It was a surreal moment Thursday afternoon at the B-MEG Llamados practice during a break from action.
Power forward Marc Pingris, while fiddling with his shoes, began to hum the theme from Slam Dunk. Pingris has been nicknamed Sakuragi, after the protagonist of the popular anime series, and the label has resonated with fans.
“Pinanindigan ko na talaga yung pagiging Sakuragi,” said Pingris with a smile. His teammate James Yap, who sat a few feet away, laughed at the Sakuragi tag.
When this writer noted that fans had taken to calling him Rukawa, Yap asked: “Sino naman yun si Rukawa?”
Pingris, an admitted Slam Dunk fan, was quick to answer: “Siya yung magaling, yung shooter, kakampi ni Sakuragi.”
But the Slam Dunk character lesson between the two PBA stars was cut short when B-MEG coach Tim Cone signalled the resumption of practice. All of a sudden, Pingris and Yap were in the midst of grueling defensive drills that were designed to get the Llamados ready against the vaunted Talk ‘N Text offense.
First up were four-on-four drills that had them practicing how to defend the pick-and-roll, one of Talk ‘N Text’s pet offensive plays. Cone would call out how he wanted the pick-and-roll defended — by switching, by hedging, by trapping — and the players executed it.
The drills moved to five-on-five halfcourt sets, which are designed to help the players tighten up their defensive rotation. The offensive team would swing the ball from side-to-side, forcing the defenders to scramble and recover for 24 seconds.
By then, all the goofiness on Pingris’ face had been replaced by manic intensity, the same one he displays during actual games. All the other players get in on it. “Sideline, sideline!” they shout, telling their teammates where they want to force the ballhandler on the pick-and-roll.
In one sequence, the defense had done a good job rotating, and Pingris, who was on the offensive team, had the ball at the elbow with the clock running out. Pingris, who rarely takes shots outside the paint during games, squared up, elevated, and put up a textbook perfect jumpshot that found nothing but net — it was a scene straight out of Slam Dunk.
Thirty minutes later, Cone whistled to signal the end of the drills, and the players proceeded to warm down by shooting free throws.
Despite coming off a loss, Cone remains confident about B-MEG’s chances against Talk ‘N Text in the Commissioner’s Cup finals, which is now down to a virtual best-of-five series.
“They’re a great team, obviously, but we feel that we match up very well with them,” said Cone.
“We feel like we can take away some of the things they do very well, and anytime you can do that, then you have a great shot. The thing is, we now have to take that and practice it, and apply it to the games.”
» Ahead of finals, Luigi Trillo gets encouragement from old Alaska coach Tim Cone
» Ginebra rolls through Talk ‘N Text to forge finals showdown with Alaska
» Ginebra’s plan: Let Tony Mitchell score, but shut down Talk ‘N Text locals