MANILA, Philippines – Even though the Beermen came up with a solid win to open their campaign in the 2017-18 PBA All-Filipino Cup, San Miguel coach Leo Austria remains ambivalent about their chances in the conference.
The three-time defending champions have been tabbed as one of the favorites to win the All-Filipino crown, and they opened their four-peat bid by dismissing Phoenix, 104-96, on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The explosiveness of San Miguel's celebrated starting unit was on display in that game, as they put the Fuel Masters away with a blistering fourth-quarter run that turned a slim five-point advantage into a comfortable 19-point lead with just two minutes left to play.
"The first win is always really hard," said Austria after the victory. "Everybody is trying to prepare hard for us. Fortunately, my starters all scored in double figures."
Austria must have breathed a sigh of relief after the game, as he was admittedly worried about Phoenix. "Two nights na akong hindi nakakatulog," he revealed, noting that Phoenix had played well in the preseason and were determined to pull off an upset on opening night.
The coach admits that they are feeling the pressure of defending their crown, especially as San Miguel is now going for a fourth consecutive title in the All-Filipino Cup. While he has full confidence in his players, Austria knows that getting the "four-peat" will be very difficult.
"It's a long shot," he said bluntly. "Maybe, if we could have Christian Standhardinger, pwede 'yun."
Austria is referring, of course, to the top pick in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft. SMB selected the Filipino-German standout, but right now Standhardinger remains under contract with Hong Kong in the ASEAN Basketball League, and will only join San Miguel in the second conference.
"Right now, we have to rely on ourselves," said Austria. "I'm pretty confident with them, as long as we're in top shape."
But Standhardinger's absence is not the only reason for Austria's reluctance to embrace the "favorites" tag that has been placed upon his team.
In the coach's opinion, there are several other PBA squads that can give San Miguel a run for its money – none more dangerous than its own sister team, Ginebra.
"If you will see the line-up of the other teams, there are a lot of teams na magaganda ang line-up. Ginebra is one team that can stop our big man, June Mar Fajardo, because of their twin towers," he said.
"NLEX is really out there to play against any team, and to beat any team. Alam ko na capable sila. Talk 'N Text came from offseason training abroad, so I think they're really determined to do well in this conference," he added.
For all his worries, however, Austria remains upbeat about his team, and is hopeful that they will thrive under pressure.
"Alam naman namin na every time na may pressure, nagkakaroon ng sense of urgency ang team namin," he said.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.