TNT players like Josh Smith so much they asked him to play on. It proved a master stroke
TNT import Josh Smith has forged a solid rapport with his teammates who, in turn, pleaded with him to play in the PBA Finals despite a nagging injury. Jaime Campos

IT seems Joshua Smith is the big glue that holds TnT Katropa together.

The gigantic import has forged a solid rapport with the Katropa that the players themselves asked Smith to play another game with them the moment the team booked a seat in the finals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

In the short period he’s been with the team, the 6-foot-10 Smith has proven to be a pleasant voice in the TnT locker room that no less than top gunner Jayson Castro led the players in convincing the import to stay even for a while despite the foot injury he suffered during the semis series against Ginebra.

“Gusto siya ng mga players, point blank si Jayson mismo. Kaya after the semis, they asked him to play one more game,” recalled team manager Virgil Villavicencio.

The plea didn’t fall on deaf ears.

Team management led by Villavicencio, former league chairmen Ricky Vargas and governor Patrick Gregorio, along with coach Nash Racela and his coaching staff took Smith out for a dinner and told him about the request of the players.

Although hurting, Smith acceded.

“OK I will play,” was Smith’s reply, according to the TnT team manager.

[See A great game deserves an encore, at least: Smith to play in Game 2]

The players’ collective decision proved to be a wise one. Not only did a hurting Smith provided inspiration to the team, but he also ended up as the hero in TnT’s 104-102 upset of the fancied San Miguel Beermen by sinking the game-winning basket in Game 1 of the title series on Wednesday night.

He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds despite hobbling on the court in the second half when he had to be re-taped in the locker room after his foot injury acted up.

“More than his being a nice player, I think the players realized Smith brings what we have been lacking in the past,” said Villavicencio, pointing to Smith’s intimidating presence down low.

“And they (Katropa) know they have a legitimate shot at winning a championship with Smith around.”

Of course, Smith’s physical condition is still first and foremost to team management that it is willing to let Smith go once the import said he can no longer play. At the moment, TnT has two standby imports in Mike Myers and Michael Craig, also the Katropa’s import in the season-ending Governors Cup.

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But so far, so good, Smith has managed to play through the pain to the delight of his teammates.

Racela has the last say on why he prefers to have Smith for the rest of the finals.

“At this point, if you could, you want to stick with Joshua. He’s familiar with the game, the PBA, the officiating,” he said.

“He’s been with the team for a month and a half. The question is why replace him if he could play. If we could stick with him until the last game, then we will do.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos