STAR finally fielded a full-strength squad on Saturday night when PJ Simon made his return and gave his team a morale boost in its 91-89 win over Barangay Ginebra in Game Two of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series.
After missing the last six games due to chickenpox and flu, the veteran Hotshots shooting guard saw action to the cheers of the Star gallery at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Simon initially thought he would have to wait a little longer before making his return until Hotshots coach Chito Victolero called his name with less than four minutes left before halftime.
“Sobrang excited, at na-surprise ako kasi akala ko 'di pa 'ko maglalaro,” the 36-year-old cager admitted. “Napakasarap ng feeling na makapaglaro ulit.”
Simon played just three minutes and 39 seconds, and missed his only shot as Victolero broke him in.
“Siyempre mawawala yung kundisyon mo, back to zero ka ulit,” Simon admitted. “Yung timing mo sa game, yung stamina mo, mawawala pati yung strength mo. Nagdo-double time ako para makundisyon ulit ako at makuha ko yung timing.”
But with the Hotshots humming halfway through the race-to-four series against the Gin Kings, Simon is taking his sweet time to get back in game shape, content to just being the elder statesman in the team.
“I'm very happy sa result pinapakita namin,” Simon said. “As a veteran, yung trabaho ko is to guide them, to let them know na 'pag playoffs kailangan talaga na possession by possession. Hindi mo pwedeng tatambakan agad yung kalaban, kailangan [you have] to grind until the [final] buzzer.”
“Magaling din yung kalaban, scouted na tayo,” he added. “So yun din yung mashe-share ko sa kanila, yung experience ko.”
But the Hotshots know they have another weapon they can turn to in Simon.
“Sa sarili ko naman, sinasabi ko lang na ready lang ako anytime,” the seven-time champion said.