Tim Cone is happy about the progress of his team, especially the return of his players from injury.
“JC Intal has started playing for us four days ago and saw action in a tune up game. Joe Devance, on the other hand, joined the a couple of days ago. I’m happy that the team’s weapons are slowly coming back and part of the reason why for me to be excited in the coming season,” Cone told InterAKTV.
Intal and Devance missed Governors’ Cup finals, which the team lost in seven games to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. Their re-entry installs San Mig Coffee as a favorite in the Philippine Cup, where the Purefoods franchise enjoys a long winning tradition.
But it’s also the tournament where they experienced their most bitter defeat last season, in the quarterfinals at the hands of the Powerade Tigers.
“We don’t want to dwell on that too much, but that conference was a remarkable one and it’s something unforgettable. But we’ve put the result behind us now,” said Cone.
“We have a different group now. We still had Kerby [Raymundo], Roger [Yap] and Rico [Maierhofer] when we lost to Powerade in the Philippine Cup quarterfinals. We have JC, Yancy [De Ocampo], and several new faces on the team now like Aldrech Ramos and Chris Pacana. We’re looking forward to have another fruitful season beginning the Philippine Cup.”
But to have a successful season, the winningest mentor among active coaches believes the leaders of the squad will have to step up.
“We had success in two of three conferences last season because of Denzel Bowles and Marqus Blakely. Now, it’s up to James [Yap], PJ [Simon], Ping [Marc Pingris] and Joe to step up. They’re the leaders of this team. I do hope they won’t look for the imports this time to get the job done for us,” added Cone.
The inclusion of rookies Ramos and Jewel Ponferada also gives Cone reason to be upbeat.
“We really like Aldrech because with him around, we have a big guy who can shoot and extend the floor for us. We didn’t have that before with Joe out and Ping not known as a shooting big man,” Cone said.
“Jewel, on the other hand, is a tough kid. He’s been dominating our practices, providing us toughness in the interior. That’s something we don’t have when we lost to rain or Shine in last conference’s finals.”
Another draft pick, 6-foot-9 Gian Chu, wasn’t included in the roster yet. “He’s a good kid. He has the height and the shooting ability, but we have decided to put him in our developmental unit,” Cone said.
Outlook: It’s quite remarkable just how much success the team had last season — the Llamados raced to No. 1 in the elims of the Philippine Cup before getting ambushed by Powerade, they won the Commissioner’s Cup, and were a game away from winning the Governors’ Cup — and yet, it seemed like they weren’t even playing all that well.
There were games when the squad would still visibly struggle with the tenets of Cone’s triangle offense and they would hardly look like a champion team. James Yap struggled for long stretches of the Commissioner’s Cup and the Governors’ Cup (until the finals), while players were battling all sorts of issues, but they still won more games than most teams except for Talk ‘N Text.
It’s scary to think how good this team would be when Cone is finally able to get them to play the way he wants them to play — that’s a testament to how good a coach he is. But then the question for San Mig Coffee is whether they would ever get there at all.
Even during the Governors’ Cup, there were times when the players looked uncomfortable on the floor. They’re no longer young players; Yap, Pingris, Devance, and Simon are all on the wrong side of 30. There’s an argument to be made that this team has reached its ceiling under Cone.
Then again, that ceiling means that, under Cone, the Mixers are a threat to contend for a title, tournament after tournament. That’s not bad at all.