As San Miguel lost its shot to become the 5th franchise to win a Grand Slam, head coach Leo Austria could not help but think things could have gone differently had they avoided health issues.
Playing non-stop basketball as they were perennial Finals contender in 3 of the last 4 championship, the Beermen eventually ran out of steam and luck in the Commissioner’s Cup as they fell short in their semifinals series against Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
“We’re a strong team if we’re playing healthy,” said Austria. “Mahirap talaga. You have time to recuperate from some injuries, to rest, to plan.”
Tipped by some fans to join Crispa, Alaska, San Mig Coffee as the only teams which swept 3 titles in a season after a Beer-acle-inspired Philippine Cup win in February, the Beermen crumbled as their key players harbored minor injuries throughout the eliminations and in the playoffs.
But for Austria, one big factor in their painful exit is that their main man and 2-time MVP June Mar Fajardo is still hobbled by a knee injury.
“June Mar was not in his usual game, dahil syempre affected siya nung kanyang mga recent injuries niya e,” said the multi-titled mentor. “He don’t want to gamble anything that could hamper his full recovery.”
The Sariaya, Quezon native mentor also came pointed out the cramped schedule this season as another factor that caused their downfall.
“Let us be fair now. It’s really hard to win the championship especially if the format is like this na after the championship you only have one week to prepare,” he said.
The mid-season conference title remains elusive for the Beermen.
Despite entering the playoffs, a marked improvement from their nightmarish finish last year, San Miguel again ended up empty handed as import woes continued to hound them in the Commissioner’s Cup. After squandering an early 18-point lead in Game 1 and another heartbreaking loss in Game 2 made the situation volatile that reached its boiling point when high-scoring but temperamental Tyler Wilkerson ranted and walked out.
Austria though would rather dwell on the positives than negatives.
“Those things that happened this season is a learning lesson always sa amin. Maybe next season alam na namin pag nanalo kami ng All-Filipino, alam na uli ‘yung gagawin,” he said. – By Jason Mercene
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