INACTIVE for almost a year, big man Enrico Villanueva admitted it felt like starting all over again when he finally stepped back on the court in the PBA.
An ACL injury that sidelined him for about nine months fully healed, Villanueva suited up for Barako Bull on Sunday in a 98-97 win over Globalport in a Governors Cup game that saw the Energy Cola complete a fightback from 18 points down.
Villanueva played for just five minutes and finished with two points on 2-of-6 shooting from the foul line, later poking fun at his woeful stint from the stripe.
“I guess I have to make those foul shots,” he said with a grin.
Turning serious, he continued: “Honestly, nakakapanibago kasi ang tagal kung na-layoff. But the thing is, nakakalaro na ako. Hopefully, bumalik na `yung dating feeling, how to be aggressive, how to play defense, and everything.
"Kasi iba rin `yung sa practice at `yung sa game. Kahit anong practice mo, kapag hindi mo sinimulan, you’ll never know where you’re at,” the former Ateneo star added.
The former UAAP MVP went down with the injury during the Philippine Cup in November, forcing him to sit out the entire Commissioner’s Cup and the early part of the season-ending conference.
“OK na naman. Hindi naman ako papasok at maglalaro ng may injury pa dahil hindi rin naman ako magri-risk,” said Villanueva.
However, a lot of things had since changed with Barako in his time away from the team. From coach Junel Baculi, the Energy Cola have now been entrusted in the hands of active team consultant Rajko Toroman.
And Villanueva noted the discrepancy between the team’s system then and now.
“Of course `yung system ni coach Rajko is different from coach Junel dahil maraming movements. Ako dati poste-poste lang ako kay coach Junel, but ngayon I’m forced to go around a lot. Malaking adjustment talaga,” he noted.
“But at the same time, nakikita ko `yung system ni coach Rajko gives us a lot of advantage, dahil na-o-open up niya `yung floor, you just have to do it the right way, maganda talaga `yung sistema ni coach Rajko.
“Even if I come from the traditional basketball na postehan, you have to give it a chance. You have to be open minded all the time for the system to work. Kasi kung isasara mo `yung isip mo, walang mangyayari. Nakikita mo naman, kahit paano nasa taas kami.”
Now that Villanueva is back, Toroman, who has led Barako Bull to a share of second place with Meralco at 4-2 (win-loss), insisted the former King Eagle remains Barako Bull’s first option at the center spot.
But Villanueva doesn’t mind if he plays just a supporting role as long as the team is winning.
“Kung ano ang ibigay sa aking chance to play, okay ako. If I have to play support to Mick (Pennisi) and Dorian (Pena), walang problema sa akin, lalo na kung maganda naman ang nilalaro nila. I’ll be ready in case they’re in foul trouble or they’re really having a bad game, I better step up,” he said.
“As long as we win, I’ll help out.”