AIR21 is aching to get out of the hole after languishing in the cellar for two straight conferences, and coach Franz Pumaren faces a tough task of trying to make his new-look squad click in a short period of time.
The Commissioner’s Cup tips off in two weeks, and the Express will parade several new trade acquisitions and an import that has had little practice time with the squad.
The Express dealt its top scorer Nino Canaleta to Talk ’N Text in exchange for Sean Anthony, rookie guard Eliud Poligrates and a first-round pick for 2016 in a surprise move last January. The 6-foot-6 Canaleta led the Express with averages of 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Philippine Cup.
The team was also part of the complex four-team, seven-player trade early this week that saw the Express ship Bonbon Custodio to Globalport, while landing veteran point guard Jonas Villanueva.
Pumaren feels the additional manpower gives Air21 bench depth, though a strong showing for the import-laced conference would still be a challenge given the short tournament format of just nine games in the elimination round.
“Mahirap ngayon dahil nasa adjustment period uli kami,” Pumaren told Spin.ph over the weekend. “Siyempre, it’s not just jelling with the three new additions sa team, pero jelling pa with our import, who’ll only have his first practice (on Friday)."
Air21 tapped Herve Lamizana from Ivory Coast as its import for the Commissioner’s Cup.
The 215-pound Lamizana planed in late last Wednesday after coming off a stint with the Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association recently where he averaged 13.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 assists.
Pumaren said Lamizana could play the power forward position, where he could easily form a strong “twin tower” defensive wall alongside Asi Taulava.
“Herve is a very good help-side defender. He’s really a strong defensive player and I think he’s already used to a lot of banging,” explained Pumaren, whose immediate goal for the second conference is to bring the Express past the quarterfinals.
The Abidjan-born Lamizana, played for the Ivorian national team in the 2010 Fiba World Cup in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as the 2011 and 2013 Fiba Africa men’s championships, where they placed fourth in both editions.
Noted for his defense, Lamizana averaged 10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for Ivory Coast during last year’s Fiba Africa championships.