RIGHT after Phoenix Petroleum clinched a finals spot in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup, coach Eric Gonzales started thinking of the player matchups against powerhouse CafeFrance.
One concern is the battle in the paint, with CafeFrance holding a huge advantage because of Congolese import Rod Ebondo.
Gonzales wishes he had Prince Orizu in the lineup.
The Cameroonian big man was one of the key players of the Far Eastern University Tamaraws during the finals series of the UAAP Season 78. Following their title run, the Tamaraws agreed to a tie-up with Phoenix Petroleum that allowed the Accelerators to get players from the FEU squad.
But 6-foot-10 Orizu has played only one year for FEU in the UAAP, one short of the required two seasons for a player to be allowed to suit up in the D-League.
“Sabi ko nga kay coach Nash (Racela), sana meron tayong Orizu para kahit papaano, tapos na ang basketball,” Gonzales admitted as he tagged his team as the underdog in the finals series against CafeFrance for that sole reason.
“The greatest challenge is wala kaming import kasi ’yung import nila, hindi napapagod. Siguro kung all-Filipino, mas malaki ang chance kasi undermanned kami sa import factor. Pero medyo dehado kami,” said Gonzales.
Game One of the best-of-five series is on Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
Gonzales also waved off claims by CafeFrance coach Egay Macaraya that his team should be the underdog, citing injuries to key players.
"Kami pa rin ang underdog... Pero hindi na siguro magma-matter 'yan kasi championship na," said Macaraya.
Gonzales said he’ll be happy to be tagged favorite.
“Sana mag-backfire sa kanya. I’ll take it. Mahirap ’yung papadehado kahit llamado ka. Ang reality is walang maka-stop sa import nila,” Gonzales said.