THE Casino Active-Cebu Ninos have turned to a pair of veteran bruisers to anchor the team down low in its first season in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) after failing to land local hero Jercules 'Jojo' Tangkay.
Ninos head coach Gilbert Castillo said he has gained the commitment of fellow former Letran Knight Erick 'ERod' Rodriguez and 10-year PBA veteran Jondan Salvador after former PBA wingman Tangkay opted to sign up to play for Basilan.
“Makakatulong itong dalawa sa ilalim,” said Castillo at the end of the team’s practice session on Friday afternoon.
Castillo said he was already in talks with the two big men long before he arrived in Cebu and got their go-signal a week ago.
"Feeling ko kasi, marami na akong nakikita na scorers dito sa team pero wala masyadong beterano. Tsaka itong dalawa, makikipag-bangaan talaga ito sa ilalim, alam ko yung kaya nilang gawin kaya napag-isipan kong imbitahin sila dito,” said the former San Miguel player.
Rodriguez, 37, last player for Ginebra in 2011 while Salvador last suited up in the PBA for Barako Bull in 2015. The two will team up with another ex-pro, Cesar Catli, in the team's maiden season in the MPBL.
Castillo expects to have a working line-up beginning next week. They would be practicing for two more weeks in Cebu and try to get some tune-up games against Cesafi teams before heading to Manila for another week of practice and some more tuneup games.
After overseeing practice sessions for the better part of the week and working on their plays on Friday, Castillo said the team is on the right path but admitted still has a lot of work to do.
“Nakikita ko yung mga players, tentative pa sa decision-making nila. It may be because ngayon pa lang sila nagkakasama sa court ng mga kakampi nila. We’ll fix that in the next two weeks,” said Castillo.
The final pool of players included former two-time Cesafi MVP Enrico Llanto, former Adamson Falcon Mark Abadia and a platoon of Cesafi standouts such as former University of the Visayas Green Lancers John Abad, Harold Cincoflores, Franz Arong, Alfred Codilla and Rhaffy October, ex-University of San Jose-Recoletos Jaguars Iron Suano, Victor Nunez and Kevin Villafranca, former Cesafi Slam Dunk champ, JR Puerto, former University of San Carlos Warrior William McCaloney and former Southwestern University Cobras Jun Luz, Ian Ortega and Bernie Bregondo.
Tangkay, 41, chose Basilan even if it has yet to officially commit to joining the league founded by boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao. The details of Basilan’s joining is set to be hammered out this weekend when Basilan governor Mujiv Hatamam meets with Pacquiao himself.
“Sana naman matuloy yung pagpirma ng Basilan sa liga para makalaro din ako. Matagal-tagal na rin ako di nakalaro sa ganitong liga,” said the former draft pick of Sta. Lucia in 2001.