HEROES were not in short supply during San Mig's improbable run to the PBA Philippine Cup championship, with players like Mark Barroca, Marc Pingris, Joe Devance, PJ Simon, and even rookie Justin Melton standing out at one point or another during the campaign.
But as far as coach Tim Cone is concerned, San Mig, for all intents and purposes, is still very much James Yap's team.
Despite Yap's conference-long struggle, Cone pointed out that the Mixers still take the cue from the two-time league MVP who he said was professional enough to shrug off injuries and "off-court issues" to lead from the front for the newly crowned champions.
“If it is anybody’s, it’s (San Mig’s) still James’ team because we still play off with James. And the players really respect James and the game,” said Cone, still savoring the team’s title conquest of the all-Filipino conference after a 4-2 win in the Finals over Rain or Shine.
Although quick to point out that he isn't out to take the credit away from Finals MVP Barroca or the team's other unsung heroes, Cone took note of the sacrifices Yap had to undergo in battling adversity this season especially with his nagging elbow injury.
“He’s (Yap) got a lot that he’s gone through that a lot of people don’t know about. That’s tough on him to keep focus on because he’s got some ups and downs,” explained the San Mig mentor, who became the winningest coach in PBA history after bagging his 16th championship.
A quick look at the shooting stats of the 6-foot-2 Yap showed that the former University of the East star, struggling with pain on the elbow on his shooting hand each time he goes for a jumper, shot just 33.8 percent from the field during the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
However, the 32-year-old pride of Escalante, Negros Occidental leveled up in the championship series by shooting a more efficient 46.5 percent from the floor on the way to averaging 13.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in 26.3 minutes of play against Rain or Shine.
“It’s great to see him in this (Finals) series play really well. He shot the ball well and he made great decisions,” noted the 56-year-old American mentor.
Curiously, Yap started to find his range, beginning with Game Seven of the semifinal series against Ginebra, after estranged wife Kris Aquino defended him from game-fixing allegations and later allowed their son, Baby James, to spend time with Yap on his 32nd birthday.
Cone felt these off-court "issues" also affected Yap's game early in the season.
“He’d be the first to tell you there were some struggles. He had some struggles on the court and off the court, not bad stuff, but with his family with his kid,” noted Cone.
“He had to leave practice early and go to the court. So it was really tough for him. But he persevered and persevered, and through injuries, I think his teammates respected him for that,” he added.
Yap may still be the face of the franchise, but Cone insisted the hardwork his superstar had to put in is far from glamorous.
“He’s not the glamorous boy, but he goes out there and do the hardwork, he defends, he bangs.”