WHILE Indonesia is set to defend its title with a practically intact core, San Miguel Beer is hoping its new reinforcements can lead to a different ending in the two sides' Finals rematch in the Asean Basketball League.
Indonesian star and former MVP Mario Wuysang, Fil-American guard Stanley Pringle, Filipino reinforcement Jerick Canada and American import Steven Thomas, with coach Todd Purves, are all looking to lead the Warriors to back-to-back titles.
On the other hand, Fil-American guard Chris Banchero and Leo Avenido are the main holdovers from the SMB crew that wound up second to the Warriors last year, but a new core led by recently-crowned league MVP Asi Taulava and imports Justine and Brian Williams, with a new mentor in Leo Austria, helped carry the Beermen to their second straight finals appearance.
While SMB is no doubt a talented bunch that put together a league-record 16 straight victories in the regular season, Indonesia is a solid unit that has been playing as a group for more than a year.
These are the reasons why the ABL finals will be a tough series to call, according to the coaches, as the top two teams in the league begin the title showdown on Friday, 8 p.m. at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
San Miguel finished the elimination round with a 19-3 win-loss record and defeated the Sports Rev Thailand Slammers in the semifinals in four games.
Indonesia, meanwhile, had a relatively easier time moving on to the finals as it swept the third-ranked Westports Malaysia Dragons.
Austria noted that while his team finished on top of the standings at the end of the eliminations, Indonesia is still a dangerous opponent mainly because there are a lot of holdovers from last year’s champion squad.
“They are a tough team to beat,” said Austria during a press conference on Thursday at the San Miguel headquarters in Mandaluyong City. “They have been together for so long while for us, most of our players are coming from different teams.”
Purves also tried to play down suggestions that they have the edge, especially after coming off a shorter semifinal series.
“I think this year’s San Miguel team is better,” said Purves. “Just from their confidence, chemistry, and unselfishness.
“They have tremendous defense and balanced scoring.”
Game Two is set Sunday also at Ynares Sports Arena.
“This series is very exciting because both teams are really competitive. Indonesia, they are trying to defend the title. We will do our best to stop that because we are trying to win the championship for the first time,” Austria said.
“We are the top two defensive teams in the league. It bodes well for the five-game series,” Purves said.
Also present during the press conference were Taulava, Banchero, and Justine and Brian Williams.
“Everything depends on Game One,” Taulava said. “It’s a five-game series. It’s going to be a series with a lot of adjustments. It’s going to be a battle.”
Pringle, who was joined in the press conference by teammates Wuysang and Thomas, likes the chances of his team.
“We are playing the best basketball. Basically, we just have to keep our focus,” Pringle said.