THE loss of Ian Sangalang due to an injury turned out to be one critical factor that led to Purefoods’ early exit in the PBA Philippine Cup after a historic grand slam run last season.
Sangalang sat out the rest of the Philippine Cup including the short, uneventful playoff run of the Hotshots after the former San Sebastian Stag suffered an ACL and MCL tear in his right knee right in the team's season debut against Alaska on October 22.
That, according to Purefoods resident stars James Yap and Marc Pingris, spelled doom for the team's 'drive for five' that eventually ended with a shocking loss to Meralco, 77-65, in the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday.
Even as a rookie, Sangalang had an immediate impact for in San Mig's grand slam run in the 2013-2014 season, finishing with averages of 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds to make it to the All-Rookie Team while taking on the role as the spearhead of the team's bench.
“Malaking bagay si Ian,” said former PBA MVP James Yap.
Yap said there were times during last season that Sangalang, although relegated to a role player in a star-studded squad, lifted the team all by himself whenever Tim Cone's top scoring options like him were struggling to find their touch.
“Pag may mga ganitong game na let's say, slow start kami, si Ian ang nagpo-produce. Siya ‘yung bumubuhat sa team,” Yap said.
Marc Pingris also thinks Sangalang’s absence weighed down heavily on the Hotshots this conference, even if Cone tried to fill the gap by bringing in Don Allado and late recruit Mick Pennisi while grooming Yousef Taha as the Hotshots' first frontliner off the bench.
“Malaking bagay rin talaga si Ian sa amin. ‘Yung rotation namin, although may mga bago, kumbaga nabawasan kami ng isang key player,” said Pingris.
Pingris also downplayed insinuations that Purefoods lacked the hunger to sustain its run of four successive championships.
“Talagang gusto naming maglaro. Hindi kami pressured. Kasi ganyan ang naririnig ko na kapag natatalo kami, may hangover ba kaya kami natatalo. Pero itong conference na ‘to, marami talaga kaming mali even sa offense and defense,” Pingris said.
“Gutom pa rin kami this conference pero malaking bagay talaga si Ian. Hindi ko sinasabi na porket na-injured si Ian, hindi na kami magcha-champion pero sobrang bawas talaga ‘yung rotation,” Pingris said.
With the early exit, Yap can only look forward to next conference where Sangalang could possibly still miss some games in the Commissioner’s Cup as he recovers from the major injury, his first in his young career.