Honoring players with outstanding performances

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) officially concluded its historic “bubble” season at the weekend with the handing out of special awards to standout performers across various categories.

In virtual ceremonies on Sunday, the league honored its players who it considers a big reason for the success of the lone PBA tournament — Philippine Cup — last year, done in extraordinary circumstances because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The players did a lot of sacrifice and put a lot of hard work for the bubble to succeed and this is our way of repaying them for that,” said PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial of the special awards, which temporarily took the place of the traditional Leo Awards given at the start of every new season.

Philippine Cup champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings came away as the biggest winner in the special awards, with their players taking home the majority of the accolades.

Guard Stanley Pringle was adjudged best player of the conference and was named to the elite five roster of the bubble. Prince Caperal was the most improved player, with Scottie Thompson winning the sportsmanship award.

While he was outside of the top five in statistical points, Mr. Pringle made a strong case for himself for the top award by being a steady force for the Kings throughout the bubble at Clark City in Angeles, Pampanga, held from October till December.

In winning his first-ever BPC award, Mr. Pringle, 33, narrowly beat Matthew Wright of the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters, 1,640 total points to 1,578.

The Kings guard got a boost from the player (67) and PBA Office (300) votes, which combined accounted for 30% of the criteria, where he finished on top. He had 641 points from statistics (sixth) and second in media votes with 632.

Mr. Wright, however, joined Mr. Pringle in the elite five. Also part of the distinguished group are Japeth Aguilar of Barangay Ginebra, JP Erram of the TNT Tropang Giga, and Calvin Abueva of Phoenix Super LPG.

In accepting his award, Mr. Pringle said the honor given to him goes to his teammates as well.

“As far as awards, your teammates are going to put you in a position to win, so it’s just as much as their award as yours. So shout out to all my teammates. That’s it, it’s their award, too,” he said.

Mr. Caperal, meanwhile, also had it close in winning the most improved player award, edging out Phoenix Super LPG’s Justin Chua.

A journeyman early in his career, he played in the shadows of more established stars in Barangay Ginebra until he broke out in the PBA bubble.

With Greg Slaughter deciding to take a sabbatical from the game, Arellano University product Caperal was thrust to a more significant role and instantly made an impact.

He averaged just 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds a game in the previous season, but went on to tally averages of 9.64 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 23 minutes of play per game in the elimination round of the Philippine Cup.

His ability to hit shots from the outside, including triples, gave the Kings’ attack added dimension as they eventually went on to bag the lone PBA title in 2020.

Mr. Caperal beat out Mr. Chua, 2,447 points to 2,096.

In winning the sportsmanship award, do-it-all Thompson gave honor to past winner Gabe Norwood of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

“I’m just following his (Norwood) footsteps to play the game the right way. I’m just happy and feel truly blessed,” he said.

Mr. Norwood was also up for the award, along with CJ Perez of the Terrafirma Dyip, Mr. Abueva and Kevin Alas of the NLEX Road Warriors.

Meanwhile, Aaron Black of the Meralco Bolts made history by being the lowest drafted player to win the top rookie award.

Picked 18th overall in the 2019 draft, Mr. Aaron, son of Meralco coach Norman Black, dislodged Larry Fonacier, who was Red Bull’s 14th pick when he won Rookie of the Year honors in 2005, for the distinction.

“It’s definitely a great feeling. This will definitely push me to work even harder for the next conference. Looking forward to what we have in store for Meralco,” said Mr. Black, who posted averages of 6.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 18 games in his rookie season.

The next season of the PBA is targeted to start in April. Whether it will be done in another bubble is still being determined.