Long before I even imagined the realization of my becoming a sports journalist and writing a column like this, I was just an avid basketball follower and a general sports fan but also fund of analyzing how games were won for my onw enjoyment.
Among my favorite teams then was the 1996 Alaska grand slam team. I could not help but notice a few similarities of Cone’s ingredients of that team with that of the 2014 San Mig’s. I wonder how many of these tricks he will carry over at Barangay Ginebra:
- Hire former PBA Players as assistant coaches. Cone has a knack for hiring ex-players as his staff for reasons only he probably knows. Alaska: Joel Banal. San Mig: Johnny Abbarientos, Richard del Rosario, Jason Webb/Jeffrey Cariaso, Mon Jose
- Know how to look for “actors” and direct proper role playing. Cone knows exactly what his system needs and knows who to look for to execute them. Just look at how the capabilities, roles and even the positions of his former Milkmen are eerie mirror images of his Coffee Mixers during their grandslam years:
Abarrientos and Cariaso were probably looking at their younger versions while coaching Barroca and Simon. The other members of the 1996 Alaska grand slam team would have experience flashbacks had they been watching San Mig’s grandslam year.
- Discourage team superstars thast dominate production. Surely, Cone loves to have superstars in his team but he is more of Greg Popovich than Phil Jackson in this regard. Phil Jackson had the luxury of deploying Michael Jordan, Shaquile O’neal and Kobe Bryant, all considered to be among the greatest cagers of all-time, and put the ball in their hands most of the time. The closest Cone had done this would have to be the case of Abarrientos. But in all his greatness, which is nothing to be scoffed at, the Flying A is nowhere near the stature of a Patrimonio or a Ramon Fernandez as far as dominating team production is concerned.
Cone’s players need to co-exist, for they seem to be only deadly to opponents if they play for and with each other. Just look at the individual awards each member got during the grand slam season and how distributed they are: Alaska: Jolas (Season Mythical First team selection and All Filipino Finals MVP); Abarrientos (Season MVP, Season All-Defensive team, Governor’s Cup Finals MVP); Hawkins (Mythical First team and Commissioner’s Cup Best Player of the Conference along with the Finals MVP); Junio (Most Improve Player); and Cariaso (Season Mythical Second team and All-Defensive team) San Mig: Yap (Commissioner’s Cup and Governor’s Cup Finals MVP); Barroca (Mythical First team and All-Defensive Team); Pingris (Mythical Second Team and All-Defensive Team); and Simon (Mythical Second Team)
- Have a team superstar who is willing to defer to other teammates and instead be the non-statistical team leader. Jolas and Yap, the resident superstars of their teams before the implementation of the triangle, accepted roles that will yield lesser individual statistical results and instead take on duties that will make teammates better and more formidable to an opponent’s eyes. Before the implementation of the triangle offense, both Lastimosa and Yap are very capable consistent 25 to 30 point men and the team offenses are built around them. But after the triangle was implemented, both could barely pass the 20 point mark consistently.
When Jolas arrived at Alaska, he was a potential MVP candidate as he would dominate the stat sheet. Not to mention that he already won the Rookie of the Year award before. His becoming an MVP, however, was put to an end once he embraced the system although he would still be part of several Mythical team selections. He became Cone’s voice on the court. I fondly recall a game during Alaska’s run where Jolas would earn a “T” when a referee misunderstood his calling loudly for instructions to Junio.
Yap’s case is even more baffling. How could the finals MVP of two conferences during San Mig’s grandslam year be not included in the top ten best players selection for the whole year? Three of his teammates made it to the selection! Very strange! Top individual awards will be hard to come by in Cone’s system in exchange for championships.
Have definite Go-To Guys. While he has no superstars, Cone clearly appoints who his designated hitter is. When baskets are needed, all team members knew where the ball should ideally end up. Alaska: Fourth Quarter Man. San Mig: Big Game James 5. And both hitters knew how to deliver killing blows when it matters most or own it as men if the shot fails. Just for a small sample size: Jolas kept hitting timely baskets to keep the Milkmen above stormy waters in the crucial stages of the 1996 All-Filipino championship and James pouring 10 in the 4th quarter of Game 1 when his team is rallying, his shootout with Arizona Reid during the overtime period of Game 2 and his 29 in the most important match in Game 5, all during the 2014 Governor’s Cup.
- Have Blue Collar imports: Cone does not need imports who dominate the offense. He prefers one who crashes the boards, hustles on defense, protects the paint, and has a habit of going after loss balls. Alaska: Sean / Davis. San Mig: James / Blakely / Denzel Bowles. They were never big-time scorers but all were consistent in the glass, hustle and defense departments.
I cannot wait to see what he can do with Greg Slaughter, Jappeth Aguilar, Mark Caguioa, LA Tenorio, and the rest of Ginebra’s current line-up. I fell, though, that some interesting trades will happen.