EIGHT months since last facing off in the finals, San Miguel Alab Pilipinas and Mono Vampire cross paths anew in the 2019 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) on Sunday at Sta. Rosa Multipurpose Complex in Laguna.
Times have really changed for last year's finals protagonists.
Alab has strengthened their stranglehold of the ABL's pole position with Renaldo Balkman and Puerto Rican giant PJ Ramos leading the way to a 7-2 (win-loss) start to the season.
Meanwhile, Mono has struggled to sustain last season's form to stumble to a 2-9 record.
But Alab coach Jimmy Alapag thinks the Thai squad's standing doesn't necessarily reflect how good the team still is.
"Any team with Jason (Brickman) and Mike (Singletary) will always be tough," he said.
"(Sam) Deguara left a 7-foot-5 gap in what they're doing, but they're still a good team."
Brickman, Singletary, and former GlobalPort import Malcolm White will lead the fight for Mono Vampire in the 8 p.m. face-off.
Lucky for the Filipinos, Alapag saw its 106-99 victory over Macau on Friday as a "good preparation" for Alab ahead of the Finals grudge match.
With the Puerto Rican reinforcement nursing a jammed left ring finger and sitting on the bench early in the fourth quarter of Alab's win over the Black Bears, his supporting crew showed tremendous resiliency which he feels has been absent when the team lost two of its last four games.
"Sometimes, we play like how our opponents are. But we won a championship last year and that's why everyone is going for us. We got to come out there and play like champions every game," he said, lauding the efforts of locals like Bobby Ray Parks, Caelan Tiongson, Ethan Alvano, Lawrence Domingo, and Paolo Javelona.
"Like I said, we overcame. We are going all the way to the top, man. We are doing great right now especially the new guys."