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    AUSTRIA

    SAN Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria wants to get one thing straight and, in the process, soothe some of the Beermen’s bruised egos.

    “Nagtatampo nga sa akin ‘yung mga players dahil sinasabi ko daw na sila matatanda na,” Austria told Malaya-Business Insight.

    “Wala akong sinasabing ganoon. Sabi ko, we’re not getting any younger so we have to have some backups dito sa mga veterans,” added Austria. “Ang lumabas, mag-re-revamp ako kasi matatanda na.”

    Austria issued the statement after some media outlets came out with reports quoting him as saying SMB is set for a major overhaul after it failed to defend its PBA Philippine Cup crown, getting only as far as the quarterfinals in the recent Pampanga bubble.

    The four-time Coach of the Year maintained he was simply misquoted and that he is ready to continue going with a starting five that includes Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter, even if each is at least 33 years old.

    Usual prized center June Mar Fajardo turned 31 last month but is still the only relative “spring chicken” among the group. Mo Tautuaa, who took over Fajardo’s slot, turns 32 on April 30.

    “Ang sabi ko, core ko iyon pa rin iyon. Sila ‘yung mga nakakakuha ng 35 minutes per game,” clarified Austria.

    “Ang kailangan ko second unit, third unit, para hindi naman masunog itong first five ko,” he added. “Kasi para sa akin, ‘yung first five ko — tinatawag na best five? — very competitive pa rin ‘yun. Iyung supporting cast lang ang kailangang punuan.”

    That was apparent in the lone conference salvaged from the PBA’s 45th season.

    Already trying to make do without Fajardo (injury) and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser (opt out), SMB got another blow when Terrence Romeo dislocated his shoulder early in the tournament.

    Ross, Lassiter and Cabagnot also suffered injuries that ultimately took their toll as the Beermen wound up fourth in the eliminations and got beaten twice by Meralco in the quarterfinals.

    “Tatlo na-injured and kahit nakabalik sila, hindi 100 perccent. Pero kung healthy mga iyon, kahit wala si June Mar at least nasa semifinals kami,” rued Austria, who knows exactly what vacuum to fill on his team before the next season starts in April.

    “Si Arwind kailangan ang backup sa stretch 4 dahil nag-iisa lang siya,” offered Austria. “Sa No. 3 si Marcio mas okay siya sa No. 2, may advantage siya. Ang nangyayari kasi, si Marcio dumidepensa sa scorer ng kalaban, tapos umiiskor pa rin siya sa amin. so dalawa kanyang ginagawa, mahirap, so kailangan niya ng backup.

    “Kailangan ko ng big man na backup ni Arwind para at least 10 kami sa rotation.

    Nangyayari nine lang.”

    What should be a dampener on those plans is the fact SMB has no pick in the opening rounds of the rookie draft.

    But Austria has a chief backup option in Fajardo’s return.

    “Ang sabi niya sa akin after our conference ended, ‘Pahinga ka lang, Huwag mong isipin iyan, bawi tayo next year.’ So that means na confident siya,” said Austria.