Standhardinger-Fajardo tandem does not guarantee more titles for SMB, says coach Leo Austria

ByJay King

San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria is disputing claims by critics, including some of his fellow PBA coaches, that the Beermen would be unbeatable with the arrival of top draft pick Christian Standhardinger.

“For sure, we’re a tough team. But there are other tough teams out there,” Austria said as quoted by PhilStar.

At least four PBA coaches—Alaska’s Alex Compton, Phoenix’s Louie Alas, TNT’s Nash Racela and NLEX’s Yeng Guiao—earlier voiced misgivings about SMB’s acquisition of the prized 6’8” Fil-German center-forward who showed his court prowess during his stints with Gilas in the 2017 William Jones Cup, the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon, and the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The four coaches made their views known after SMB acquired Kia’s top overall pick in this year’s annual rookie draft in exchange for bench players Ronald Tubid, JayR Reyes, Rashawn McCarthy, and a 2019 first round pick in a controversial deal eventually approved by PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa.

Austria insisted, however, that even with their new twin towers of Standhardinger and 6’10” four-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, there’s no guarantee that they will win more titles.

“Maybe nasabi nila ngayon na malakas kami kasi last season sa Mythical 5, apat na players and nakuha sa amin, and what more may no. 1 pick na kami with Christian Standhardinger. Pero we have to acknowledge the fact na lahat ng teams lumakas na din through the draft, and then a lot of trades so every team will be competitive,” said Austria.

Austria ticked off TNT, Ginebra, and Star as the teams that SMB will have to reckon with in the coming 2017-2018 Philippine Cup, which opens on Dec. 17.

“Ginebra will always be a force to reckon with in the presence of Greg Slaughter; TNT is a consistent contender and you’ll never know what will be their final lineup. They may still have upcoming trades. Star has got a good addition in Robert Herndon,” Austria said.

Standhardinger, 28, will not be available to play for SMB in the Philippine Cup as he earlier signed up with the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions in the ASEAN Basketball League, which opens later this month and runs until about April next year should the defending champions make it past the elimination round. This means that Standhardinger could only start playing for the Beermen midway in the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup.

Austria earlier said the delay in acquiring the Gilas standout’s services is fine with him. “We’re willing to wait even for one or two years. It’s still OK for me as long as we’ll have him,” Austria said in an article posted on the PBA website.

Other PBA coaches were one in saying that SMB, already oozing with talent in all positions, even got stronger with the acquisition of Standhardinger. In fact, four of the five players in the last season’s Mythical Five were Beermen—Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, and Arwind Santos. Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar completed the Top 5.

“San Miguel’s clearly the best team in the league,” said Alaska’s Compton. “I wish San Miguel has a weakness, but they don’t. So our job, the rest of us coaches, is try to find a way, but it’s not gonna be being taller than San Miguel. So we’ll just work and try to make a way.”

TNT’s Racela said Standhardinger and Fajardo playing together would be nice if they were playing as teammates for Gilas Pilipinas, not with SMB. “This just makes it harder for all the other teams,” he said.

“The job gets harder because the disparity just got wider,” said Alas, the new Phoenix coach.

NLEX’s Guiao did not mince words in saying that the SMB-Kia trade would be bad for the PBA. “I’m saddened more than angered. I’m just sad over the situation because everyone who I talked to had some misgivings about the situation,” he said.

“We have an intelligent basketball public. They know what’s happening,” Guiao added.

Meanwhile, as a result of Kia’s acquisition of Tubid, Reyes, and McCarthy, SMB is activating from reserve status 6’3” forward Michael Mabulac and possibly at least two more from its rookie draftees Louie Vigil and Jerome Ortega, and reserves Bacon Austria and Axel Doruelo. Aside from them, SMB may also select from the available free agents led by Mike Cortez, Dylan Ababou, and Billy Mamaril, Austria said.


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