FOR Justin Chua, it’s his way of making up for lost time.
Just two months removed from an appendix operation, the big man produced a career game as Phoenix averted an endgame collapse against Blackwater, 107-102, in the Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-6 product of Ateneo had 17 points (8-of-17) and nine rebounds to eclipse his previous best of 16 points registered in this same tournament last year during a 94-86 loss to Globalport while Chua was still with Meralco.
The 28-year-old center said he’s just giving back to the Fuel Masters after missing the final three games – all crucial ones – of the season-opener Philippine Cup after undergoing an emergency operation.
The Fuel Masters lost two of those three games, including the playoff against TnT Katropa for the eighth and final berth in the quarterfinals.
After Phoenix failed to advance, Chua had a talk with coach Louie Alas and vowed to bounce back in the second conference.
“Actually nung nag-exit meeting kami sabi ko I felt so bad talaga kasi I could help the team. I was in the sidelines lang,” Chua recalled. “Pero sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Coach bawi talaga ako pagbalik.’"
Alas wasn’t surprised by the way Chua played.
“Super nagpa-kundisyon si Justine,” he said of the first round pick of San Mig Coffee in the 2013 rookie draft who continued to practice on his own even after the team got eliminated in order to regain his old playing condition.
And it showed in his first game back for the Fuel Masters as he teamed up with young import James White to forge a towering Phoenix frontcourt against Blackwater.
The two accounted for almost half of the Fuel Masters’ total output and combined for 23 of the team’s 57 rebounds.
“I think we have a good camaraderie,” he said of White, the former KIA Picanto (now Columbian Dyip) import. “We always help each other, kung may kailangan ako sa kanya inside the court I always tell him. Pero siya rin naman willing din siyang tulungan ako.
“Pagdating na pagdating niya kinausap ko siya agad, sabi ko kung anuman yung kailangan mong tulong I will help you, kasi siyempre bago yung sistema, para hindi na rin siya mahirapang mag-adjust.”
Chua has yet to be 100 percent, but hopes he’ll be able to sustain his good start as the second conference progresses.
“Last conference kung napansin ninyo, I think I played three straight good games and then towards the end medyo nawala,” he said. “So ang wish ko ngayon maging consistent this conference.”