TOMMY Manotoc, one of only four coaches to pull off a grand slam in the long history of the PBA, admits he never thought he'd see another grand slam in the pro league.
Not in this day and age when the 39-year-old pro league has a bigger and deeper field, more talented players spread among the teams, and is dominated not by one or two teams but by a handful of ballclubs, each one capable of going all the way in any conference.
Now, as San Mig stands on the threshold of completing only the fifth sweep of the league's three conference jewels in one season, Manotoc, who led Crispa to the second of its two grand slams in 1983 (the first one was in 1976 under Baby Dalupan), is singing a different tune.
"Possible," he said. "Hindi malayo."
Over the last 18 years since Tim Cone and Alaska pulled off the league's last grand slam in 1996, only one team has really come close to another season treble: Chot Reyes' Talk 'N Text, which was denied the historic feat by San Miguel Beer in Game Seven of the 2011 Governors Cup Finals.
However, San Mig has since put together one of the most impressive runs seen in the league since Cone's arrival in 2011, winning four of the last seven conferences including the last three to put itself on the cusp of history.
Manotoc, who has won six league championships to earn his place in the PBA Hall of Fame, likes the Mixers' chance of pulling off the season hat-trick because of two reasons.
One, San Mig has the talent and the depth to sustain its dominant form for an entire season, he said.
Two, Manotoc said if there's anyone in the PBA who knows how to win a grand slam, it is Cone.
"Tim Cone has done it before, so he knows what it will take," said the former coach and now head of the National Golf Association of the Philippines. "And he has the players to get it done."
Manotoc said the shortened season schedule which the PBA cramped to make way for Gilas Pilipinas' stint in the World Cup, has also worked in San Mig's favor since the 2014 campaign feels like one whole tournament with very short gaps in between conferences.
That has kept San Mig sharp as it hopped from one conference to the next, Manotoc said.
As it is, Air21 coach Franz Pumaren said Cone has already done a splendid job of pacing his players, which he said had been the major reason why the franchise has dominated the 10-team field over the last three conferences.
“I don’t believe they (Mixers) are tired at this point. You should realize that coach Tim knows how to pace his players during practice and even in games,” Pumaren.
Pumaren, of course, knows where he is coming off, having been a back-up to Hector Calma when San Miguel Beer completed a season sweep of the 1989 conferences under Norman Black.
The pacing of players, according to Pumaren, has a lot to do with San Mig’s new-found bench depth, giving Cone the luxury to play sophomore forward Alex Mallari and rookies Ian Sangalang and Justin Melton in crucial stretches without the team's performance taking a dip.
“That’s the luxury of having a good lineup, something that we had during our time under (current Talk ‘N Text coach) Norman (Black). So yes, I think it’s (winning the Grand Slam) doable,” he added.
Pumaren’s top assistant at Air21 and teammate with the 1989 San Miguel team Tonichi Yturri believes health will play a key factor in San Mig’s bid to make history.
“Sila (Mixers) pa rin ang contender niyan,” said the 6-foot-5 Yturri, who was one of Black’s shock troopers in the 1989 San Miguel team. “Mukhang wala naman silang mga injuries.”
Yturri, however, also stressed the importance of keeping every San Mig player focused on the huge task ahead.
“Winning the grand slam entails focus for practically the whole year,” he said. "But so far, they have the type of players who motivate themselves and have proven that they want to be part of history.”
For Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao, health will be a major factor in the final stretch of the season as San Mig tries to fulfill its date with destiny.
The Mixers have endured several injuries to top players during the course of the season, but players tend to be more injury-prone in the final stretch of the season as the rigors of the full season begin to take its toll.
“Mahalaga kasi diyan is 'yung playing healthy and so far, they have withstood the physical rigors of playing each conference,” said Guiao.
But if there's a team that knows how to play through advertisity, it is San Mig, Guiao said.
“I think with their talent and time together, 'yun ang naging factor, so I think possible iyan (winning the Grand Slam). They have proven themselves already,” added the 55-year-old Guiao.