MANILA, Philippines -- The PBA All-Filipino Cup may be held in unusual circumstances, but this should not lessen the prestige of the championship or put an asterisk on whichever team emerges as champion.
This, according to San Miguel head coach Leo Austria, whose squad will be looking to defend its All-Filipino crown inside the PBA's "bubble" at Clark, Pampanga.
It will be a strange title defense for the Beermen, as they will be without superstar center June Mar Fajardo, who remains out of action due to injury. Moreover, they will be playing in a different venue than the ones they are used to, and they will do so without any fans in attendance.
"I'm telling you, this is a very unique championship," Austria said during a recent appearance on "The Chasedown," before the Beermen left for the bubble.
Instead of putting an asterisk on the champion, Austria said they should instead be celebrated for winning the title under very difficult and very special circumstances.
The PBA, like virtually every other league in the world, had to stop all activities in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, only one game had been played in the Philippine Cup -- the Beermen's finals rematch against Magnolia, which SMB won, 94-78.
"Very special ito dahil hindi makakalimutan ito, lalo na sa mga mamamahayag dahil lagi itong babalik-balikan, dahil history ito," said Austria.
"This championship is very special… alam naman natin this is a very prestigious conference," he added.
With this in mind, Austria is anticipating a difficult title defense for San Miguel, especially as they will be without Fajardo who has been their pillar of strength ever since he came into the league.
The "Kraken" is virtually unstoppable during the All-Filipino Cup, having won Best Player of the Conference honors there for the past six seasons.
Still, San Miguel still has a powerful team, as evidenced by their opening day rout of Magnolia. Without Fajardo, they leaned on Moala Tautuaa to man the paint, while Terrence Romeo, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, and Marcio Lassiter sniped from the perimeter.
And Arwind Santos had a throwback performance, with 18 points, 15 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, and a block.
"I'm banking on the ego of the players, and their pride," said Austria. "Dahil alam naman natin itong mga ito, since we won the championship, they know how to win, how to lose."
"'Yung pride nila andoon eh, every game ayaw nilang matatalo. Maybe because of the experience, because they know what's the glory of winning a championship," he added.
The Beermen, as with the rest of the teams, are now isolated at the Quest Hotel in Clark while they wait for the results of their swab tests.
Scrimmages are set to start as soon as players and coaches return negative results. The season will resume on October 11, with all games to be played at the Angeles University Foundation Gym.