MANILA, Philippines -- Vic Manuel on Monday joined his first practice as a member of Phoenix Super LPG, a week after the blockbuster trade that marked the end of his tenure with the Alaska Aces.
Manuel played for Alaska for seven seasons before requesting a trade in January, having been dissatisfied with the contract extension offered to him by the team.
It took six weeks before his wish was granted, with Phoenix Super LPG and the Aces agreeing on a trade that brought three draft picks and point guard Brian Heruela to Alaska.
On Monday, Manuel attended the Fuel Masters' small group practice sessions for the first time, joining another newcomer in Chris Banchero.
Phoenix Super LPG acquired Banchero in a trade that sent star forward Calvin Abueva to the Magnolia Hotshots, just a few days before pushing through with the deal for Manuel.
For Manuel, having familiar faces in Banchero as well as head coach Topex Robinson will ease his transition into his new team. Banchero played with Manuel in Alaska until 2019; Robinson was a former Alaska assistant coach.
"Si Coach Topex talaga ang unang pumasok sa isip ko, kay Coach Topex ako maglalaro, ganoon," said Manuel. "Saka ayun, 'yung before pa nga ako mapunta sa Phoenix, nauna na si Banchero, 'di ba? So ayun parang sila 'yung naisip ko agad."
Manuel also reunites with former Alaska teammates Jake Pascual and RJ Jazul in Phoenix Super LPG.
"Talagang nakaka-excite 'yung darating na conference para sa amin," he said.
Yet Manuel also sought to downplay the expectations for the Fuel Masters. The team had made the semifinals of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup in the league's bubble in Clark, Pampanga, and their offseason moves had pundits installing them as potential contenders heading into the next PBA season.
Manuel acknowledges that they have a strong roster as he joins not just Banchero but also Matthew Wright, one of the top scorers in the league, and promising young big man Jason Perkins, a former Rookie of the Year.
Phoenix Super LPG also features Justin Chua, who led the league in blocks last conference.
For the "Muscle Man," however, they still need to develop chemistry in order to fulfill their potential as a team.
"Siguro kung magiging mas maganda 'yung chemistry namin, or 'yun, chemistry siyempre, mas magiging maganda 'yung tatakbuhin namin, 'di ba?" he said. "So sana, itong next months, mapagpapraktisan. Siyempre sana makapag-practice na rin nang buo, para mas makapag-prepare kami, makapag-laro kami ng mas mahabang oras sa court, 'di ba?"
"So, 'yun lang siguro sa akin. Kung maganda ang magiging takbo namin itong offseason sa mga practice namin, baka sakaling mas maganda 'yung i-run namin sa actual games," he added.
He also shrugs off the notion that his arrival in the team makes Phoenix Super LPG a powerhouse that is capable of dethroning Barangay Ginebra, San Miguel Beer, or TNT Tropang GIGA from the upper echelon of the PBA.
Rather, Manuel insists that they will try to be as competitive as they can against the league's elite teams.
"Ang hirap kasi tapatan din nila eh. Alam natin 'yun, kung gaano kalakas 'yung Ginebra, San Miguel," he said.
"Pero sabi ko nga, kahit sino kalaban ng team namin, ng Phoenix, siyempre alangan na hindi kami lumaban, eh laro 'yan," he added. "Siyempre, hangga't makakaya namin na pwede silang tapatan o kung kaya namin silang talunin, ba't 'di namin gagawin, 'di ba?"