MANILA, Philippines -- Alex Cabagnot barely missed a beat in his first game back after nearly two months, but the San Miguel guard was quick to shift credit to his coach for trusting him to play in the first place.
Cabagnot returned for the Beermen in Game 1 of their best-of-3 quarterfinals series against NorthPort in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup on Sunday, his first taste of action since July 28. The veteran missed seven of SMB's games in the "semi-bubble" while recovering from a knee injury.
Yet he looked to be in good condition, playing nearly 22 minutes and putting up a team-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Cabagnot also took charge in the clutch, drilling the game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds to go to lift the Beermen to an 88-87 triumph.
Afterward he hailed San Miguel coach Leo Austria for giving him playing time, noting that the coach could have easily sat him for the game as he has yet to practice with the Beermen.
"I just wanna give thanks to Coach Leo. I just got in last night, he could have easily not played me today," Cabagnot revealed.
"He gave me the trust, and he even left me out there, so thank you so much coach. I just wanna say thank you to coach first, and to my teammates," he added. "They didn't mind me playing these much minutes."
Cabagnot, 38, was averaging 12.25 points per game for San Miguel before suffering a knee injury in their game against Blackwater last July 28, a 99-80 triumph for the Beermen. He stayed in shape while away from the team, but was admittedly apprehensive ahead of their game against the Batang Pier.
"Being on the court is a lot different, that's why I had apprehensions coming in," he explained.
"A lot of people have been in my position and they didn't get to play. 'Yung coach, hindi sila… didn't give them that tiwala. And, you know, that's all you could ask for as a player -- bibigyan kang tiwala ng coach -- and you'll just flourish," he added.
Austria, for his part, had no qualms about drawing up the final play for Cabagnot. The coach commended the veteran guard's professionalism, as Cabagnot assured him that he will remain in shape while recovering from his injury.
"He (Cabagnot) told me na he will be back. And I know for the fact na siya ay nagpapakondisyon dahil he's very professional. Alam niya 'yung gagawin niya," said Austria.
"And I trusted him because he's used to this kind of pressure," the coach added.