basketball

Whatever Happened to Never-Say-Die: 5 Observations on Why Ginebra Seems to Have Lost the Spirit

The aftermath of Ginebra-TnT playoff match last night saw Ginebra fans fuming mad on social media, putting up countless rants on how the team was coached, the players’ lack of aggressiveness, and of course the age-old issue of refereeing. While many of these opinions point to some truth, Ginebra fans—or at least those of us who still consider ourselves as nevertheless part of the dwindling number of Ginebra supporters—know that the more important question to be asked does focus on the Xs and Os of coaching or conditioning of players or the calls of the refs. For us, we know that we have to face the hurtful truth and ask the question “whatever happened to never-say-die?”

My aim in writing this article is to present my observations as a fan as to why or how the current Ginebra roster seems to not live enough to its mantra. Gabe Freeman, the latest import to attempt to rescue the team from its demise, has said in an article that Ginebra is the best team on paper, and while it is hard for us to swallow that the best out of this current Ginebra squad might remain on paper alone, we have to…at least for now up until we see the team claim the throne once more. I have limited my observations to five sub-headings in order to present them with some order, but make no mistake that I present these observations in hierarchy—that is that I perceive that one is a more pressing issue than the other. In fact, I believe that each observation that I am about to present only intertwines with the others in addressing the seeming disappearance of “never-say-die”.

Coaching Woes

Many blame the coaching staff of Ginebra for the team’s failure to meet expectations. In the eventual loss of Ginebra to San Mig Coffee in Game 7 of the Semis in the Philippine Cup, many bashed head coach Ato Agustin for questionable decisions and poor player rotation. While I thought Agustin did a fairly decent job last conference, and hence disagree with the many who think otherwise, I believe that Ginebra’s problem on coaching is who and what to listen to. In this conference, we were all left confused when assistant coach Juno Sauler was drawing up the plays while Agustin is still listed as the head coach. In the Philippine Cup, many were criticizing team manager’s Alfrancis Chua’s hyper-active involvement in barking out instructions from the sidelines.

Who is the real head coach?

The players should have one voice to trust and listen to. We see this in Rain or Shine and San Mig Coffee whose respective head coaches have the monopoly of talk during timeouts and halftime breaks. As for Ginebra, I believe that what is happening is that Sauler is trying to compromise sets and plays—his and Agustin’s—perhaps in the common courtesy of preserving the head coach’s system. I thought Ginebra was playing Agustin’s system under Sauler’s instructions. The result? Not-so-good player rotation, confusion in sets, turnovers…you name it. A similar scenario has happened before—when Siot Tangquincen and Jong Uichico were co-coaches of Ginebra. As we all know, the results were not particularly pleasing to both fans and the team alike, even leading to the exit of Uichico from SMC. If Ginebra’s management want to make Sauler head coach, then all they have to do is declare it so that the team can play Sauler’s system. After all, never-say-die is about team cohesion and familiarity with the things the team wants to do inside the court. And all that can only happen if the players and the coach meet at a certain point and are looking at the same direction.

Related: PBA legend Robert Jaworski in talks with Ang for return to Ginebra, says source

Import Dilemma

The easiest factor to blame for Ginebra’s underachieving was their import scenario. Leon Rodgers was over-hyped while Josh Powell had some more important things to attend to. Gabe Freeman would have made an excellent import had Ginebra given him an early call. In the end, the team was trapped in an unending chain of adjustments. When Rodgers was import, ball rotation was a problem because the dude was a ball-hogger and was shooting 10 three-point shots a game while barely making any. When he was replaced by Powell, rotation was better and more locals got involved, yet Powell has to leave Ginebra after his second game (which he barely played because of injury) to seek greener pastures in the NBA. Freeman arrived to play Ginebra’s last game of the eliminations in the hope that he can lead Ginebra to a win so that at the team can place sixth and will not have to play against twice-to-beat. He was scorching hot in the first half in that game against Rain or Shine, but barely contributed any in the second half and overtime. In the end, Ginebra has to be contented in making the playoffs and facing topseed Talk ‘n Text who has twice-to-beat advantage. Freeman was ineffective, only scoring 15 on terrible shooting against TnT import’s 41.

Call it bad luck or poor initial choice, never-say-die nevertheless cannot take place when imports do not sync with locals. Vernon Macklin last season has proven how important this is, and even though Ginebra lost against Alaska in the finals during that time, it was okay because we saw Macklin fighting it all even with a hurting thigh. Should Freeman be allowed to play next conference, we can only hope for better results.

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Could he have turned Ginebra’s fortune around?

Japeth’s-not-so-hot

The performance of Japeth Aguilar in the eliminations of the Philippine Cup left mouths open in amazement: he slingshot himself to being one of the best players in the league as he led Ginebra to topseed with an 11-3 card with about 20 points and close to 10 rebounds per game. But Ginebra’s semifinals against San Mig Coffee marked the end of Mico Halili’s and Magoo Marjon’s “Japeth-like-it’s-hot”. Since then, Aguilar has not recovered. This conference, the six-foot-nine Gilas forward was only averaging 8.33 points and 6.44 rebounds per game in the eliminations (PBA-Online). Last night, he only scored seven.

Clearly, Aguilar has lost his confidence. The once contender for the MVP title is now questionable even to make it to the Mythical Five. Whatever Aguilar and Ginebra are doing to bring that confidence back, we hope that it will come into fruition in the coming Governor’s Cup. Because unless a player believes in himself, he cannot possibly understand or embrace never-say-die.

Can Japeth regain his confidence back?

Where is the MIGHT in HEIGHT?

The acquisition of Japeth Aguilar (6-foot-9) and Greg Slaughter (7-foot), as well as JayR Reyes (6-foot-7), brought all the excitement to Ginebra fans. “From smallest to tallest,”so was the slogan back then. Yet, the Twin Towers has fallen short of the hype. In the Philippine Cup, Ginebra averaged 49.9 rebounds per game, only good for fifth place behind Rain or Shine (54.6), Petron (52.6), Globalport (52.4), and Alaska (52.0) (PBA.Inquirer.net). Last night, while Aguilar may have a respectable 12 rebounds against Talk ‘n Text, Slaughter only had five. But make no mistake about it, the disappointment does not rest on rebounds alone. Fans are moreover concerned on the twin tower’s seeming softness, and lack of intensity, effort, and hustle.  Even Mark Caguioa thinks the same:

While Caguioa’s comment do not refer to anyone in particular, it is hard to not associate at least the “lalambot” part of his Tweet to the Twin Towers. Slaughter was highly ineffective in defending Talk ‘n Text’s Richard Howell, so ineffective that seldom-used Billy Mamaril was able to take over with some success. Aguilar, on the other hand, only shot 3-of-8 from the field marked by too many jump shots. Further, we see Aguilar and Slaughter being out-rebounded in countless occasions dating back to the San Mig Coffee series in the Philippine Cup.

To be fair, however, we can say that despite Slaughter’s height, the big guy is still only a rookie. His averages this conference are not so bad either—12.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game (PBA-Online). Aguilar, on the other hand, is yet to recover from his meltdown during the San Mig series.

Nevertheless, as Sonny Jaworski, the epitome of never-say-die, once said: “Kung ayaw mo masaktan, magchess ka na lang!” Ginebra cannot afford to have its big men not assert themselves in the post. Slaughter may need more time to toughen up, but Aguilar should wake up now.

No Heart, No Focus, No Will

I think the rest of Caguioa’s Tweets says it all:

Whatever happened to never-say-die? Only the players and coaches can prove that it has not gone yet.

Crownless Kings again

Seeing Petron Blaze Boosters crushing Talk ‘n Text last night (August 5) was painfully surreal. Not only it seemed, or rather was it conspicuously, out of calculations but also it dampened all the spirit and hopes of thousands of Barangay Ginebra fans for the Kings to have another crack at the championship. Analysts blamed the quotient rule, while the legions of Ginebra fans, more than anyone or anything, cast the stones to Talk ‘n Text.

Talk ‘n Text, a team that modified its roster by recruiting the “most expensive” players over the past couple of years and owned by “businessman” Manuel V. Pangilinan, could have otherwise easily thwarted Petron last night with its pool of talented players. Any team that has won two straight championships, finished with the conference best record, booked the first seat in the finals, and averaged more than a hundred points per ball game, by all means, can mightily destroy an opposing squad that only relies on an Arwind Santos and an import by the name of Anthony Grundy. Yet, the whole Philippine basketball community was shocked by the sequence of events in the last day of the semis last night. Petron led by 20 points or more during most of the entirety of the game and finally beat Talk ‘n Text, 98-83.

As Ronnie Nathanielsz, a respected sports analyst, tweeted last night: “Talk N’ Text could beat any team among those vying for a finals slot. Impossible to understand why they virtually gave the game to Petron.”

The games last night were to determine who will face TnT in the finals. It was a complicated situation, thanks to the quotient system, with three teams – Ginebra, Alaska, and Petron – viable to be that contender. Well, long story short, Ginebra was the most viable amongst the three. Not only did the team participated in last conference finals also against TnT, but also the Kings looked more deadly this conference with Mark Caguioa putting up MVP numbers, the return of his backcourt duo Jayjay Helterbrand, and an import who is a former boxer who is faster than anyone else. Granting that Petron loses last night and Ginebra wins over Rain or Shine, which they did, a rematch between Ginebra and TnT should have happen. Yet, the alternative and the nightmare of Barangay Big Dome happened.

I do not blame TnT nor the conference format. Talk ‘n Text’s decision, which apparently looks like it, to lose or sell its game to Petron last night will give them better chances of winning a grandslam since Petron is relatively weaker with a depleted line-up (no Jay Washington and Rabeh Al Hussaini) composed of three rookies. It was actually a wise decision. The format, on the other hand, can be a little frustrating, yet it was the rule that everyone has to follow. It looked crazy and stupid Ginebra and Rain or Shine playing for Alaska’s and Petron’s chances at the championship. As Noli Eala, former PBA Commissioner, also said last night: “Never imagined a game where 2 teams are playing in order for 2 other teams to make the Finals.”

What I want to blame is Talk ‘n Text’s cowardice and indifference. Everybody knew that Ginebra wass the best contender out there, and still is. Millions of basketball fans wanted to see that match up again. Yet, TnT made sure that they secure the grandslam by losing to Petron last night. They deliberately killed the majority of the fans’ excitement and enjoyment. They were playing for themselves alone, and did not even consider how it is better to give smiles to millions of basketball aficionados rather than securing laughter for Manny Pangilinan alone. Was it a matter of salary? Do they seriously want more money and incentives from Mr. Capitalist? And if they were really the best, why would they turn the people’s team’s challenge down? Scared? Afraid?

I am frustrated. My co-Ginebra fans around the world are mad. Sports analysts are laughing because of the ridiculousness of last night’s events. To Talk ‘n Text and Manny Pangilinan, are you not sensitive of what the Filipino people want? If ever you win that grandslam, you know that you do not deserve it. All these years you were contending in the finals and no one has ever criticized you about your victories. But last night’s game was practically bullsh*t and now everybody, even your own crowd of supporters, is against you. Think about this thing, if you still ever know how to think for other people’s sake rather than your own self-interests.

Long live Ginebra! In hearts and in minds, we shout NEVER SAY DIE!

The Resurrection of a King

The Fast and Furious duo of Barangay Ginebra has always been incomplete since about three years ago. After pocketing a championship against Arwind Santos and Air21 in the 2008 Fiesta conference, Mark Caguioa has been sidelined for what seemed like forever due to tendonitis. Since then, Ginebra has not won any championship. For about a year now, just when Mark Caguioa began rejuvenating his deadly form again, Jayjay Helterbrand got shelved due to some hamstring injury.

Helterbrand was in uniform at the start of the current Governor’s Cup but was not seen playing in the first four games of Ginebra. Many were doubtful if he will get to play after that destructive injury and rookie guards like Robert Labagala and John Wilson making themselves known in the white and red uniform during the runner-up finish of Ginebra in the last conference.

Ginebra looked awful since losing the championship against Talk ‘n Text. They lost Rudy Hatfield and had Billy Mamaril and Enrico Villanueva injured, limiting Ginebra’s big men to Yancy de Ocampo and Erik Menk. They lost their import after their fourth game due to an injury. They split their first four games, standing at 2-2 at the first half of the elimination round.

Sporting pink Nike shoes and a new hair-do, The Fast was finally seen in limited action last July 8 against Air21. Helterbrand played only for 16 minutes and had five points, five assists, three boards, and a steal to help in Ginebra’s 89-87 win. His numbers does not seem so much and were obviously way off compared to his MVP conference not so long ago. But the more important thing is that Ginebra’s offense looked better with Helterbrand manning the point-guard spot (Curtis Stinson, the import, was injured and did not play). It was organized and had fluidity. Plays were executed properly and points seemed so easy. Helterbrand was back. He was resurrected.

Since then, Ginebra won three out of its last four games to finish second with a 5-3 slate in the eliminations. Helterbrand was seen more often and even started against Rain or Shine. To date, Helterbrand is averaging six points, 2.8 rebounds, and four assists. It may still be way off from what we, Ginebra die hards, used to see, but seeing him play again draws our cheers louder, boosts our confidence for another championship, and strengthens our undying faith to Ginebra’s Never-Say-Die motto. With the other half of one of the league’s all-time best backcourt tandems, we continue to believe that the Barangay Big Dome is indeed our home, the home where we witness excitement after every Helterbrand assist and helter-skelter moves, Tubid kalawit rebounds and three point shots, Caguioa ankle breakers and tear-drops, and now Canaleta slam dunks.

Barangay Ginebra’s campaign for another crown starts on July 24th as they face B-Meg in the semis. Our hopes are high not only because Helterbrand is back, but also because our team is there slowly getting back into winning form, the form we fans are always proud of. Despite all injuries and departures, our “Gi-ne-bra!” chant would never fade away and would continue to rock Araneta Coliseum one championship after another.