By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
AS CLICHÉ as it sounds, the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok are viewing their recent campaign in the PBA Philippine Cup as more of the journey than the destination; that the experience they had in it should only serve to make them stronger as they continue to make their trek back to league elite status.
Back in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) finals after four years, the Hotshots saw their bid for another title thwarted by the San Miguel Beermen after they lost, 4-1, in their best-of-seven All-Filipino title series.
Magnolia took the series-opener against San Miguel but just could not add up to it as the Beermen strung up four straight victories, capped by a 108-99 double-overtime win in the title-clinching Game Five on April 6, en route to making history with their fourth consecutive Philippine Cup crown.
Despite falling short though, the Hotshots are not completely down on themselves, believing they have surpassed the goals they set for the just-concluded tournament and knowing they gave their all amid the tough odds they were facing, which together is something they could build on moving forward.
“As a rebuilding team this is would only help us. We take our experience here and learn from it,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero told sportswriters following their Game Five defeat.
“I’m talking here as a group for we know Paul Lee has the experience in the finals, Mark Barroca, PJ Simon and Rafi Reavis have the experience but as a group we don’t have it yet as compared to San Miguel which already have the chemistry as a team and the mental toughness to fight their way,” the coach added.
Making things tougher for Magnolia in the finals was the absence of key cogs Marc Pingris and Justin Melton who were sidelined by injuries as the team made its playoff run.
Mr. Victolero said the two injured players could have greatly helped their cause but would not use it as an excuse, and that he was still proud with the way his players handled themselves given the handicap they had against the Beermen.
“I’m very proud of my players. I don’t want to make an excuse that we had injuries but it’s the reality. It’s a big loss because we lost two of our best defenders in Ping (Pingris) and Justin. But despite that my players forged ahead and I’m very proud of that,” Mr. Victolero said.
He added, “We played a very good team and despite our best efforts it was not enough. Hopefully we get back to the finals with a complete lineup. Our ultimately goal is to win the title. We will not give up and just do what we need to do.”
Asked for takeaways as a coach who made his maiden PBA finals appearance, Mr. Victolero said he, too, learned a lot.
“I learned a lot as a coach especially how to prepare the mind-set of the players. We played a lot of back-to-back games and it was a challenge to motivate the players and prepare them to battle,” he said.
“I’m happy with the character we have built with the team of never giving. We overcame a lot in the tournament and surpassed expectations. We just met a strong and ready team in the finals. But we need to move on,” Mr. Victolero ended.
Magnolia now channels its attention to the import-laden PBA Commissioner’s Cup which begins on April 22. It will be backstopped by reinforcement Vernon Macklin.