MANILA, Philippines -- The PBA's bubble set-up serves as the great equalizer for the teams as they brace for the resumption of the All-Filipino Cup, according to San Miguel head coach Leo Austria.
Austria and the Beermen enter the bubble at the Clark Freeport Zone with a 1-0 record, on account of their opening night win over the Magnolia Hotshots all the way back on March 8.
Just three days later, the league announced that all activities will be suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams were not allowed to practice together until late August, when the PBA finally got the go-signal from the government.
The PBA moved swiftly from there, and last week, they got approval to resume the season in a bubble at the Clark Freeport Zone. The All-Filipino Cup will begin on October 11, and is expected to last until mid-December.
"Actually lahat ng coach concerned about this limited time in preparation before the official game," Austria said in a recent appearance on "The Chasedown."
Teams began entering the bubble on Monday, and they will be isolated for at least 24 hours before being allowed to start practicing. It will mark the first time that players can go 5-on-5 since play was suspended in March.
"Less than two weeks to have 5-on-5 (scrimmages), although we had one month in the individual practice and workout and sa skills," Austria noted. "But sabi nga natin, there's not enough time before the first game, only a few days."
"It will depend on the focus and mindset of the players," he said.
The strange circumstances will put all teams on equal footing, said Austria. The teams resumed training at the same time, and inside the bubble, they will be given equal amounts of time to practice together as well.
The experience and abilities of each team will be the difference-maker once the games resume for good, the coach also said.
"Ang maganda dito, sabay-sabay naman tayo. Ang kalaban niyo ganoon din eh, pare-parehas tayo," said Austria. "Itong nangyayari, naging equalizer para sa lahat."
"Sabay-sabay pumunta ng individual practice, sabay-sabay pumunta ng bubble, sabay-sabay ding magpa-practice," he added. "Pagdating ng game, it depends na sa ability ng players and ng team, how organized you are."
For Austria, he is banking on the experience of his players, as the Beermen's core has been together for over half a decade now. For five consecutive seasons, they ruled the All-Filipino Cup.
The major difference, of course, is that this time around they won't have June Mar Fajardo as the reigning Most Valuable Player is still recovering from a leg injury that he sustained in February.
"Let's see what will happen dito. I'm banking on the experience of the team dahil we've been together for so long. More or less they know how to prepare regarding this, the games," said Austria.
The chemistry and cohesion of his team, anchored by veterans Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot, give Austria the confidence that they can successfully defend their All-Filipino crown even without Fajardo.
"After nung first game namin, it changed a lot dahil we're able to win against Magnolia convincingly. I hope na maibalik namin 'yung confidence na meron kami noong naglaro kami ng first game," said Austria.
"I'm confident with these players because they know how to take charge naman eh. Everybody's willing to sacrifice and everybody's willing to take charge. Sabi ng mga players, iba ang may pinagsamahan," he added.