PETRON kicked off its season with a bang on Wednesday night, but underlying issues have raised fears that the campaign may be derailed along the way by offcourt drama that has hounded the team in past seasons.
Even before the Boosters could play their first game in the PBA Philippine Cup, the team's supporters were already divided on the issue involving Danny Ildefonso - the longtime cornerstone of the franchise who was cut from the lineup in the days leading up to the new season.
On Wednesday, fans of the two-time MVP and many-time All-Star showed up in the Smart Araneta Coliseum stands to make their feelings known, holding up old Ildefonso jerseys and messages of support during the Boosters' 97-87 win over Globalport.
Head coach Gee Abanilla, however, has made it clear the Ildefonso situation is beyond his control, saying the decision to let the veteran go is part of the "direction that management has set" for the team.
[For full story, see Abanilla noncommittal on Danny I comeback after Taha injury]
Aside from that, injuries have this early become a major concern for a team that had little rest after reaching the Governors' Cup Finals last season.
Starting point guard Alex Cabagnot and veteran Ronald Tubid started the season on the injured list while new acquisition Yousef Taha never got to finish his Petron debut after suffering a suspected MCL injury late in the Boosters' win over Globalport.
Cabagnot is expected to miss the team’s first five games due to a tear on his plantar, which was also the reason he sat out two crucial games for Petron in the last Governors’ Cup finals against San Mig.
“I have a tear. I got it in Game Two fo the Finals, remember I was in crutches. Then it was already in pain in Games Six and Seven. After the Finals, it was already worse,” Cabagnot said.
Another integral part of Abanilla’s rotation, veteran guard Tubid, has to undergo athroscopic surgery to repair tissues in his left knee.
“Wear and tear daw ito. Sabi ni doc, pag daw intense na player, nagkakaroon ng ganitong injury. Nagkakaligaw na laman sa tendon. Nilinis lang, hindi naman threatening yung injury,” said Tubid, who will be out for four to five weeks.
To make matters worse, Taha walked out of the court limping on Wednesday night after he heard a pop in his right knee. He is now being observed for a suspected MCL injury ahead of an MRI scan on Thursday afternoon.
Taha is fearing the worst.
Asked how he feels, Taha bared that he is unable to walk without feeling any pain and believes that it will be close to impossible for him to play at the moment. “It’s painful. I need to see a doctor. It’s swollen,” Taha said.
Taha recalled the painful moment. “Jaywash (Washington) stepped on my foot. I kinda laid it up. I turned, my knee and my foot stayed and my body went the other way. I don’t know. There was a pop,” he said.
“I feel a little uncomfortable, I don’t think I can run right now,” he added. “I already sprained my MCL before, but this one feels inside the knee. I don’t know!”
Asked if this is another 'Petronovela' in the making, Abanilla said he’s praying it is not.
“Sana hindi. Mahaba pa naman ang conference. Pero sana hindi naman. Hindi naman,” said the amiable coach.