NEARLY forgotten after skipping most of last season due to a nagging knee injury, veteran big man Enrico Villanueva could yet turn out to be the ‘X Factor’ for new team NLEX when it makes its debut in the PBA.
The 6-foot-5 Villanueva said he underwent tedious rehabilitation process in both knees for him to get back healthy this season.
While there may still be aches and pains on his knees from time to time, Villanueva simply shrugs them off as he looks forward to contributing to the cause of the Road Warriors as able backup to ageless center Asi Taulava.
“Okay naman ever since nag-start ang training, and hindi naman ako nag-skip pa. There was a time nagsabay ako ng rehab and practice, but I think I’m in better shape than in the previous conferences,” Villanueva told Spin.ph on Monday night during the team’s formal presentation at the C3 Event’s Place in Greenhills, San Juan.
The power forward out of Ateneo averaged career-lows of 0.2 points, 0.2 rebound in just seven games with Globalport and Air21 last season.
Incidentally, Villanueva will be up against his former team as the Road Warriors open their maiden campaign in Asia’s first ever play-for-pay league against the Batang Pier on Tuesday.
At 32, Villanueva recognizes the influx of younger, athletic, and bigger players has challenged him to “reinvent” himself to find his place in the rotation of incoming NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez.
“You have to reinvent yourself also because I’m not as big as other younger players, but I’ll try to catch up with quickness, or try to work on different aspects of the game and use the old tricks para makasabay,” he said with a grin.
“Lalamang ka na lang sa experience using it against younger guys,” he added.
The former UAAP MVP scored 12 points in NLEX’s 84-81 win over reigning Grand Slam champion San Mig Super Coffee on October 4 in a PBA Liga ng Bayan preseasongame in Binan, Laguna.
While all eyes remain focused on the Mixers, who are gunning for their fifth straight championship, Villanueva believes the core of Taulava, MacMac Cardona, guard Jonas Villanueva, rookies Harold Arboleda, Jeckster Apinan, among others, is competitive enough for the Road Warriors to be at par with the rest of the 12-team field.
“Realistically mahirap (to beat elite PBA teams), but you can’t really say. Pero sinasabi ko we’ll gonna give everybody a run for their money,” he said.
“I don’t see our team getting blown out by bigger teams, but we’ll give a good fight every time we’re on the floor and coach emphasized from the start that defense will be very important for him,” added the NLEX forward.