THE NLEX Road Warriors have taken a new path in their bid to extend their reign as the only team to win a championship in the PBA D-League.
They're hitching their fate on young players.
Following the elevation of former stalwarts Cliff Hodge, Chris Ellis, and Calvin Abuvea to the pro ranks, the Road Warriors rebuilt their roster with a youth revolution that saw players no older than 24 years old signed up in time for the Aspirants Cup.
“Hindi mo ma-distinguish `yung one over the other,” said coach Boyet Fernandez, who has steered the team to the championship of the league’s first three conferences.
“Last year, we have more of a scrappy team with the presence of Hodge, Abueva, and then we got Ellis. Pero ngayon, ang babata nila, galing sa mga colleges. I think we are the youngest team (in the league) in terms of age average.”
The Road Warriors started their revamp by signing Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva, who were fresh from helping the Ateneo Blue Eagles win a fifth straight men’s title in the UAAP.
Then, the team added Letran star Kevin Alas, San Beda point guard Baser Amer, Adamson forward Eric Camson, and Smart Gilas 2.0 rookie guard Matt Ganuelas Rosser.
At the same time, NLEX retained the services of Garvo Lanete, months removed from a stint in the pro-laced Smart Gilas 2.0 squad, along with RR Garcia, Ronald Pascual, Jake Pascual, Ian Sangalang, and Kirk Long.
The revamped squad did not take long to mesh as the Road Warriors debuted in style on Tuesday, walloping Erase XFoliant, 101-71, and proving they’re still a force to be reckoned with in the league.
“Parang excited sila maglaro with the way they passed the ball, parang magkakilala na sila,” said Fernandez. “Maybe it’s also because of their talent, but they’re still a work in progress.”
While NLEX is definitely a talented bunch, team chemistry is a different story. Some of the Road Warriors’ hew players had just wrapped up their stint in the collegiate league, and have only practiced with the team for a short time.
Fernandez, however, emphasized that what the Road Warriors lacked in chemistry at the moment, they will have to make up for in defensive intensity – the same factor behind the team's success in the last three conferences.
“Chemistry is still a work in progress. My players have the talent, but how we are going to play as a team is my concern … I know they can score but how they are going to play defense is the question. If you can’t play defense in this team, you don’t have playing time,” Fernandez said.