Why were SMB rookies Arnold Van Opstal, Rashawn McCarthy benched? Austria explains
Rookies Arnold Van Opstal and Rashawn McCarthy joined the Beermen in the opening festivities, but never got to play in the game against Star. Dante Peralta

BEING the first game of the new PBA season, Leo Austria set out to make a statement for defending Philippine Cup champion San Miguel.

In so doing, rookies Arnold Van Opstal and Rashawn McCarthy were left out in the cold and listed as DNP (Did Not Play) in the Beermen’s 96-88 victory over the Star Hotshots for a rousing start to their title-retention bid Sunday.

Austria later extended his apology to both players as he tried to justify the move not to utilize them during the post-game interview at the Smart Araneta Coliseum press room.

“Pasensiya na sa kanila. First game kasi ito kailangan naming manalo,” he said when asked why he decided not to give his two highly-touted rookies even only a few minutes of exposure in San Miguel’s debut game.

“This is the first game and we definitely wanted to win. It (win) would be a morale booster for us.”

Van Opstal and McCarthy were the only rookies selected by the franchise in the last rookie draft, with the 24-year-old Van Opstal being the player tabbed by the Beermen from the 12-man Gilas cadet pool.

Veterans Brian Heruela, David Semerad, and Yancy De Ocampo were the other DNPs for the reigning all-Filipino champions.

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In all, Jio Jalalon was the only rookie to see action in the lone game that ushered in the pro league’s 42nd season, playing 21 minutes for Star and finishing with 11 points and five rebounds.

The three other newbies for the Hotshots - Chris Javier, Samboy de Leon, and Alvin Abundo - also ended up as DNP.

Austria admitted Van Opstal and McCarthy are vital players in San Miguel’s bid to win a third straight all-Filipino crown, but at the same time, stressed every game is important for the Beermen especially with the elimination being a single-round robin affair.

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“They can help us, but utilization of players ito. We have to treat every game like a playoff,” said the two-time PBA Press Corps Coach of the Year awardee.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @gerardmos