MANILA – The last time the Purefoods franchise appeared in the PBA Finals, Ian Sangalang was a young rookie whose job was to provide quality minutes whenever their veteran big men needed a breather.
Sangalang shone in his role, and even as a rookie, he would prove to be a crucial factor in San Mig Coffee's Grand Slam pursuit.
But that was four long years ago, and much has changed. Sangalang is no longer a rookie who plays spot minutes; he is one of the cornerstones of the Magnolia Hotshots, and one of the best young big men in the league.
In the Hotshots' six-game conquest of NLEX in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, Sangalang was tremendous, averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game, while playing stout defense on the Road Warriors' physical centers like JR Quiñahan and Michael Miranda.
Sangalang will have to do all these and more in the All-Filipino Finals, where the Hotshots are trying to stop defending champion San Miguel Beer from winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive Philippine Cup crown.
"Sobrang gutom kami," said Sangalang on Wednesday, in a press conference ahead of the Finals. "Ngayon lang kami nakabalik sa Finals (after four years). Lagi kaming naghahanda, start pa lang ng eliminations, we're praying na makapasok kami ng Finals."
"Ngayon, binigay sa amin ni God, so time na namin na mag-trabaho para makuha namin 'yung All-Filipino," he added.
If Magnolia is to beat San Miguel, Sangalang needs to play his finest basketball. They are already at a disadvantage, as they lost veteran forward Marc Pingris to a knee injury in the semifinals against NLEX, meaning Sangalang's burden in the Finals has been increased.
Not only will he be their primary scoring option inside the post, but Sangalang will also be defending reigning four-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.
"Sobrang laking pressure na nadagdag sa akin," Sangalang admitted. "Si Kuya Ping is a defender, so this time kailangan kong dumepensa at umopensa. Tapos, 'yung playing minutes niya napupunta sa akin."
But make no mistake: Sangalang is not shying away from the pressure; in fact, he embraces it.
"Para sa akin, hindi ako mapapagod as long na ganito ang nilalaro namin, as long na lumalaban kami," he vowed.
He is also not backing down from his showdown with Fajardo, even issuing some fighting words for the "Kraken."
"Ang laki niya. Ako, magta-trabaho lang ako," said Sangalang. "Ma-shoot-an man niya ako, okay lang. Pero ako, kapag na-shoot-an ko siya, kailangan niya akong madepensahan."
"Pagdating ng Finals, ready ako," he further said. "Walang sakit-sakit. Basta maglalaro lang ako, bibigay ko 'yung best ko, at gagawin ko 'yung makakaya ko. Gagawin ko lang 'yung trabaho ko, kasi ngayon lang ulit ako nakabalik sa Finals tapos wala pa si Kuya Ping."
"Gagawin ko lang kung ano ang makakaya ko, para matulungan ko 'yung team at para makakuha ng panalo."
Game 1 of the Finals is on Friday at the Araneta Coliseum.
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