EXPANSION team Blackwater Sports is pinning its hopes on former Ateneo back-up players when it makes its inaugural campaign in the coming 40th season of the PBA.
The team picked Juami Tiongson and Frank Golla during the recent Annual Rookie Draft, reuniting them with former college teammates JP Erram and Bacon Austria who are already with the Elite as free agents.
Team owner Dioceldo Sy has challenged the Ateneo second-stringers to prove they belong in the pro league.
“We were lucky to pick Juami Tiongson and Frank Golla in the last draft. Tapos we have JP Erram also and Bacon Austria, all coming from Ateneo,” said Sy.
“Everybody knows that these players are from the five-peat champion team of Ateneo. And they all know na people look at them as mere ‘back-ups’ to the stars of the Blue Eagles.”
“My challenge now to them is to prove that, indeed, they know how to win. Marami kasi nagsasabi na mga back-up lang sila ng mga starters ng Ateneo dati. So I am giving them the chance to prove themselves,” he added.
Tiongson was the chief reliever of Emman Monfort while Golla played behind Gregory Slaughter and Justin Chua during the Blue Eagles' glory years.
Erram was also a bench player before the starting center of Ateneo after Slaughter turned pro last year.
Sy is optimistic his challenge will not fall on deaf ears having seen the potential of Tiongson when he brought the young dribbler to a pocket tournament in Penang, Malaysia.
“My coaching staff saw a gold mine in Juami in Malaysia. He was the team’s most consistent player, while Bacon provided the stability there,” said Sy as he took pride in Tiongson who averaged 16.2 points and 5.3 assists average during the six-nation cagefest.
“Syempre, di ako naniniwala na magpapaiwan naman sina Erram at Golla. I’ve heard so much good things about them,” added the Ever Bilena Cosmetics president.
“The ‘boys in blue’ are known winners. So we expect them to exemplify that winning tradition with us in the PBA.”
The blueprint of putting together a team comprised of former UAAP teammates was first used by Franz Pumaren last year at Air21 where he had the likes of Mac Cardona, Joseph Yeo, and Simon Atkins, all former members of the La Salle Green Archers.
The Express went on make a surprising playoff appearance in both the Commissioner’s and Governors’ Cup, respectively.
Sy however insisted it was twist of fate that brought the four former Eagles togehter, and not really by design.
“Nagkataon lang na nakuha namin sila. So naniniwala ako na it can be divine intervention,” said Sy, a known believer of feng shui, a Chinese philosophy about harmonizing energies to attract good luck.
Longtime UAAP analyst and ABS-CBN reporter TJ Manotoc believes the gamble by Blackwater might just bring the franchise good results.
“If you look at the careers of the four players, lahat yang apat na yan lumaban. Hindi lang yan nakisakay at nag-champion lang. Talagang may puso ang mga yan,” said Manotoc.
“It’s now a challenge (for them) to bring it up to the next level,” added the son of legendary PBA coach Tommy Manotoc.
The young sports analyst also hopes the chemistry among the four ex-Ateneo stalwarts will rub off on the entire Blackwater team.
“Magandang factor kasi dyan 'yung chemistry (nung apat). Nag-sama-sama na dati yan. Although it (UAAP) is a different level, nag-champion na yan eh. Iba `yung may pinag-samahan kayong nag-champion kayo,” said Manotoc.
“It has a unique bond that they can carry with them to the PBA.”
Blackwater currently has 18 players at its disposal, majority of whom coming from the dispersal draft last month.
From its D-League team, only Austria, Pari Llagas, and Gilbert Bulawan are the remaining holdovers, reinforced by veterans Bambam Gamalinda, Eddie Laure, and two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso.