Crack imports, ex-PBA stars beef up SMB roster

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 06 2013 10:07 AM | Updated as of Jan 07 2013 12:02 AM

MANILA - San Miguel Beermen's new coach Leo Austria expressed confidence the crew he assembled for this year’'s Asean Basketball League (ABL) hostilities, led by imports Gabe Freeman and Brian Williams and ex-PBA MVPs Asi Taulava and Erik Menk, will have a good crack at the crown that eluded them last year.

"Very competitive ang team na ito and I think mas malakas ito than last year (This is a very competitive team and I believe this is actually stronger than our lineup last season)," said Austria, who is taking over from seven-time PBA Best Import Bobby Parks at the helm.

Following their disappointing runner-up finish to the Indonesia Warriors last year, the Beermen underwent a massive overhaul. They tabbed the 6-foot-6 Freeman from the Patriots and 6-foot-10 Williams from Malaysia Dragons (20.06 ppg, 14.31 rpg, 2.5 apg) and signed veterans Taulava and Menk to join a few holdovers led by 2012 MVP Leo Avenido and Chris Banchero.

Austria is excited with his foreign reinforcements, who hooked up with the team last New Year's day.

"Although nag-aadjust pa sila, they're doing very well. Mga winner talaga sila, they have the passion for basketball, laging lumalaban sa ball possession. Kaya nilang mag-dominate sa ilalim (Although they're still adjusting, they’re doing very well. They’re all winners, players who have the passion for basketball and they fight for every ball possession. I believe they can dominate the interior in the league)," said Austria, enthusiastic to field in Williams at five, Taulava at four and Freeman at the three position to create mismatches against opponents.

Taulava and Menk, both nearing their 40s, should play key roles in this campaign.

"Malaking tulong sila (They will be of big help). They bring in experience and they came in good shape," said Austria.

Like last year, the Beermen will come into the season high on the favorite list. And this time, they aim to live up to expectations and go all the way.

"Kaya namang bumawi with our lineup pero hindi dapat pasiguro dahil lahat ng teams nag-level up. (With our lineup, I think we have the capability to bounce back strong but then again, we shouldn’t take the field lightly because every team leveled up in the pre-season)," said Austria.

The Beermen will kick off their campaign on Friday against no less than their conquerors last time, the Warriors, at the Mahaka Square in Jakarta.