.
“It’s gonna be a tough team. We have to fight every round that we played in. We took it to a do-or-die game. While those guys beat two good teams in Ginebra and San Miguel. We’re gonna have our hands full,” said Dozier.
“But I expect our team to come out and fight. I like our chances of winning as long as we play our brand of basketball and don’t veer away from doing on what we’re good at,” he concluded. – By Jerome Lagunzad
Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports