4 teams tipped to crowd SMB on top

San Miguel Beer is expected to figure highly once again in its title-retention bid in the PBA Governors Cup. But some coaches feel traditional title contenders like Rain or Shine, Alaska and Tropang TNT along with an emerging Meralco side will also be up there in the season-ending conference.

Rain or Shine’s Yeng Guiao and Alaska’s Alex Compton both point to San Miguel as the team to beat, mainly because of its solid local core of June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, along with the return of former Best Import Arizona Reid.

In fact, Fajardo is expected to dominate the pro league once more, especially after coming off a stint with Gilas Pilipinas, which competed in the just-concluded FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament against world basketball powers like France and New Zealand.

“Obviously San Miguel because they’ve proven to be the best team in the PBA over the last couple of years,” Compton told FOX Sports after the Aces’ practice at the Gatorade Hoops Center.

Guiao said imports normally determine how well a ball club competes in a conference, though for San Miguel and Tropa, that could be an exception.

“Alam naman natin kapag may import, what determines your competitiveness is your import. Pero alam din natin yung locals ng San Miguel at TNT, malakas iyan,” stressed Guiao, who steered Rain or Shine to the Commissioner’s Cup title a few months back.

“San Miguel, definitely (will figure well) kasi defending champion sila saka si AZ (Reid) ang import nila. Tested naman siya so San Miguel will figure.”

The fiery Rain or Shine mentor said TNT may be banged up at this stage since core players like Ranidel de Ocampo, Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario just re-integrated this week with the Tropa after their Gilas stint.

However, their collective basketball experience will still augur well for TNT.

“With TNT, I think whether the import is good or bad, because of their local strength and their tradition, they will also figure well,” he added.

Big road blocks

For San Miguel coach Leo Austria, Rain or Shine is seen as a title threat, simply because of its solid local cast that carried much of the scoring load superb in the Commissioner’s Cup title conquest over Alaska.

“For me Rain or Shine is no.1 and our team can be a contender,” Austria said, whose team bowed to the Elast Painters, 3-1 in the Commissioner’s Cup semis.

“And Rain or Shine, especially with their import (Dior) Lowhorn, I think they will do well this conference because imagine, they won the championship last conference with an import who wasn’t able to score a lot. And this time, they got an import who can score.”

Lowhorn, built like a tank, is no stranger to the PBA fans anymore, having played first with Barangay Ginebra in 2013, before returning the following year to reinforce GlobalPort.

“In their (Elasto Painters) (practice) game in Tarlac (against Alaska), Dior scored 37 points. I know this guy because he was a former Ginebra and GlobalPort import at 2 years ko nakalaban na import iyan sa ABL (Asean Basketball League) for Vietnam,” he added.
Other than Rain or Shine and Alaska, the 3-time PBA champion coach also cited TNT and Meralco as threats to San Miguel’s title-retention bid.

“Siyempre, nandiyan pa rin yung TNT and Meralco. Again, ang Meralco, nakikita ko na solid na solid sila ngayon,” shared veteran PBA coach.

“They are playing as a team, and that’s maybe because of the experience they had last conference of being in the semis kaya from there, nakita nila ano ang puwede nila gawing adjustment,” added Austria.

An added pressure for Austria is the fact that San Miguel will miss veteran forward Arwind Santos for the first 6 games of the third conference after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week.

Big men Yancy de Ocampo and Gabby Espinas are also coming off injuries during the conference break, while sharpshooter Marcio Lassiter has just recovered recently from broncho-pneumonia.

“Every conference naman sa amin, nandiyan ang pressure because everybody is expecting us to do well and again, kapag sinabing San Miguel, powerhouse kami,” he said.

“But the good thing about that is wala kaming ibang gagawin kundi i-push ang mga sarili namin,” Austria added. “And sometimes, I don’t know how they handle the pressure but I told them to just enjoy the game because this is part of your job.”

Building on

As for Meralco coach Norman Black, it didn’t matter what other coaches may say about the Bolts, saying his main goal for the Governors Cup is to simply build on what they’ve accomplished from the previous conference.

Black said key to the team’s bid to hopefully reach the Finals are American import Allen Durham and Iranian wingman Mohammed Jamshidi.

“We played well in the preseason because we haven’t lost in 5 games yet and we’ve been moving the ball pretty well,” said Black, whose team zoomed to a 4th place finish in the Commissioner’s Cup following a dismal 1-10 record in the all-Filipino.

“We’ll just try to build on the 2nd conference where we made it to the semis. And it also helps that we have a very good import in Allen Durham because he’s been very productive in the preseason, scoring the basketball and he’s done the great job dominating the boards because that obviously will give the locals a lot of confidence,” explained the former PBA grand slam coach.

As for Jamshidi, Iran’s emerging star, Black believes the Bolts will benefit from his versatility because of his ability to play the point guard position, could score from the outside and penetrate to the basket as well.

With such weapon at Meralco’s disposal, Compton said he has no doubt that the Bolts will figure well in the Governors Cup.

“I think Meralco is right up there. They were a couple of baskets away from beating us in the (Commissioner’s Cup) semis. They have a great import,” Compton said.

“I told coach Norman in our trip (in Europe) that the first time I saw him play for Barako Bull, he’s just a great import and the rest of their team, they have a great culture going now.” – By Richard Dy

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava