THEY may already be out of the running for the championship, but the Zamboanga-Family’s Brand Sardines have made one of the biggest turnarounds in the MPBL Datu Cup.
Three months after taking over the troubled franchise, team owner and businesswoman Anita Kaw changed the fortunes of the franchise, which moved up from a dismal 11th place standing in the southern division to moving up and ending a game away from reaching the championship round.
Ms. Kaw recounted the challenges they encountered before overachieving by finishing way beyond expectations.
“We’re just three months in the business. I don’t know anything about basketball, but I was able to find the right people to run the team,” Ms. Kaw told FOX Sports Philippines in a telephone interview.
“We finally got the right pieces as in late December, when the league made a list of released players, immediately we took in players to overhaul our squad.”
Several players, coaching staff and utilities bolted out the squad upon the takeover of Ms. Kaw’s group, which forced them to get players from the free agency.
Luckily, the team was able to pick up several marquee players who were released by their respective mother teams.
Included in the list are Harold Arboleda, Robin Roño and Ivan Valenzuela, who were released by the Parañaque Patriots-F2 Logistics and Ryan Buenafe and Allan Santos, whom they were able to acquire after being released by the Laguna Heroes-Krah and Joseph Nalos, taken in by the squad after being put on the free agency by Caloocan.
Then came the final piece of the puzzle — Reed Juntilla, the team’s top gun, who also left the team during the takeover of the new management, but returned like a Prodigal Son to assume his role as a floor leader and go-to-guy of the squad.
“Had Rino Berame returned to us, he would have given us additional inside presence. He’s big and tall and can match up with some of the big guys in the league,” added Ms. Kaw.
The team made a significant run all the way to ending up sixth and earning a playoff berth where they faced the Muntinlupa Cagers-Angelis Resort, last season’s runner-up.
Proving that it’s ready for the big-time basketball scene, Zamboanga stunned Muntinlupa and even wrapped things up by beating their rivals at their home court to prevail in three grueling encounters in the southern division semifinal round.
Zamboanga carried the momentum all the way to Davao where it met inaugural staging champion Batangas City Athletics-Tanduay and there, the team from the Mindanao region was able to stamp its class.
The next two games were held right at the enemy’s territory, and the more experienced Athletics were able to pull the rug from under their up and coming rivals.
Despite falling short of reaching the championship round of the southern division finals, Ms. Kaw believes the team had shown a lot of upsides, one that can put them in the ranks of the top caliber squad in the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league in the country.
“No doubt, we want to get better,” she added. “We want to field in a championship caliber team. But more than anything else, we want to get players with the right attitude aside from the skill-set that they have.”
This early, there were a total of 18 players who were applying to be included in the team, according to Ms. Kaw, and among them include marquee players.
Just a few days removed from championship hunt and the Zamboanga-Family’s Brand Sardines are already thinking of boosting their family.
The next few days will be crucial for the management, headed by Ms. Kaw and team manager Alvin Munio, and the coaching staff as they make their evaluation. One thing is for sure, this team is aimed at building a packed, talented squad, just like the brand it is carrying.
But Zamboanga’s feat, according to Ms. Kaw, goes beyond basketball, and it’s far better than what they’ve accomplished together as a ball club.
“Before, the news about Zamboanga is about kidnapping and siege and it’s really stressing,” added Ms. Kaw. “When we put up the Zamboanga team in the MPBL and we gained more success, there were good news in the entire province that even Christians and Muslims united to support our squad. We owe to the entire Zamboanga the success of our team in the MPBL.”