Alex Compton will meet an all-too-familiar dance partner tonight at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Alaska Aces barged in to the round-of-four last July 10 after eliminating the Magnolia in the quarterfinals. Armed with a twice-to-beat advantage after finishing the elimination round at second spot, they eked out an 89-78 decision over the seventh-seeded Hotshots.
A night later, the San Miguel Beermen — the defending Commissioner’s Cup champions — completed a 2-0 quarterfinal sweep of the TNT KaTropa with a 106-102 victory. With the win, the Beermen formalized their entry to the semifinals of the midseason tournament.
And so, the dance floor is set for two well-acquainted coaches as Alex Compton, the fourth-year coach of Alaska, faces his former coach, San Miguel’s Leo Austria, in a best-of-five semifinal duel.
Compton holds Austria and the Beermen in high regard despite seeing them finish the elimination round in sixth place with a 6-5 win-loss card. For Compton, the current composition of the San Miguel lineup, coupled with their championship-winning ways in the past conferences, gives the reigning champions a distinct edge over his Aces.
“SMB has been the best team in the PBA the past four years, and that hasn’t changed this conference. They added a legitimate NBA veteran to their team and the number one draft pick,” said Compton, pointing out San Miguel’s acquisition of import Renaldo Balkman and Fil-German rookie Christian Standhardinger.
“Coach Leo was my first coach and I have the highest respect for him. He is a good man and a champion.”
Their 8-3 record in the eliminations and their dismantling of Magnolia are things of the past now for Compton and the Aces. For all they have achieved so far this conference amidst all the adversities, the Aces battle a formidable foe in the semifinals.
“This will be the strongest team we have ever faced and we will need to be a team of destiny if we are to come out of this series victorious.”
From their days with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, then known as the Welcoat Dragons, Austria has long-considered Compton as a natural “winner”. With Austria at the helm of the Raymond Yu-franchise from 2006 to 2008, Compton was one of his trusted deputies who even suited up as an import for two conferences.
“Whether it’s a practice or an official game, he’s always on his 100%. Ayaw nyang natatalo kasi dati syang champion player. I think it’s a matter of time for him, especially having a good lineup and a talented team, magiging mahirap na talunin sya,” said Austria.
It will be the first series meeting between Compton and Austria, two years after the infamous “Beeracle” run of San Miguel. In the 2016 Philippine Cup Finals against the Aces, the Beermen reversed a 0-3 series deficit with four straight wins to snatch the title and achieve the historical feat.
Since then, Austria has been amazed with the rise of his former ally and his current batch of Aces.
“For the past two years, he was able to lay down his program. They keep on improving. There are no major changes sa kanyang lineup, pero makikita mo yung mga players like Vic Manuel, Ping Exciminiano and even Ronald Pascual. He’s the kind of coach that will give you a chance to show your talent,” Austria mused.
“Yung pinapakita ng Alaska, it reflects what kind of coach si Alex Compton. He’s a very disciplined coach. Makikita mo na organized na organized yung team niya.”
Known as a detail-oriented coach, Compton had the Beermen at his crosshairs even before the start of the semifinals. The Alaska mentor was reportedly on-hand when San Miguel duelled with TNT last Wednesday.
“Yung last game namin, nakita ko nagsa-scout sya e. Gusto nyang makita in full detail kung ano yung ginagawa namin kasi he wants a perfect game against us,” shared Austria.
“That’s why I am expecting itong upcoming games namin will be very interesting and highly-emotional. In the past three championship series with them, hindi pa sila nananalo sa amin. More than redemption, they are all motivated because of the past naming dalawa.”