AS a team, Air21 Express is longing to prove that it is not in the PBA merely to fill up the numbers.
So do most of its players.
At Air21, players like 2010 top pick Nonoy Baclao, former Alaska guard Eric Salamat, center-forward James Sena, former Ginebra back-up guard John Wilson, forward Rob Reyes and other 'expendables' have been given a second chance to prove that they belong in Asia's first professional cage league.
The story of their careers are more or less the same. Baclao has yet to live up to his billing as top pick after a stellar career at Ateneo. Salamat and Reyes failed to stick with their former teams. Wilson found it hard to shine in a Ginebra backcourt that had Mark Caguioa, Mike Cortez and Jayjay Helterbrand.
With the Express, these players have been given a new lease on life.
"As you can see, most of my players are new and basically, I’m challenging them to prove to everyone that they really belong in the PBA,” Air21 coach Franz Pumaren told Spin.ph shortly after the Express' 82-80 preseason win against PBA newcomer Global Port.
Among his new additions, Pumaren singled out Wilson as one of the new guys he expects to blossom this coming season.
“John Wilson, during his years with Barangay Ginebra was really a designated defensive player. But if you follow his career, he can really shoot from long distance. In fact, he even scored 40 points in one game for JRU in the NCAA. And I feel he can really contribute a lot to our team this season,” said Pumaren.
Air21’s rejigged lineup now includes KG Canaleta, whom the Express recently re-acquired from Barangay Ginebra. Pumaren also got Nelbert Omolon and Mark Isip midway last season and released guard Paolo Hubalde and Magi Sison in a three-team, seven-player deal.
“We’re trying to be a different team compared to last season because the PBA is really different right now. A lot of teams have really gone stronger," said Pumaren, who is longing to rebound from a miserable debut season with the Lina franchise.
From the way Pumaren shuffled his cards and used all his players in the preseason, it looks like the 'expendables' will all be given a chance to show they belong in the pro league.
“Again, if you see, I used all my players from the bench because I want to see the right combination for the team. We want to be as defensive minded as possible especially now that I have the size to match up with the taller teams in the league,” said Pumaren.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @richava