San Miguel head coach Leo Austria.

San Miguel head coach Leo Austria. PBA IMAGES

San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria feels he has the PBA’s most dominant player back and makes it no secret that the aim is for his Beermen to become Kings of the Philippine Cup once again.

“We are better prepared this season compared to the last two,” Austria told the Inquirer in a recent interview, referring to the bubble setup and the injury to June Mar Fajardo that kept the talented 6-foot-10 cornerstone out of the lineup in 2020.

Fajardo also lost his mother to COVID-19 last year, and that took a lot out of him, said Austria.

“But he (Fajardo) is fine now, both physically and mentally,” Austria went on. “He even told me in our of our conversations na ‘babawi ako, coach.’”

Fajardo, a winner of six straight Most Valuable Player trophies before a shin injury sidelined him in 2020, will no doubt again be the focal point of the San Miguel game on both ends as the Beermen debut against Phoenix in the season-opening conference at 6 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“Our target has always been to win [championships],” Austria went on as he tries to snap two title-less years after winning at least one crown in each of his first six—counting five straight PH Cup crowns from 2015. “Yes, I feel we still have the most dominant player in the league, but we have to surround him with the help he needs. And that’s our [coaching staff’s] job.”Full commitment

He is still surrounded by enormous talent, even after San Miguel shipped out Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot to different teams last season. Left forming the core of the Beermen are Chris Ross, Jericho Cruz, Mo Tautuaa, Vic Manuel and the energetic CJ Perez.

The Fuel Masters won’t be pushovers, especially after they got Javee Mocon in a trade from Rain or Shine to help Matthew Wright with the offensive chores.

Wright is reported to be playing his last full conference for Phoenix before he heads to Japan, but the gunslinger has vowed not to hold any punches to help the Fuel Masters.

“I committed in 2019 for three years and I intend to play until the very last second of that contract. That’s what being professional is all about,” said Wright during the PBA Media Day. “Nothing’s gonna change at all. I’m gonna practice early, go hard and you’re gonna get the same Matthew Wright.”

NLEX battles Terrafirma in the 3 p.m. contest with the Road Warriors, who went as deep as the semifinals of the Governors’ Cup last season, playing without Kiefer Ravena.

Ravena wants to play the conference before heading back to Japan, but NLEX management has offered him a one-year contract, which he hasn’t responded to, last week.

In a previous report, the Road Warriors, according to a source, are not keen on accommodating Ravena for just one conference as NLEX is trying to build a team that can play cohesively for all three tournaments penciled for the season. INQ


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