EVEN Bobby Ray Parks could only marvel how much difference a year makes.
From a struggling band last year, Alab Pilipinas has now turned into a juggernaut, one which is favored to win back-to-back titles in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).
"It's definitely a different team from last year," he reflected. "We were off to a rough start last year."
Alab, then sponsored by Tanduay, stumbled off the gates last year and entered the Christmas break with a 1-3 record.
Little did they know that it was just the beginning of their ascent, with the team changing supporters and linking up with San Miguel.
That shift brought the goods for the Charlie Dy-owned franchise as they soon welcomed in imports Renaldo Balkman and Justin Brownlee on their way to outlasting Mono Vampire to claim their first title in only their second year in the league.
"It started from the management all the way down to the ball boys and all the players. The chemistry of the team, the build of the team, we have veterans and very talented players, both locals and imports, and that's a big help for us," said Parks, the two-time ABL Local MVP.
Back in the fold for the third season, Alab Pilipinas has matched everyone's expectations with Parks and Balkman leading the fight.
It also doesn't hurt that newcomers like point guard Ethan Alvano, forwards Caelan Tiongson and Brandon Rosser, as well as the towering PJ Ramos have been huge additions to the team's quest for a back-to-back.
And so far, the results speak for itself as Alab is at the top of the standings at 4-0.
"This year, we have a better start. It just feels good to be 4-0 than 1-3 last year. It's good to end the year with a win," he said on the heels of the Philippine side's 77-71 victory over the Singapore Slingers on Sunday.
But for Parks, he knows that it's still too early to fancy themselves as kings anew as he admits that there's still a lot of things Alab can work on entering 2019.
Case in point: the win against the Slingers where Alab committed 14 turnovers that turned to 18 points for the visitors, while also allowing Singapore to grab 14 offensive boards and score 14 off of them.
"We turned the ball over a lot and gave them a lot of offensive rebounds. That's definitely not ending the year on a good note. It was a tough game against a great team and I think it exposed us on the things we need to work on," he said.
"Talent got us through today, pero that's the scary part. Talent isn't enough to get us through the end. We gotta bond and really jell and implement coach Jimmy's style of play which we didn't do in the end of the game. But that's good going to the holidays, that we know what we need to work on."
That's why for Parks, as much pressure is put on Alab to repeat this season, he'd be the first to focus on what's important, which is making the team as cohesive as that of last year.
"Coming to this year, just holding the title of being the defending champions, talagang mas lumaki yung target sa amin. The ABL is a great league and all of the teams got way better. It's just that sometimes, we have to adapt to the competition and just grow as a team," he said.