UNMINDFUL of the pressure, Leo Austria embraces the challenge of San Miguel assuming the ‘team to beat’ tag in the season-opening PBA Philippine Cup.
The two-time Coach of the Year said it’s understandable that the Beermen are put under the gun in this coming all-Filipino tournament which kicks off on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The league’s most accomplished franchise has ruled the conference two straight times and is on track for a hat-trick after retaining a core that has been playing together for the past several years now.
“Kasama naman talaga yung pressure e, andyan naman yan palagi,” said Austria as the Beermen took a break from their daily practice prior to playing on opening day opposite the souped-up Star Hotshots.
“Basta ang sabi ko sa players ko, hind dapat kami paapekto sa pressure.”
The two-time defending champions seemed to thrive under pressure as it won the Philippine Cup title in a pair of Game Sevens, none more emphatic than in last year’s finals when the team battled back from a deep 0-3 hole to deny Alaska the championship in a stunning feat that became known as ‘Beer-acle.’
It’s no surprising then that almost all team executives present during the launching of the league’s 42nd season mentioned San Miguel as the favorite to run away with the first conference crown.
No problem for the reigning champs, according to their soft-spoken mentor.
“Kami naman laro lang, always give our best,” said Austria. “Hindi na dapat naming isipin na kailangan ganito o kailangan ganyan. Basta naman ibinigay naming yung best, something good will happen.”
Only Ryan Arana was gone from last year’s championship unit, with the starting five of three-time league MVP June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, and Chris Ross as solid as ever.
The team also got quality players to shore up its roster by signing up rookies Arnold Van Opstal and Rashawn McCarthy and acquiring RR Garcia and Keith Agovida through trades.
Other returning for another tour of duty with the Beermen are Gabby Espinas, Ronald Tubid, Yancy de Ocampo, David Semerad, Jay R Reyes, and Brian Heruela.