TNT Tropang GIGA returnee Justin Chua is hopeful that his second tour of duty with the flagship MVP franchise will translate to more finals appearances to add to his basketball resume.
Since winning the 2014-15 PBA Philippine Cup title with the San Miguel Beermen, the finals have eluded the 6-foot-5 big man, and he hopes that playing for a perennial title contender would end such slump.
"TNT, they always want to be on top of the league," Chua said. "As much as possible, if kaya mag-finals every conference, that’s good for me. The last time nag-finals ako was my rookie year pa, with San Miguel. It’s been a while."
Chua, along with Paul Varilla, landed with the Tropang GIGA after a six-player, three-team trade last January 18 which saw Sean Anthony and Jake Pascual go to the NLEX Road Warriors and the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters acquiring Raul Soyud and JJ Alejandro.
"Ang dami nang chance [in the past], nag-semifinals, but never got that extra step. Hopefully, this time around [will be different]," Chua added.
Coincidentally, when Chua was still with the Fuel Masters, the squad came just one win away from entering the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup championship series, but was eliminated by TNT in a grueling best-of-five semifinals series, 3-2.
The 2020 Defensive Player of the Year mentioned how vital the Phoenix group was to his professional career, having stayed there for five years from 2017 to 2022 while assuming a key role as starting center.
"I guess it’s the confidence I gained when I was playing for Phoenix. Putting in the work has always been there since Day One, but the opportunities, it’s not for everyone," he recalled.
"I grabbed my opportunity noong nasa Phoenix ako. My confidence was at an all-time high, and nadala ko na siya kahit saan ako magpunta. That’s the main thing, confidence and believing in yourself."
It is not only Chua who wants to return to the finals; the Tropang GIGA, too, want to be more competitive in the season-ending Governors' Cup after a disappointing finish which saw them tally a 4-8 record and get eliminated from the playoffs.
"[I think] 'yung kinuha nila ako is something na kailangan nila to reach that goal of theirs. I guess they wanted someone or add another big to be more competitive this conference," Chua said.
Guiding Chua, now 33, in the process of building chemistry with this iteration of TNT are veterans like Jayson Castro, RR Pogoy, and Jayson Castro -- stalwarts whom he has played with in his first rodeo with the squad.
While TNT has yet to specify the extent of his role, Chua believes he is poised to embrace a multi-faceted role wherein he will fill gaps on both ends of the floor.
"This conference, [I think my role] is to step up since sa bigs, medyo kulang kami, lalo na if Poy (Erram) will not be 100 percent. I guess that is one thing. Second is to give my experience from the past, like guarding big guys and on defense," he detailed.
"And since I have been shooting threes, maybe provide some offense too, since volume three-point shooting is what TNT has been known for. I kind of know the gist of how TNT runs. The (veterans) are just there every day to remind me to play my game and that it will take time since you’re with a new group of people."
Chua averaged 9.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and a decent 31.3 percent clip from three in 13 games with NLEX last conference.
Already a winner of several championships in the collegiate, PBA D-League, and pro levels, Chua feels he can still mold himself to be a complete player -- which he hopes to accomplish during his time with TNT.
"I think I am still in my prime. I just want to keep improving my game, kasi madami pang kulang sa game ko eh," he said.
"Keep adapting, keep improving, whatever the team needs from me, I will give it for them. I guess it’s the continuous learning."