After snaring Vic Manuel and Chris Banchero in sound trades, Phoenix Super LPG has suddenly become one of the teams to watch in the coming Philippine Basketball Association season. With a core that was made up of Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins, Justin Chua, and RJ Jazul, the Fuel Masters made the semifinals of the Philippine Cup in the bubble last year. But with the addition of the two veterans, making it over the hump doesn’t seem to be a far-fetched goal starting April 9.
But it’s too early to call the Topex Robinson-coached crew a Finals contender. Take it from the man the club chased after giving away Calvin Abueva and raised a lot of eyebrows.
“Phoenix’s lineup is strong (on paper) right now. But if we’re not going to play as a team, it will be all for nothing,” Manuel said in Filipino during a television appearance on The Chasedown on Saturday.
One thing Manuel is sure of, however, is that building chemistry will be easy, as he has already played alongside Banchero and Jazul at Alaska, where Robinson also served as an assistant coach.
“I’ll be a bit familiar with the system, so I don’t think it’ll be hard for me to [integrate] myself,” he said.
Manuel does not even mind having a reduced role.
“Over at Phoenix, there are many who could handle the basketball. They can score at any time. Whatever’s asked of me, whatever will be good for Phoenix, I’ll do it,” he said.
It is with a dash of irony that Phoenix now has a national-team starting unit similar to that of TNT’s—the very team that shut the door on their Finals aspirations in the last Philippine Cup.
Manuel was handpicked by Tim Cone during the Southeast Asian Games here. Wright was Gilas’ marksman during the Chot Reyes years. Chua is currently part of the talent pool that trained for the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup, while Perkins served for the 3×3 crew.
Jazul, meanwhile, was a member of the first Gilas team that also tried to recruit Banchero from the US NCAA.
However, Manuel knows everything takes time—along with the fact that other teams are also exhausting ways to improve.
This is why he has set his sights on Monday—the first time he’ll practice with the Fuel Masters. And after that, he’ll get a feel of what their chances truly are. INQ
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