MANILA, Philippines—San Miguel Beer head coach Leo Austria deliberately dialed down the intensity of team practice on Wednesday morning, as its newest player was introduced ahead of their PBA Commissioner's Cup game against Alaska.
Renaldo Balkman practiced with the Beermen for the first time on Wednesday at Acropolis Gym, completing a long journey that saw him banned for life from the Philippine Basketball Association in 2013 after infamously putting his hands around Arwind Santos' neck during a game, incidentally also against the Aces.
His ban was finally lifted in March, with support from former Commissioner Chito Salud. Balkman, who won the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) title with Alab Pilipinas earlier this month, took only a brief break from basketball before plunging into action with San Miguel.
"I took like a week off, but I wanted to get back into it. I can’t take too long of a time off, because I’m getting older, I’m not 25 no more, where I can just go out there and get it," said Balkman after practice.
Balkman appeared to be in top condition still, and had little trouble taking part in San Miguel's drills. Already, he seemed to have chemistry with his new teammates: Balkman repeatedly found himself on the receiving end of outlet passes from the SMB guards and showed flashes of future high-low plays with their big men.
It was a welcome sight for Austria and the Beermen, who will only have four days of practice with Balkman before the import suits up for them against the Aces.
"We want him to adapt to our system, we want him to know what we are doing especially in our patterns. A few patterns lang ang binigay namin sa kanya, that's why ang practice namin ay hindi ganoon kahirap, hindi ganoon ka-intense," Austria said of Balkman.
"We're trying to figure out what is good for him and what he can do for the team, and so far, it's easy for him to absorb those so many plays na we want him to learn."
Austria was not surprised to see Balkman pick up their system so quickly. He pointed out that the 33-year-old big man is a veteran of many teams and many leagues, and throughout his multiple stops Balkman has always found ways to adjust and contribute.
Look no further than his stint with Alab Pilipinas, said Austria.
"Before he arrived for ABL, galing siya sa ibang team, and he was able to adjust with them," the San Miguel coach noted.
"What more dito, dahil mga professional naman itong mga kasama niya?" Austria added. "With his basketball IQ, it's easy for him to adjust to our system."
Austria is still anticipating a brief period of adjustment. "I'm sure na mangangapa pa rin parehas kami," he said.
Whatever errors Balkman may commit because of his unfamiliarity with the San Miguel system, however, he is sure to make up for them with his hard work and hustle, as well as his veteran smarts on the court.
"I think magagawa niya 'yung talagang role eh, which is No. 4, sometimes No. 5 or No. 3," Austria said. "The good thing with him is 'yung leadership niya."
"And he's a winner," the coach further said. "Ang maganda rito, gusto niya tapusin 'yung unfinished business eh. That means he wants to win a championship with the team."
Balkman has already made it clear that he is completely focused on the job that he needs to do in San Miguel, especially after a successful stint with Alab Pilipinas.
"The main goal here is for us to win another championship," he declared. "That's what I'm here for."
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