BEFORE, it was Mark Caguioa versus James Yap. Now, it’s Greg Slaughter against Ian Sangalang.
Although there’s still some spark in the Caguioa-Yap rivalry, the brewing competition between the two towering rookies of Barangay Ginebra and San Mig, respectively, has taken a share of the spotlight.
They Said It!
“Challenge ko talaga na makalaban (si Greg Slaughter). Siyempre, number one pick versus number two pick. Kasi may gusto akong ipakita na kaya ko ding maging number one, na kaya ko ding maglaro."San Mig Coffee rookie Ian Sangalang
Slaughter and Sangalang emerged as the top two overall picks during the last PBA rookie draft, with the 6-foot-11 Slaughter ending up with the Kings and the 6-foot-5 Sangalang tabbed by the Mixers.
Now the two big men are on track for another battle at the end of the season, with Sangalang looming as the biggest threat to Slaughter in the race for the Rookie of the Year award.
“May rivalry talaga kami ni Greg simula pa nung opening game ng season,” recalled Sangalang of the league’s opening game for its 39th season pitting Ginebra and San Mig.
“Pero the next game hindi na nasundan, kasi nawala ang laro ko nun di ba?” he added.
Slaughter no doubt gained the edge in his match-up with Sangalang owing to his impressive showing in the season-opening Philippine Cup. Not surprisingly, he now leads the race for the top rookie award.
Sangalang, however, has since made up a lot of ground.
In fact, the Mixers’ strong finish that saw them win the all-Filipino title has made Sangalang believe that he’s fast catching up with his Ginebra counterpart.
“Pero sa ngayon tingin ko okay naman na ang nilalaro ko. Nakakahabol na kahit papano. Saka hindi naman ako nagfo-focus sa individual award o Rookie of the Year na yun,” said the forward out of San Sebastian.
A former NCAA Most Valuable Player, Sangalang admitted nearly losing his self confidence at the start of the season had it not been for the encouragement of San Mig teammates and coaching staff.
“Hindi ko rin talaga ini-expect ito. Kasi sino ba namang rookie ang mabibigyan ng ganung kumpiyansa,” said the pride of Lubao, Pampanga.
Asked what he has in mind every time the name Gregory Slaughter crops up, Sangalang said just one word.
“Challenge,” he said. “Challenge ko talaga na makalaban siya. Siyempre, number one pick versus number two pick. Kasi may gusto akong ipakita na kaya ko ding maging number one, na kaya ko ding maglaro.”
“Saka nakaganda rin sa akin yung pag struggle ko sa una saka yung pagiging second pick ko kasi ngayon gusto kong ipakita sa kanya (Slaughter) na hindi siya pwedeng mag-relax sa ginagawa niya, ganun,” Sangalang, among the handful of discoveries of Pampanga vice governor Dennis Pineda, added.
Sangalang is also proud of his contributions to San Mig, where he won his first-ever PBA championship right in his first conference as a pro.
“'Yun nga ang isa pang kinakatuwa ko, kasi nag-champion agad ako. At yung tiwala ng coaching staff talagang mas lalong nagpapataas sa kumpiyansa ko at determinasyon ko pang mas mag-improve,” he stressed.
San Mig coach Tim Cone is all praises for his prized recruit.
“I am not surprised at how good he is. Ian adds depth to our team. He’s like our fourth quarter man. He comes in the fourth quarter and makes things happen,” said Cone of Sangalang, who takes the load off his other big men like Marc Pingris, Joe Devance, and Rafi Reavis.
“His arrival changed the way I’ve been able to coach the team. Without Ian, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
But will he pick Sangalang over Slaughter if San Mig owned the first pick?
“There’s a saying you can’t teach height. And he (Slaughter) is special at seven feet. He is special and he is the consensus number one. Ian is a consensus number two,” Cone said.
Asked if he’s happy to have picked second overall in the last draft, Cone replied: “Yeah, at this point. Very much so.”