SAN Miguel Alab Pilipinas buckled down to work for some final preparations to try and finish off Hong Kong Eastern in their Asean Basketball League semifinal series. But based on the squad’s focus in Tuesday’s practice, it’s hard not to think that they’re up to the task.
The vibe among the Alab players in the gym before Game 2 on Sunday at Sta. Rosa - all smiles, with the atmosphere reeking of healthy confidence – was encouraging as they move a win away from clinching a seat in the Finals after shocking Hong Kong in their home floor in Game One.
“In my eyes, I see a win to be honest with you,” said Renaldo Balkman, who scored an ABL playoff-record 46 points in Alab’s 98-94 win over Eastern last Wednesday.
“When we step into the floor as a team, we’re putting on a show and tomorrow’s going to be another show for our fans. We brought the game back home and it’s gonna be a good game tomorrow,” he added.
A lot of Alab’s success has been attributed to the arrival of an NBA-caliber talent in Balkman and a proven winner in Justin Brownlee. But more than the import change, it has been the bond that’s been built between every player in this journey that makes this team so special – and it was even more evident as they wrapped up their final practice for what could be the close-out game in the semifinals on Sunday at the Sta. Rosa Sports Complex.
“Renaldo Balkman is about to put on a show. He’s gonna carry us to the finals,” Ray Parks shouted playfully as he tried to distract Balkman who was talking to SPIN.ph.
Over at the other end, Brownlee is having a hearty laugh as Josh Urbiztondo and Lawrence Domingo fool around.
It has been that kind of mood for Alab, and that kind of bond - according to Balkman - is exactly the reason why they’re in a position to become the first Philippine team to make the Finals since the San Miguel Beermen won the title in 2013.
“When I first got here, til now, we’re all like brothers. We text each other, we call each other, we hang out, we eat dinner and lunch together and that’s what it’s all about. There’s no I in the team. With us, we all come together and do things, that’s why it shows on the court,” Balkman said.
“We all trust each other. If we trust each other on the court and off the court, then it all comes together and that’s what have been going and that’s why we keep moving forward to the next step. After Sunday will be the next step.”
Head coach Jimmy Alapag couldn’t be any more thankful to his players.
After such an illustrious career as a pro-player in the PBA and as Gilas Pilipinas skipper, his coaching stint got off to a rough start but Alapag grew with the team. And as he grows accustomed to calling the shots from the sides instead of taking the shots in the court – so does his Alab squad that’s clearly looked like the best team in the tournament over the past couple of games.
“When you have a great group of guys, who has great character and great work ethic, even despite our struggles, we were able to fight and claw our way through that,” said Alapag.
“The relationship these guys have with each other is more than a team, it’s a family. Anytime you give yourself that sort of environment, you give yourself an opportunity to win,” he added.
They might be bonding and enjoying the light mood off the court – but make no mistake, they aren’t about to take Game 2 lightly.
Their relationship with each other allows them to have that kind of balance - loose but entirely focused. Confident but not exactly arrogant.
“We haven’t done nothing yet until we win the championship. Our goal is to win the championship,” Balkman continued.
“They’ll come out tomorrow and give us a run for our money. We got to stay focused, play defense and play hard.”