Weighing in on the travails of Alaska & SMB
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio
San Miguel and Alaska have struggling mightily this conference and one wonders what has happened to these two clubs.
Already some point to the short rest between conferences as the culprit as they had few days rest between the Philippine and the Commissioner’s Cup. SMB reportedly partied for quite a while as this was their first All-Filipino title in quite some time. Plus, they had to attend to other functions as well further cutting into their preparation for the ongoing Commissioner’s Cup. It didn’t help that when the conference got underway, they also had to deal with some players going down in sick bay.
However, that argument is debunked by San Mig Coffee’s Grand Slam feat last year where the Super Coffee Mixers too had to deal with the short rest.
Talking to SMB’s Doug Kramer, he doesn’t make any excuses. The hard working power forward believes the short rest is partially to blame because they just finished an intense and draining series against Alaska. They were in celebratory mood and within a few days, it was time to compete again. “I think the short rest hurt us but we cannot claim that anymore. We should have found our rhythm after a few of those games.”
Seeking further clarification, I spoke with two coaches who in recent memory are the only ones to win in consecutive conferences with one winning the coveted Grand Slam: Tim Cone and Chot Reyes.
When I spoke to Cone before the start of this 40th PBA season, I asked him how they dealt with the short rest and slow starts. And this is what he had to say (passages in italics are all mine):
“The Grand Slam achieved with Alaska in 1996 is was very different from the one won with San Mig Super Coffee. The mechanics of the first grand slam were very different. Primarily because of the scheduling was very different. Remember, it was a very conventional time. We had a conference then a first break. The second conference and then a break and so on. We were coming off a championship and some very successful years that were leading to 1996. We had normal rest. We beat Purefoods then Shell in a very tough series for the second title. In the third we won 13 games in a row and went on to win 4-1 over Ginebra. There was a sense of inevitability. We were so dominant. The only thing we had to overcome was the specter of expectations. The previous season before that we lost the third conference so when we had the opportunity to do it again we knew that we weren’t going to step off that gas pedal.”
“Eighteen years later, the difference is we were preparing for the Gilas tournament. We had the draft, the practice and then we were already playing. There was no chance to sit down and immerse everyone in the system and the culture. We were the underdogs in every conference. In the first conference, Rain or Shine has won 13 games going into the finals and we were struggling and barely got through. But we beat them in six games. Then we played TNT that swept the eliminations. In the last conference, we ended up being the sixth seed even if RoS was the second seed. By that time, people were thinking we could do it again. My thinking was that throughout the whole year we were not the dominant team. We just happened to win what he had at the right time. The only similarity perhaps is that once we got in the Finals of that third conference, there was that feeling that we could do it.”
However, the “GS” word was taboo in Cone’s camp.
“No one was ever allowed to talk or mention the term “Grand Slam in all our meetings, practices, film sessions etc. I said, ‘Don’t talk about it. Let others do it for us but let us not encourage it because it adds to the pressure. We don’t even want to think about it so we can concentrate on the here and now.’ The one time we began to talk about it was after it was all done.”
With the 40th Season of the PBA a day away from tip off, Cone is pretty much done talking about the year before. “Can’t rest on our laurels,” he reasoned. “Whether the club wins or loses, we have this saying, ‘Yesterday ended last night.’”
I also spoke with former Talk ‘N Text and national team coach Chot Reyes whose teams for a period of three years were in and out of the fight and nearly won a grand slam as well.
Reyes concurs with Cone and cites three possible reasons for the slow starts:
Conditioning. Maybe the teams were conditioned to go for one or two conferences. Remember Alaska did very well in the Governors’ Cup of the previous season leading up to the Philippine Cup. It is also possible that it’s the same for San Miguel as very few have championship experience prior to their winning it all in the Philippine Cup.
Mental Toughness. This is something that is learned from experience going after titles conference after conference. It is also setting the tone for your goals. After winning the Philippine Cup, we had our celebratory dinner and when we were done toasting, (team owner) Manuel V. Pangilinan said it very loud and clear for all to understand that tomorrow, we go back to work and try and do it all over again. The season is a long grind so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done off the court to make sure everyone remains focused.
Experience. What San Mig achieved was something special. To pull it off in this day and age is even more difficult. We weren’t able to do it. When you say experience, it refers to winning consecutive conferences as well as having strong leaders on the team who will serve as your extension – like Jimmy Alapag.
Thinking about what Reyes said and Cone’s team saying of “yesterday ended last night” you see a pattern emerging. And it all goes hand-in-hand. It isn’t simply having the right players and the right import and to be relatively healthy for the long haul, it’s also the conditioning, mental fortitude, and the experience to pull it off.