The recent surge of COVID-19 cases in late December to early January greatly derailed a society slowly transitioning back to normalcy with renewed lockdowns, suspended classes, and closed public venues. In the Philippine sports scene, this threw a wrench in the works of a promising Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) conference. As the increase in cases forced an already-running PBA Governor’s Cup to a staggering halt, teams were forced to stay home and away from action.
Advancing through adversity
Having to stop three games into the season and then dealing with the uncertainty of the league’s schedule was difficult for every team. Former ADMU Blue Eagle Aaron Black of the Meralco Bolts shares, “This whole pandemic has been tough on and off [the court]. Having a season and then stopping in the middle and then going back [was difficult].” He furthers that with the uncertainty of resumption, the factor of getting government approval to play outside of a bubble was also nerve-racking.
Meanwhile, former DLSU Green Archer Andrei Caracut—who currently plays for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters—expresses that the hardest part of suddenly stopping was losing the rhythm of already being in peak condition. “Kailangang maging ready, magpakundisyon, at maghanap ka ng court na ikaw lang pwede maglaro,” he stresses.
(You need to be ready, to condition yourself, and to find a court where you can play alone.)
Nevertheless, both emphasize the need to deal with unexpected challenges as they are now professionals, not anymore student athletes in the UAAP.
Among the adjustments to the setup of the tournament was having seven players, one coach, and one safety officer present in every session. This is opposed to the usual setup of the 16-man roster and five members of the coaching staff available during training.
While a limited number of fans were finally allowed to attend the games at the start of the Governor’s Cup last December, this was no longer the case in early 2022. For the teams, this led to a loss of rhythm and excitement. Commenting on this impact, Black remarks, “The fans are big for me because I’d never seen fans before in an arena with me playing in the PBA.” He continues, “I’m sure they were excited as well to see us play. Hopefully, as soon as possible, we can get them back in.”
Contrastingly, Caracut states that with or without fans, their goal is unchanged, but he agrees that having supporters in the stands puts added pressure on the team to do well.
Searching for their groove
With the PBA Governors Cup wrapping up its elimination round last March 11, the Meralco Bolts racked up critical losses before the playoffs. Once deemed as top competition, the team slid down to the middle of the standings. “You don’t like [losing] momentum; we were up 2-0…But at the same time, we had a couple of guys who were dealing with small injuries, things that can heal in one or two weeks,” Black voices out.
Even without resident import Allen Durham, the Bolts are still vying for a shot at the crown with phenomenal import Tony Bishop leading the way. As they defeated the San Miguel Beermen in the quarterfinals, the Bishop-led Meralco is still a legitimate contender, facing the Magnolia Hotshots in a competitive semifinal matchup.
On the other hand, Rain or Shine has been struggling throughout the conference, finishing with a 3-8 win-loss record and ultimately missing the playoffs. Rain or Shine’s unfortunate losses have been due to subpar execution over the final minutes of the match, to which Caracut agrees with. “Kailangan lang namin matuto sa mga mistakes na nagawa namin, even sa mga panalo namin. Kailangan din tuloy-tuloy ang pagsunod sa game plan [ni coach],” the former Green Archer states.
(We need to learn from our mistakes and even from our wins. We need to continuously follow our coach’s game plan, too.)
However, not all circumstances were in favor of the team. Caracut, who was constantly tasked by coach Chris Gavina to handle the point guard duties, laments, “Napakahirap din ‘yung okay na ‘yung rhythm mo, okay na ‘yung game shape mo, okay na ‘yung katawan mo—tapos nag-break, so back to zero ulit ‘yan sa aming mga players.”
(It’s really difficult if you have your rhythm already, you are in game shape, your body is well-conditioned but there is suddenly a break. As players, that causes us to go back to zero.)
Meanwhile, the Elasto Painters struggled to adjust with the absence of talented veteran James Yap, along with searching for the consistency of performing well enough to seal games in the clutch. With the tournament nearing its end, the team may just find itself on the far end of the ladder.
The adaptability and agility of the players were greatly challenged in this conference, but athletes like Black and Caracut possess tremendous focus and work ethic that they remain in game shape. With the possibility for athletes to head back to their usual daily routines, distractions for these players may be minimized and their laser focus to continuously seek glory in their young and bright PBA careers may be sharpened.