The celebrations for the historic 22nd championship for the San Miguel Beermen, a masterful comeback from a 0-3 hole, aren’t done. But for head coach Leo Austria and his troops, they aren’t overly celebrating, no matter how big the achievement.
"Sana hindi mangyari 'yung nangyari sa amin last year,” said Austria.
After his squad annexed its first All-Filipino title in 14 years, the team went on extended celebration and vacation. While understandably so, their level of played dropped in the succeeding Commissioner’s Cup where they finished 4-7, missing the quarterfinals altogether.
"Akala namin kayang-kaya 'yung next conference. It didn’t help when our import Ronald Reid arrived three days before our first game. With all due respect to Reid, he wasn’t our first choice. There were others. Some even signed but opted not to come because they were trying to go to the NBA. And that hurt us. We were not in top shape while other teams had a jump on us in preparation for the conference," Austria said.
This year, the Beermen have a bigger cause to celebrate as they are the first team in PBA history to battle back from a 0-3 hole to win a championship. However, the Beermen’s celebration is more tempered.
"Yes, it is historic and just as big as our championship from last season, but I like to think that we have learned our lesson. While it has been asked if the next target for us as a team is a Grand Slam well, hindi madali. It is nice but we can talk about that if we win the Commissioner’s Cup. We are allowing time for rest and a little celebration. We are supposed to return to practice this coming Monday, February 8, but we pushed it back by a day because of other team commitments. Nagrereserba na kami ng lakas. The team understand that we can make a habit out of winning. They now understand the stakes," he said.
Austria is pinning his hopes on the arrival of Tyler Wilkerson, a former teammate of Chris Ross and Chris Lutz at Marshall University (the two followed one another with the Thundering Herd’s basketball team) in the United States. Wilkerson stands 6-foot-8 and can post up or play facing the basket.
“He is highly recommended as an import na bigay ng mga sports agents. Chris Ross and Chris Lutz say that he is a good player. He has the skills. But more importantly, he is coachable. We want an import who can complement what we have.”
Wilkerson’s early arrival greatly helps his team, or so Austria believes. “For me, importante 'yung off-season and preparation,” he discloses. "Doon mo gagawin lahat ng kailangan mo. Kaunti na lang 'yung adjustment when the conference gets started. What is important is repetition and forming good habits."
"Winning the All-Filipino conference puts you in a chance to go for the Grand Slam. Hindi mo maalis sa management and sa fans to win it. Kaya manalo ng next conference but trial and error 'yan, especially when it comes to getting an import. Swerte-swerte 'yan. Winning the All-Filipino makes you capable. But you are probably tired of it but we have to take it one game at a time."